How power sharing in Rwanda has worked and the lessons Ugandan politicians can draw from it for our good
Just imagine that you wake up tomorrow morning and find the following
in Uganda: Yoweri Museveni is still president of the country. His vice
president is Mugisha Muntu. The speaker of parliament is Olara Otunnu.
Museveni has just reshuffled cabinet and replaced Amama Mbabazi with
Nobert Mao as prime minister. The deputy speaker of parliament is
Nandala Mafabi. And Kahinda Otafiire is deputy prime minister. All these
men are not yelling and shouting at each other. Well this is because of
the above power-sharing arrangement. To make it work, there is
something called a Political Parties Forum where differences between the
different political parties over public policy are debated and final
positions are adopted entirely through consensus.
In this forum, all political parties regardless of size have equal
representation and the chairmanship rotates among each one of them every
month. No voting is allowed. If there is a dispute over a given policy,
they are required to sit and negotiate until a compromise is reached.
They can hold as many meetings as possible until a compromise is arrived
When you interview the leaders of these different parties, they say
they accept this approach to national politics. They argue that this is
because the winner-take-all political competition among different
parties almost tore the country apart. They say now the country needs to
heal wounds and achieve a minimum political consensus in order to
achieve shared objectives.
There are of course other politicians in this new Uganda but largely
on the fringes of the political process. Men like Joseph Kony, leader of
the Lord’s Resistance Army, and Jamil Mukulu of the Allied Democratic
Forces say this power sharing arrangement is a Museveni sham to hide his
Recently, Gen. David Tinyefuza, a former leader of intelligence now
self-exiled in London, joins their chorus of condemnation. They argue
that Muntu, Mafabi, Otunnu, Mao and all other politicians from other
parties other than NRM and who serve in cabinet and other major
positions in the government are a sellout.
As evidence, they point out that these politicians do not call Museveni a murderer, a despot and a demented psychopath.
Is such a Uganda desirable? Is it possible to construct such a form of politics? What does it take to do it?
Well, last week President Paul Kagame of Rwanda appointed Anastase
Murekezi as prime minister. He replaced Pierre Damien Habumuremyi.
Mukerezi comes from the Social Democratic Party (PSD).
from the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). Consequently, this is how the
top leadership of the government of Rwanda looks like: Kagame, the
president is from the RPF. Then the second in command and also second
inline of succession (if anything happened to Kagame) is the president
of the Senate, Damacien Ntarikuriryayo. He is from PSD. The third inline
of succession and protocol is speaker of parliament, Donatira
Mukabarisa, from the Liberal Party.
Then Bernard Makuza, deputy president of the senate is an
Independent, his party MDR having dissolved itself. The second deputy
president of the senate, Jane Kakuba, is from RPF. Then the first deputy
speaker of parliament, Abass Mukama, is from TDI while the second
deputy speaker is Jane Ikimpaye, from RPF. Therefore out of the top four
positions in government, RPF has one, PSD two and LP one. Out of the
eight top positions in Rwanda’s executive and legislature, RPF has only
three positions – the last two are as deputies.
According to the Rwanda constitution, if the president comes from one
political party, the speaker of parliament cannot also come from the
same party – even if the president’s party won 100 percent of the votes.
Secondly, regardless of its electoral strength, the constitution of
Rwanda says that no political party can have more than 50 percent of the
cabinet positions. Essentially power-sharing among different political
parties has been constitutionalised in Rwanda.
However, Kagame and his RPF party have gone far beyond the intentions
of the constitution. For example, the ruling party, RPF, is not obliged
to elect the president of the Senate and any of his/her deputies from
other political parties. But they have. Some leaders of RPF have
actually complained to me that this arrangement is very unfair to their
party because if anything happened to Kagame, their party would lose the
presidency. Secondly, Kagame is not obliged to appoint a prime minister
from other political parties. Indeed, Habumuremyi was from the RPF.
What Kagame and RPF have demonstrated is that they take power sharing
seriously and are even willing to do it more than the constitution says.
From the time it captured power, the RPF has actually always tended
to go beyond what was required of it. For example, the defeat of the
Juvenal Habyarima government meant that the Arusha Peace Accords it had
negotiated with it had been overtaken by events i.e. literally become
null and void. Yet upon assuming office the RPF accepted to adhere to
these accords with minor changes to accommodate the reality that
Habyarimana’s party, MRND that had orchestrated the genocide could not
be accepted as a partner in the power sharing arrangement. This clearly
demonstrated that when it signed the Arusha Accords, the RPF meant its
It has been difficult to hold be a debate on the strength and
weaknesses of the Rwandan model because many commentators talk about a
Rwanda which is thousands of miles apart from the one that exists. We
have therefore spent tens of years trying to clarify basic facts so that
we can have a debate based on them rather than on fictions, fancies,
prejudices and uninformed biases. But the critics of Kagame’s leadership
are not willing to argue on the basis of facts because this undermines
their cause. So debating them is not constructive.
Because of this power-sharing arrangement, Rwandan politicians are
averse to accusatory, adversarial and confrontational politics that
makes electioneering exciting. Rwanda’s electoral competition tends to
be very calm and boring. Competitors do not look at each other as rivals
and therefore don’t attack each other. Some uninformed critics argue
that this is because there is no competition. They miss the incentive
structure that this institutional innovation promotes. For example,
Rwandan politicians recognise that it is not prudent to yell and shout
at your opponent, as multi-party political competition in many countries
tends to encourage. This is because you don’t want to be yelling at
someone today with whom you are going to work in cabinet tomorrow.