Rwandan cabinet reshuffle
The 18 October cabinet reshuffle indicates a desire to improve relations with Uganda and advance cross-border infrastructure projects. Rwanda's president Paul Kagame is probably consolidating power in order to exert greater control over his administration's future or choice of successor beyond 2034.
- Rwanda's new cabinet indicates an increased likelihood of improved relations with Uganda that would facilitate cross-border power and transportation projects.
- Recent military and intelligence appointments indicate that President Kagame is consolidating power, probably with the aim of exerting greater control over the question of eventual presidential succession by 2034.
- The elevation of Richard Sezibera to the cabinet improves his prospects for eventually succeeding Kagame, although James Kabarebe also remains a strong contender.
Rwanda's president Paul Kagame announced his reshuffled cabinet on 18 October, with key changes including the appointment of Richard Sezibera as foreign affairs minister replacing Louise Mushikiwabo (recently elected to lead the International Organisation of La Francophonie (French-speaking countries)), the replacement of Defence Minister General James Kabarebe with Major General Albert Murasira, and the removal of Emmanuel Gasana as Inspector General of Police. Soraya Hakizumuremyi, who has both diplomatic and investment experience, was also appointed industry minister in the reshuffle. The concurrent appointment of former key powerbroker James Musoni as Ambassador to Zimbabwe cements the swift decline in his influence, which began with his removal as infrastructure minister in April, and indicates that he is unlikely to return as a significant political player in Rwanda within the three-year outlook.
Improving Rwanda-Uganda relations
Bilateral relations between Rwanda and Uganda deteriorated sharply during 2017 over a variety of mutual grievances and accusations, resulting in both governments seeking to diplomatically disrupt each other's investment and development plans. However, Rwanda's cabinet reshuffle indicates an increasing likelihood of rapprochement between the two governments as Gasana, Kabarebe, and Mushikiwabo had been openly critical of the Ugandan government. IHS Markit sources indicate that, by contrast, Sezibera and Murasira are perceived within the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as among its more diplomatic-minded members and as having taken a more neutral stance towards Uganda. Sezibera notably has diplomatic experience, having previously served as Secretary-General of the East African Community (EAC) and Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, which indicates he is well connected in Uganda's leading political circles. Kabarebe's move to the President's Office as Senior Defence and Security Adviser was probably a demotion for having openly criticised Uganda. A military and intelligence leadership reshuffle on 4 October similarly led to General Francis Mutiganda, who is also perceived within the RPF as too hostile to Uganda, being removed from his post as Director General of External Security.
In March, Uganda made a step towards repairing relations with Rwanda, when President Yoweri Museveni announced the removal of two key figures within Uganda's security services most involved in the sharp deterioration of bilateral ties, namely Security Minister Henry Tumukunde (widely perceived as hostile to Rwanda) and Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura (widely perceived as close to Kagame and Rwanda). Although this move did not bring about an improvement in relations, Rwanda's recent reshuffle indicates that rapprochement is increasingly likely.
Rwandan domestic challenges
An IHS Markit source also indicated in October that Rwandan government efforts to discourage bilateral trade with Uganda had increased internal discontent with, and domestic criticism of, the Rwandan government. This is because many Rwandans rely on informal cross-border trade with Uganda for their livelihoods. Efforts to discourage the use of imported Ugandan goods, in particular cement, were also posing challenges to key Rwandan domestic infrastructure projects, such as the construction of the new Bugesera International Airport, which domestic cement production and non-Ugandan imports had been struggling to supply.
Outlook and implications
The cabinet appointments indicate that President Kagame is trying to improve relations with Uganda. Hakizumuremyi's promotion, in particular, indicates a focus on reinvigorating stalled regional infrastructure projects, including an electricity generation scheme requiring transmission lines through Uganda and the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) phases linking Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.
We had previously identified the appointment of Sezibera to Rwanda's cabinet as a key indicator of him being positioned as a possible long-term presidential successor. The foreign minister role will see him work particularly closely with President Kagame. However, we assess that Kabarebe will also remain a strong contender, as his recent move will keep him close to Kagame on security and defence matters. More widely, IHS Markit sources indicate that in the October military and intelligence reshuffle a large number of key positions were given to younger, less experienced officers, who are less likely to challenge Kagame on policy than senior officers with experience of (and their own 'liberation credentials' from) the 1990-94 civil war that brought the RPF to power. This notably mirrors the longstanding strategy of Uganda's president Museveni to marginalise the 'historicals' who fought alongside him in the 1981-86 Bush War, allowing Museveni to perpetuate his own administration for over 30 years and likely plan an eventual succession by a family member. A more pliant military leadership will similarly facilitate Kagame in selecting a successor of his own choosing in his own time, or in extending his own administration beyond the 2034 constitutional barrier currently in place. Kagame's current term ends in 2024, after which he is eligible for re-election for two additional five-year terms. Key indicators that Kagame does not intend to step down by 2034 would include purges of the RPF leadership that target leaders of pro-transition sentiment, particularly RPF founder and veteran politician Tito Rutaremara, and their replacement with younger Kagame loyalists, and the withdrawal of space in official and RPF-controlled media, such as The New Times newspaper, for pro-succession opinions.
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