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US criticizes Rwanda's Kagame for third term

January 3, 2016

The US government has said it is "deeply disappointed" with Rwandan President Paul Kagame's decision to run for a third term in office. Kagame has maintained that the Rwandan people want him to continue his rule.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame talks during a press conference.
Image: Getty Images/AFP/Z. Abubeker

The United States expressed dissatisfaction on Saturday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame's intention to run for a third presidential term.

"President Kagame ignores a historic opportunity to reinforce and solidify the democratic institutions," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. "Constitutional transitions of power are essential for strong democracies, and ... efforts by incumbents to change rules to stay in power weaken democratic institutions."

Voters in the country approved changes to the constitution on December 18 in a referendum vote. The vote allows Kagame to run for a seven-year term in 2017 and two consecutive five-year terms thereafter, meaning he could remain in power until 2034.

Despite supporting Kagame's first two terms in office, in which he won with some 90 percent of ballots in 2003 and 2010, the US said he should step down in 2017.

"As Rwanda moves toward … presidential elections next year … we call upon the government of Rwanda to ensure and respect the rights of its citizens to exercise their freedom of expression, conscience, and peaceful assembly - the hallmarks of true democracies," Kirby said.

Massive approval

However, Kagame has maintained that the Rwandan people want him to continue his rule in office.

"What is happening is people's choice. Ask people why they want it," he said after the referendum vote.

"You have asked me to lead the country after 2017. Given the importance you ascribe to this matter, I can only accept," he said in a televised New Year address.

The move to change Rwanda's constitution was prompted by a petition signed by more than 3.7 million people.

Shay Meinecke (AFP)