Dec. 7 (GIN) – Rwandan President Paul Kagame showed a flash of indignation this week at negative reactions coming from foreign allies to his plans for a third term in office which would give him almost a quarter of a century at the nation’s helm.
“They tell us we should have the right to make our own choices, but our choices then become defined as manoeuvring,” he complained, in quotes relayed over his party’s Twitter account.
Until last month, Rwandan presidents were entitled to only two terms in office. But a newly enacted constitutional amendment neatly exempted President Kagame from the limit. Should he decide to run in 2017, he could win both a third term and a stay of seven years – both now outlawed to newcomers by the new bill.
It could also deal a fatal setback to a popular movement across the continent to end the syndrome of “presidents for life.”
With a third term, Kagame would join a fraternity of African presidents blocking the way for the next generation of leaders waiting impatiently in the wings. When the inevitable popular protests occur, free speech and other democratic rights are repressed. Dangerous instability occurs.
Last year, speaking to students at Tufts University in Boston, the Rwandan president showed his irritation at questions that seemed to begin from day one about when he planned to step down. “It’s as if I was here just to leave,” he complained. “I think at some point we need to leave countries and people to decide their own affairs.”
After the amendment was passed, the European Union’s foreign policy chief attacked the exemptions that favored only Kagame. “(It) weakens the credibility of the constitutional reform process, as it undermines the principle of democratic change of government,” said Federica Mogherini in a published statement.
US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, also urged Kagame to step down at the end of his term in 2017. The U.S. is Rwanda’s biggest donor.
But should the Rwandese be asked to vote on the third term issue, most will probably vote “yes”, said UK professor Phil Clark. “After the genocide in 1994, people never imagined they would live as peacefully with guaranteed healthcare, educational and economic opportunities as they do today,” he said.
“Rwandans are now experiencing social and economic stability. For these reasons, they would back a third term bid,” he said.
Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carina Tertsakian remarked: “If President Kagame wanted to have a positive legacy for his country and Africa as a whole, he could step down gracefully when his term ends, unlike other leaders in the region who have overstayed their welcome.