President Paul Kagame has this Friday evening named the first batch of four Senators from the eight he is constitutionally mandated to appoint to the 26-member Upper House of Parliament.
Among those named is Sports and Culture Minister Espérance Nyirasafari, who had been in the position since October last year. Before that, she was minister of Gender and Family Promotion, a position she held for two years, from October 5, 2016 to October 18, 2018.
Another minister moved is Dr Alvera Mukabaramba, who has been the State Minister in the Ministry of Local Government in charge of social welfare. She had held the position since 2011. Before that, she was in the Senate as a presidential appointee.
Dr Mukabaramba, heads the Party for Progress and Concord (PPC), a small inconsequential party, which is in coalition with the dominant Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) of President Kagame.
Mukabaramba was also a presidential candidate in the first post-genocide presidential polls in 2003 but withdrew on the eve of elections in favour of President Kagame. She also contested the 2010 presidential election and got a paltry 0.40% of the total national vote.
Kagame also named Dr Augustin Iyamuremye, who has been chair of the Rwanda Elders’ Advisory Forum (REAF) – an institution made up of respected individuals due to their previous service or accomplishments. Iyamuremye served in cabinet for many years; including serving as foreign minister between 1999 to 2000 under former President, Pasteur Bizimungu and later as information minister. He also served as a parliamentarian and senator.
Before the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, Iyamuremye was chief of intelligence under office of the Prime Minister – a position that put him in position to know a lot about the RPF war with his government at the time.
The other person named by Kagame is François Habiyakare, who has been chair of the Public Service Commission.
A review of the appointees shows Kagame is rewarding loyalty, and giving some of these individuals a place to retire with dignity. This also sends a message that, under President Kagame, loyalty pays.
However, this latest team of senatorial presidential appointees has individuals one wouldn’t have guessed, especially ex-Minister Nyirasafari who is still energetic and relatively young.
With Nyirasafari and Mukabaramba moved to the Senate, it means a cabinet reshuffle is in the works to replace the vacant cabinet slots.
According to the 2003 constitution, as amendment up to 2015, the Head of State appoints 8 Senators. However, the second batch of 4 Senators is appointed after the first year of running Senate.
Since Monday this week up until Thursday, the polls took place for 12 senators elected by electoral colleges to represent the 5 provinces of the country. There is also 2 other senators who represent private and public universities – elected by their colleagues with Master’s degree and above.
The remaining 4 senate seats are reserved for the consultative forum for political parties, a platform that brings together all registered political parties.
But just as the law stipulates that the President names his senators in 2 batches, the same is with the political parties’ forum.
Yesterday, the forum named popular former MP and PAC chair Juvenal Nkusi, as one of its first two senators. The other 2 will be appointed after a year.
Under the 2015 constitutional amendments, the Senators serve a five year term, renewable once. Previously, they served an 8-year non-renewable term.
The senate’s constitutional mandate is to act as the custodians of country’s supreme law and fundamental principles embedded therein. This House is expected to ensure the constitution is adhered to. It is also the overseer of national unity and reconciliation – making sure no policies negate the country’s reconciliation journey. It also vets public service appointments made by the President and Cabinet and ensure that principles of power-sharing and gender equality are adhered to.
However, as Dr Christopher Kayumba, the Consulting Editor of The Chronicles wrote recently, there is an ongoing and growing national debate as to whether the Senate, beside the Lower House of MPs, is really necessary in a relatively poor country like ours where there are many competing priorities for resources.
Meanwhile, in a report issued this Friday, the National human rights commission said the number of women was very small among aspirants and those who sailed through in the just concluded senatorial polls. Among 12 elected senators, only 3 are female.
The commission also said the voting centers were located in places that were difficult to access for people with disabilities.
The commission’s report added that there were no designated ballot papers, and electors were expected to write down names of the preferred candidate on paper, which they deposited in a ballot box. The commission also criticized the ballot tallying process.