RWANDA President Paul Kagame on Sunday lashed out at “other nations” for interfering in his country’s internal affairs after criticism over a move that would allow him to extend his rule.
“We can be good friends, we can agree to disagree but there is a line when it comes to the interest of Rwandans,” Kagame, 58, told the leadership of his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
“They tell us we should have the right to make our own choices, but our choices then become defined as manoeuvring,” he said in quotes relayed by the RPF’s Twitter account.
“Our actions do not correspond to the wishes of other nations,” he said.
The Rwandan Senate last month passed a constitutional amendment that reduces presidential terms from seven to five years and maintains the two-term limit but makes an exception for Kagame, allowing him to run in 2017 for a third seven-year term.
After those seven years, he could then potentially run for the two terms of five years each, under the new laws, which would extend his rule to 2034.
The president’s remarks came after the European Union on Thursday warned that the move undermined democratic principles in the central African country.
“The adoption of provisions that can apply only to one individual weakens the credibility of the constitutional reform process, as it undermines the principle of democratic change of government,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
Two days earlier, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said Kagame must set “an example” for the region.
“We expect President Kagame to step down at the end of his term in 2017,” she said.
Kagame said Sunday: “If you want something from me by looking down on me, you can be sure 100% you won’t get it. You can be sure you will get the opposite.”
Kagame has run Rwanda since his RPF rebel army ended the 1994 genocide and ousted Hutu extremists. He was first a powerful Defence and vice president, before being elected president in 2003.
While he retains broad public support, his critics have accused him of displaying increasingly authoritarian tendencies.
Supporters portray Kagame as a guarantor of post-genocide stability and the economic growth that has transformed the country over the past 20 years.
But critics say the constitutional move is orchestrated by a government and leader with an iron grip on a country where freedom of expression is curtailed, and is part of a wider trend of African leaders seeking to stay put.
The RPF-backed New Times reported that a referendum could come as early as December 18, thus resolving the issue before Christmas.
The paper also said that Kagame, who has occasionally struck a reluctant posture on the third term issue, told a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Sunday that he will announce his final decision on whether he will run again in 2017 following the results of the referendum.
With over 3.7m people - more than 60% of voters - signed the petition to change part of the constitution that limits the president to two terms, the result of the referendum is foregone.