Rwandans have the final verdict on who should lead them and how they should be governed as enshrined in articles 1 and 2 of the country’s 2003 constitution, Rwanda’s Finance Minister Claver Gatete has said.
More than four million Rwandans from all 30 districts have submitted signed petitions to parliament demanding that a constitutional provision on presidential term limits be amended.
The petitions have come at a time millions of other Africans, including neighbouring Burundi, are protesting efforts by their Presidents to extend their rule.
Yet the irony in Rwanda’s case has tested its closest allies who are traditionally fond of lecturing the country on democratic principles.
Rodney D. Ford, spokesman for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, said on June 4 that in no uncertain terms, the U.S. , Rwanda’s major ally won’t be supporting a third term for Kagame.
“The people of Rwanda have a say in whoever has to be the leader and also what the constitution should look like,” Gatete said June 4, in an interview at the World Economic Forum on Africa in South Africa.
Article 101 of Rwanda’s constitution says, “The President is elected for a term of seven years renewable only once. Under no circumstances shall a person hold office of President of Republic for more than two terms.”
Indeed President Paul Kagame is completing his two terms in office and is not permitted to run for the next presidential election scheduled for 2017. And Kagame has on several occasions said that he will respect the law.
However, majority of Rwandans have strongly expressed their desire to have Kagame extend his rule after 2017. Some have threatened to take their lives if he doesn’t seek another term.
As momentum to amend the provision on term limits builds up, several local and international critics, including Rwanda’s allies, are urging for no amendment.
“The U.S. supports the principle of democratic transition in countries in the region through free, fair, and credible elections, held in accordance with current constitutions, including provisions regarding term limits,” Rodney said.
But that’s all the US opinion ends at, Rwandans insist. “It’s us who better know what is good for us. The World should leave Rwandans alone. We know very well the dark days we have gone through,” Maurice Mbarusha, a civil rights advocate told KT Press.
In an interview with Jeune Afrique in March, Kagame said that this was the right time for Rwandans to debate democratically, calmly and independently on the term limits issue.