Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has said presidential term limits have nothing to do with democracy and they will not solve Africa’s problems.
“The President of the Republic is elected for a term of seven years renewable only once. Under no circumstances shall a person hold the office of President of Republic for more than two terms.”
“The power to initiate amendment of the constitution is vested concurrently in the President of the Republic upon the proposal of the cabinet and each Chamber of Parliament upon a resolution passed by a two thirds majority vote of its members.
“The passage of a constitutional amendment requires a three quarters majority vote of the members of each chamber of Parliament. However, if the constitutional amendment concerns the term of the President of the Republic or the system of democratic government based on political pluralism, or the constitutional regime established by this constitution especially the republican form of the government or national sovereignty, the amendment must be passed by referendum, after adoption by each Chamber of Parliament. No amendment to this article is permitted.”
The 57-year-old leader made the comments days after Rwanda’s ruling party Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) announced in a statement that it accepted the request of some 3.6 million people – around 72% of those on the Rwandan electoral roll – who had signed a petition calling for a change to the constitution to allow Kagame to run for a third term in the 2017 presidential election.
RPF said in a statement it approved an amendment to article 101 and “supports that the [constitution]… should be amended”.
Kagame said during an interview with Ugandan journalists: “There is no hurry, 2017 is slightly over two years to finish this mandate. I have not allowed any pressure on me to say where I stand.
“I don’t think the problems [in Africa] can be solved by term limits, neither, I would say term limits are a solution to Africa’s problems. If we say no term limits, will you not find problems? What has to be done is completely different. Term limits have nothing to do with democracy.”
“In some places in Africa, term limits are observed but has it helped? I don’t think so. So, therefore, what is the obsession with term limits? Even if it is a good thing, it is a good thing in combination with other things, it is not something that stands alone. The context and substance are important,” he continued.
Paul Kagame’s political career
Kagame became the leader of the RPF’s armed wing, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), as the country had descended into a civil war which then sparked a genocide in which an estimated 1 million people – mainly Tutsi and moderate Hutu – were killed in three months.
In the aftermath of the genocide, Kagame served as vice president and minister of defence until 2000, when he became president after being elected by government ministers and the national assembly.
The RPF became a political party while its armed wing was renamed the Rwandan Patriotic Army (now the Rwandan Defence Forces).
In 2003, Rwanda adopted a new constitution replacing a transitional one, and Kagame was re-elected as president. He won the election again in 2010.
“Sometimes we want to appear like the West. The same people who shout about democracy don’t have term limits. You have kingdoms then you have prime ministers who can go on as long as their parties get elected.
“Proponents of term limits argue that if you overstay you get drunk with power. Yes, that is part of the problem but not the main problem. Look at Singapore: Lee Kuan Yew was there for 32 years. What he managed to do for his people is incredible – transforming his country from a third to first world.”
Some reports warned several Rwandans were forced to sign the petition as they fear they might be considered enemies of the government.
According to UK-based human rights activist and politician Rene Claudel Mugenzi, the Rwandan government – which, according to Scotland Yard, plotted to assasinate Mugenzi in 2011 – is forcing people to sign the petition to allow a third term for Kagame without incurring international criticism.
He told IBTimes UK: “The Rwandan government does not want to be seen as a dictator government, but on the same side they want to change the constitution and they want to make it as the change is driven by the people, but the reality is that this is a set up.
“The government knows that the majority of people will not oppose because they have been terrified many times,” he added, pointing out the petition has triggered discussion for an amendment. “The parliament will decide whether to have a referendum.”
However, article 193 concerning amendments of the constitution does not allow the number of terms to be changed, but only their lengths.
When contacted by IBTimes UK, RPF’s Vice President Christophe Bazivamo said: “I think it is not possible to force 3.6 million people to sign a petition. People who have signed were actually happy to do so. It’s not possible to force people to sign and to also make them happy.
“The population signed the petition because of facts. We achieved goals when it comes to child and maternal mortality. When it comes to security and social economic development, from 1994 until now, the situation has improved.”