“You have asked me to lead the country after 2017”.
There has been violence in Burundi since April previous year, when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for and won a third term that many oppose. But, he added, “I don’t think that what we need is an eternal leader”.
A referendum on the change, which drew the backing of 98% of those who voted, prompted criticism from western governments, which worry about the growing list of African leaders seeking to extend their time in office.
“You have clearly expressed your choice on our country’s future”, he said, describing the constitutional changes as “worthy and wise”.
Kagame has been president since 2000, but he has effectively been in control since his forces marched into the Rwandan capital, Kigali, to end the 1994 genocide.
Opponents and some global observers say Kagame has effectively stifled democracy in the nation of some ten million. Kagame was then elected in 2003 after Rwanda’s new constitution was adopted, and was re-elected in 2003 and 2010. “The process allowed us the time to make certain, that the proposed changes had merit and wisdom”, Kagame announced in a three minutes address. The referendum followed more than 60% of voters signing a petition calling for the drafting of constitutional changes that would allow Mr Kagame to stand again.
His supporters maintain that Mr Kagame, an English speaker from the Tutsi ethnic group targeted in the genocide by Hutu majority extremists, is not an autocratic figure but a beacon of stability who has overseen economic growth.
He made it clear that far from gunning to be president for life, the referendum and his subsequent bid for re-election breathe new life into Rwandan democracy in that the wishes of the people have been rendered unmistakable by the overwhelming nature of their votes for him to continue leading the country. In December a referendum was held which decided whether or not President Kagame could run for a third term. Rwanda’s current constitution limits the president to two seven-year terms.
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