Rwanda President Paul Kagame has still not said whether he intends to run for office again in 2017. Criticism of the legitimacy of a recently held referendum continues.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame had announced that he would make a decision whether to stand for re-election in 2017 after the referendum held on Friday (18.12.2015).
The vote is now over and Kagame has made some tantalizing, inconclusive references about his country’s future.
“When the time comes to transfer responsibility from one public servant to another, Rwandans already have confidence that it will be done in an orderly and harmonious manner,” Kagame said in a state of the nation address on Monday.
“No individual is forever, but there is no term limit on values, institutions, or progress,” he added.
The outcome of the referendum was in Kagame’s favor.
According to the country’s electoral commission provisional results of Friday’s vote released on Saturday, 98 percent of Rwandans voted to support changes to the constitution that would allow Kagame to extend his term in office, possibly until 2034.
Final results are expected Monday.
Kagame, 58, would be able to run again in 2017 after his second term ends. He has been president since 2000 but effectively in control since his rebel force marched into Kigali in 1994 to end a genocide that killed more than 800,000 people.
On Monday, Kagame praised his country for voting in the referendum.
“Participation in the recent referendum was massive,” he said.
“Most voted ‘yes’; tens of thousands voted ‘no’. I thank everyone. We stand up for these propositions without hesitation and undaunted by reproach. The results are undeniable and the historical context is unforgettable at least to us Rwandans.”
Criticism of authoritarian rule
Rights groups acknowledge Kagame has broad support for rebuilding the nation, but accuse the authorities of stifling the media and opposition voices, charges the government denies.
Some critics have suggested that Rwanda’s National Electoral Commission was biased because it members were appointed by the government. Charles Munyaneza, the Commission’s executive secretary told DW: “We cannot be biased. We are professional people.”
The United States, which has long praised Kagame for transforming the nation since the 1994 genocide, said the president could best serve his nation by stepping down in 2017.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price issued a statement Saturday saying the US was concerned by long-standing restrictions on peaceful assembly, association and free expression in Rwanda.
The statement also urged Kagame to enshrine his legacy by honoring his commitments to respect the term limits set when he entered office.
The European Union also criticized the speed at which the referendum was held, saying it did not give enough time for the public to consider the arguments. The vote took place about a month after Senate gave its final approval to the draft changes.
The country’s tiny opposition Democratic Green Party of Rwanda also protested that it was impossible to organize a counter campaign at such short notice.
“The opposition would have won,” Green party president Frank Habineza said in a statement on Saturday.
“We will not give up on the struggle to make Rwanda a vibrant democracy,” Habineza added.
Some Rwandans said they had boycotted the vote as the outcome was already known.
Kagame has in the past said it would be a failure if he did not find a suitable replacement before the end of his current mandate.
“We know Rwanda’s value, and we the people, are prepared to safeguard the unique choices that brought this country back to life,” Kagame said Monday.
Extending term limits in Africa
The issue of long-serving rulers clinging to power has caused turmoil in Africa, where some leaders have been at the helm for decades, and Kagame is not the first in recent times to try to change the constitution in order to stay in office.
Neighboring Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza won a globally condemned third term earlier this year, after a constitutional row which has sparked months of civil unrest.
In the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso’s government in October claimed a landslide victory in a constitutional referendum that would make the president eligible to extend his three-decade stay in power.
There have also been protests in Congo over efforts by President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for 15 years, to prolong his time in office.