THE United States on Friday reiterated its opposition to a possible third term for Rwandan President Paul Kagame, after the country’s parliament voted in support of constitutional change that would allow him to stay on into the next decade.
Kagame, 57, has been at the helm of Rwandan politics since 1994, when an offensive by his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels put an end to a genocide by Hutu extremists that left an estimated 800,000 people dead, most of whom were Tutsis.
He was initially welcomed by the West but there have been growing concerns about his strongman rule—critics say that he has silenced the opposition and the media.
“We do not support those in positions of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement, noting Washington was watching with concern.
He added: “President Kagame has repeatedly stated his commitment to respecting constitutional term limits and to mentoring a generation of leaders able to sustain Rwanda’s remarkable economic growth and stability.
“The United States underscores the importance of these commitments.”
In reaction, Rwanda’s foreign minister alluded that the exercise was driven by citizens..
“#Rwanda Gov noted statement US Gov on popular ongoing popular Constitution exercise, esp.para2 which rightly recognises RWA citizens decide!” Louise Mushikiwabo tweeted on Saturday.
Rwandan lawmakers recently said they found only 10 people in nationwide consultations who opposed possible constitutional changes to allow Kagame a third term.
Any change to the constitution would require a vote in support of at least three-quarters of both houses of parliament, followed by a national referendum. Lawmakers had voted in July in initial support of the idea of a change.
As minister of defence and then vice president, Kagame was widely seen as the power behind the throne even before he was appointed president in 2000, and was subsequently elected by popular vote in 2003, winning 95% of the vote.
He was re-elected in 2010 with a similarly resounding mandate. The next elections are due in 2017.
Kagame says the decision on a third term is for the “Rwandan people.”
In late July, US president Barack Obama in a historic address to the African Union urged leaders to observe constitutional limits and allow a regeneration of leadership when their term is over.
“But if a leader thinks they’re the only person who can hold their nation together, then that leader has failed to truly build their country.”