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Africa

Factbox: Rwanda's road to referendum

Rwandans have started voting in a referendum to amend the constitution that could potentially allow President Paul Kagame to rule until 2034. The Republic of Rwanda has a long history of failed political transitions.

Like many former colonies, Rwanda did not have a home-grown constitution before 1994. Existing constitutions were based on foreign models which never took into account the interests of the Rwandan people.

In 1961, a constitution was established to facilitate the transition to independence from Belgium which at the time administered the country on behalf of the League of Nations.

The constitution was a product of the Hutu Revolution that eclipsed the dominance of the Belgian supported Tutsi Monarchy. A republic was established with Dominique Mbonyumutwa as the head of the transitional government.

In November 1962, a new constitution was adopted. Its main objective was to consolidate the republic and establish a multi-party regime.

However, the result was a one-party system in which the Rwandan Democratic Movement (MDR Parmehutu) dominated and ruled alone.

In 1973, Juvenal Habyarimanna took power in a military coup, arguing that the old regime had become corrupt, ineffective and riddled with favoritism.

The constitution was suspended and he effectively ruled by decrees until 1978 when a new charter was drawn up.

In 1978, another constitution replaced the one from 1962 and made little democratic improvements. The constitution replaced the pluralist regime established by the previous charter with a one-party system.

In October 1990, the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Patriotic Front invaded Rwanda demanding a share in power. This forced President Habyarimanna to introduce liberal reforms.

Arusha Peace Accord

A 1991 constitutional revision reintroduced multi-party politics. The constitution was never effectively applied because of a civil war that had been going on since 1990.

The Arusha Peace Accords of August 1993 together with the 1991 constitution and other additional protocols then constituted the fundamental law of Rwanda during the transitional period from 1994 to 2003.

The Arusha Accords provided for broad power-sharing government and the drafting of a new constitution in 2003 that would govern the post transition period.

The process is credited with producing the first true constitution written by Rwandans and based on their common aspirations and interests.

Ruanda Präsident Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame says other nations must not interfere in his country's affairs

However, the process has been criticized for being mostly driven by President Paul Kagame since the end of the genocide that claimed the lives of over 800,000 Rwandans in just 100 days in 1994.

Now, the country is holding a constitutional referendum that will allow Kagame to run for a third term in 2017. He could potentially remain in power until 2034.

The constitutional amendments are said to be a response to citizen petitions and the need to sustain achievements registered over the past 21 years.

At least 3.8 million people petitioned the parliament to redesign the constitution to allow President Kagame to stand again in 2017.

Supporters say it is not President Kagame who is seeking to stay in power but rather millions of eligible Rwandan voters who petitioned their lawmakers during a nationwide consultative tour to amend the constitution.

But critics say the constitutional move is orchestrated by a government and leader with an iron grip on freedoms.

Rwanda's only strong opposition party, Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, unsuccessfully challenged the constitutional amendments in the courts.

The United States and European Union have warned that the move undermines democratic principles in the central African country.

In response, Kagame lashed out at the comments saying other nations are attempting to interfere in his country's internal affairs.

The issue of long-serving rulers clinging to power has caused turmoil in Africa where some heads of state have been at the helm for decades.