US 'deeply disappointed' with Kagame's third term bid

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Rwandan President Paul Kagame. PHOTO | FILE

Rwandan President Paul Kagame. PHOTO | FILE 

By KEVIN J. KELLEY in New York

Posted  Sunday, January 3   2016 at  10:05

The United States on Saturday criticised Rwandan President Paul Kagame's announced intention to seek a third term in office.

A State Department spokesman said the US is "deeply disappointed" by President Kagame's decision to run for re-election next year. The 58-year-old president, in power since 2000, ignored repeated US statements in recent months urging him to stand down when his current term ends in 2017.

But Washington, which ranks as Rwanda's largest bilateral donor, stopped short on Saturday of taking or threatening punitive action in response to Prersident Kagame's January 1 announcement.

"With this decision," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement, "President Kagame ignores an historic opportunity to reinforce and solidify the democratic institutions the Rwandan people have for more than 20 years laboured so hard to establish."

"The United States believes constitutional transitions of power are essential for strong democracies and that efforts by incumbents to change rules to stay in power weaken democratic institutions," the statement added.

"We are particularly concerned by changes that favour one individual over the principle of democratic transitions."

Revised constitution

President Kagame's bid for a third term was made possible by a referendum last month in which a reported 98 per cent of Rwandan voters favoured revising a constitutional provision limiting the president to two seven-year terms.

An approved amendment allows the Rwandan leader to run next year for another seven-year term and to then - theoretically - seek two additional terms of five years each. He could thus remain in power through 2034.

However, in his New Year statement, President Kagame said Rwanda would have another leader "sooner than later." He clarified that his country would not have an "eternal" leader.

The US has also sharply criticised Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza for seeking a third term in office. That move, in the US' view, has contributed significantly to the strife now raking Burundi.

President Obama seemed to suggest in July that Rwanda could also experience instability if its president clings to power.

"“When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife, as we’ve seen in Burundi,” Mr Obama said in Ethiopia. “And this is often just a first step down a perilous path.”