Religious leaders divided on Rwanda’s constitutional amendment

Dr. Frank Habineza, the only opposition figure in Rwanda against the third term and possible constitutional change

Dr. Frank Habineza, the only opposition figure in Rwanda against the third term and possible constitutional change

Rwandan politics around the amendment of article 101 of the constitution has now caught up with religious leaders who are now divided in opinion over supporting the move or not.

For the past few months, various communities and groups of Rwandans have presented over three million petitions to parliament wanting legislators to lift the two term limit from the constitution to allow  President Paul Kagame to run for the third term.

Religious groups, except the Roman Catholics and the Anglican Church, have also signed and submitted petitions to parliament.

Clerics from 40 different religious groups based in Kigali, mainly Pentecostal and Muslim organizations have already signed their petitions.

Now some of the dominant religious leaders have come out openly to state their position on the politics around the third term agenda saying that their involvement in this matter is mixing politics and faith matters.

Among them is Retired Bishop Emmanuel Kolini, of the Anglican Church, who says that religious leaders should be advisors to politicians without getting involved in active politics.

“As religious leaders we have to do our job based on the judgment from Holy Scriptures (bible) and the Quran. Anything that contradicts the faith has to be rebuked and keep away.” Kolini says.

For Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege, the head of the Rwanda Catholic Episcopal council says that religion cannot simply be mixed with politics.

“To ask for the amendment of the constitution or not is not our job. That is the responsibility of political parties. Region is only supposed to bind the two sides; the community and politics” Mbonyintege says.

Five years ago, the notion of changing the third term limit and other constitutional articles related to the presidential term of office was first initiated by the Democratic Islamic Party (PDI)led by the current Minister of Internal Security, Sheikh Musa Fasil Harerimana.

For the last two years, President Paul Kagame has been under both local and international media pressure, to give his position on whether or he will run for the third term but Kagame has said that this is a choice of Rwandans themselves and it’s not the most burning issue for now.

The Rwandan parliament has put third term debate and the constitution top on the agenda.

Dr. Frank Habineza, the President of the Democratic Green Party, is one of the main (if not the only one) critics of the possible constitutional amendment and Kagame’s third term bid.He has even filed suit  in Rwanda seeking to block the move.  Other opposition party leaders in Rwanda have publicly expressed their support for Kagame’s third term