On Friday November 15, President Paul Rugambwa Kagame of Rwanda made what the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said was a major cabinet reshuffle
On Friday November 15, President Paul Rugambwa Kagame of Rwanda made what the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said was a major cabinet reshuffle.
However, a commentator on BBCâ€™s Focus on Africa said there were only two new significant cabinet appointments â€“â€“ that of Dr Charles Murigande as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Co-operation (shortened as MINAFET) and Christopher Bazivamo as the Minister for Local Government, Information and Social Affairs (MINALOC).
Keen observers on Rwandaâ€™s political and military affairs would say that the appointment of Maj. Gen. Marcel Gatsinzi as defence minister is also significant.
Dr. Charles Murigande, who the Rwandan press describes as tough talking, had hitherto been the Secretary General of the tous puissant Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). He replaces the diminutive Andre Habib Boumaya, who goes to a newly created portfolio of Public Service, Skills Develop-ment, Vocational Training and Labour.
Before made RPFâ€™s Secretary General, Murigande was the Rector of the National University of Rwanda in the south eastern town of Butare. A bi-lingual programme he started at the university called Ecole Primaire de Murigande by disgusted students, made him very unpopular with the student community. A demonstration by the students to protest the programme was brutally dispersed by the military.
Later, some of the students ran to Kampala seeking asylum thereby touching off a wave disgruntled Rwandans seeking refugee in Uganda.
Mr. Christopher Bazivamo was the Executive Secretary of the Electoral Commission before he was called to head the powerful Ministry of Local Government, Information and Social Affairs.
Bazivamo, a Hutu, replaces Mr. Desire Nyandwi, also a Hutu. Information and the media fall under Bazivamoâ€™s portfolio. Nyandwi did not have a good relationship with the fledgling independent media. Bazivamo is described as politically timid, hardworking and always dressed in a kaunda suit.
Maj. Gen. Marcel Gatsinzi, a Hutu, was a Colonel in the Forces Armees Rwandais (FAR, late President Habyarimanaâ€™s army). Together with Col. BEM Emmanuel Habyarimana, Gatsinzi was one of the Ex-FAR officers who abandoned rebellion and were incorporated in the RPA in 1995. He then served as Director General of the National Security Agency (NSA) before he was appointed the Minister for Defence.
To understand the strength of NSA, it should be noted that the Department of Immigration and an organisation equivalent of Ugandaâ€™s External Security Organisation are both under it (NSA).
Gatsinzi replaces Col. BEM Emmanuel Habyarimana at the Ministry of Defence. There were unconfirmed reports that Col. Habyarimana had been wanted out.
Col. Habyarimana is credited for streamlining the running of the Ministry of Defence and the army when he took over from President Paul Kagame.
Before he became President, Kagame was vice-president and Minister for Defence. He is said to have run the defence ministry as a department of the army.
Another observation to make about the cabinet reshuffle is the creation of the portfolio of Minister in the Presidentâ€™s Office. Before the creation of this portfolio, the highest administrative official in the Presidentâ€™s Office was the Dircab (Director of Cabinet). No one knew exactly whether the Dircab was a ministerial appointment or whether one appointed to the post was some sort of Permanent Secretary, (they are called Secretary Generals in Kigali.)
The Minister in the Presidentâ€™s Office is Mrs Solina Nyirahabimana, a member of the RPF and has hitherto been a member of the National Human Rights Commission. The Dircab is Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa, formerly RPFâ€™s Secretary General and later Rwandaâ€™s Ambassador to the United States.
Now that there is an office above that of the Dircab, Rudasingwa seems to have been demoted. Early this year, there were reports that he had been sacked. He sued a newspaper that published the rumour; the case is in Rwandaâ€™s court of law pending hearing.
Although some people have said that the reshuffle was aimed at bolstering Kagameâ€™s position before the Presidential Elections scheduled for July 2003, I differ in opinion.
Well, Kagame has always been shy to go public on whether he will contest for the presidency of Rwanda come the 2003 elections; but he has made hints that show he is very interested in being a candidate for top post in the country. He does not seem to be scared of the Presidential Elections; or rather, there is nothing to be scared of. First of all, it is the general consensus in Rwanda that the President should be elected by Rwandaâ€™s Members of Parliament who are expected to be about 100. Even then, there is no one, in the RPF or the other political organisation, who has the political and military stature of Kagame.
The political circumstances on the ground seem to so overwhelmingly favour Kagame that he does not have to reshuffle his cabinet to bolster his position. With former President Pasteur Bizimungu rotting away in prison, and there being no civil society (or to be blunt; there being no independent media) of any significant influence, Kagame is in the driverâ€™s seat and has no challenger.
Commenting on the reshuffle, Mr. Ismael Mbonigaba, the editor of Umuseso newspaper, said that the RPF had now taken 8% of the cabinet; well, one would have to check this figure. The only real thing is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has now been bagged by the RPF, has hitherto been headed by people from other political groups.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Co-operation has been headed by Dr. Anastase Gasana of (Republican Demo-cratic Movement), Augustin Iyamuremye of (Social Democratic Party), Ambassador Amri Suedi (his party not known but at least not RPF. He had the most short-lived tenure at MINAFET) and Andre Boumaya (party not known but not RPF).
Well, other appointments in the reshuffle are insignificant. Of course senior RPF cadre Dr. Ephraim Kabayija survived the sack. All the time there has been a rumour of a cabinet reshuffle, his name has been mentioned for the sack. Kabayija has a problem with some senior military officials; he has consistently stood in their way when they go on a land-grabbing rampage in the Prefecture of Umutara which is exclusively occupied by returnees from Uganda.
But all said and done, what is there in Kagameâ€™s cabinet reshuffle for the icy relationship between Uganda and Rwanda? Listen to this: At a press briefing on the Uganda-Rwanda relations he held after returning from a visit in Kampala, I asked Dr. Charles Murigande: â€œSince you are not a member of the executive arm of the Government of Rwanda, how and in what capacity do you represent the government of Rwanda on matters of foreign policy?â€ Well, it was what politicians call a bad question; and Murig-ande was not happy with me and evaded the question, saying I was ignorant of governmentâ€™s operations.
Dr. Emmanuel Ndahiro, President Kagameâ€™s closest aide took up the question and answered: â€œThe president, as head of the executive arm of government, retains the discretion to choose who should represent him anywhere.â€ Well, notwithstanding Dr. Ndahiroâ€™s good answer, I had made my point. Why was it that the issue of the poor relationship between Uganda and Rwanda was being treated as an exclusively RPF/NRM matter by the political leadership in Kampala and Kigali?
Now, since both Mr. James Wapakhabulo and Dr. Charles Murigande (the two men who have been handling the files on the Uganda-Rwanda relations) are now Ministers for Foreign Affairs in Kampala and Kigali respectively, one might reason that the cabinet reshuffle in Kigali may cause a situation where the files will be moved from the â€˜kitchensâ€™ of the RPF and NRM secretariats and be handled as government business. And deservingly so.
The writer was the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Rwanda Herald newspaper.
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