Rwandan President Paul Kagame was on Friday sworn in for his third seven-year term following his overwhelming victory in the August 4 polls.
President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, were among the 20 African heads of state and government representatives at the inauguration.
The colourful ceremony at at Amahoro National Stadium, was celebrated with military parades and traditional dances, and was attended by thousands of Rwandans and televised outside the stadium and in different venues across the country.
The Rwandan leader was sworn-in after posting a landslide win of 98.79 per cent against his rivals Philippe Mpayimana who got 0.73 per cent of the vote and Democratic Green Party of Rwanda’s Frank Habineza who came in last with 0.48 per cent.
Speaking shortly after taking the oath of office, President Kagame described the inauguration as a day of “renewal and gratitude”, taking a potshot at critics of the presidential polls who keep trying to impose ‘dogma’ which are not working even in their own countries.
President Kagame said efforts to ‘denigrate’ the electoral process a few weeks ago only made Rwandans more defiant and determined to express themselves through the vote.
“All along, we have had to fight to protect our right to do what is best for us and we will without any doubt continue to do so,” he said.
“In this regard, Rwanda is not an exception. Every African country has to contend with efforts to force us to live on someone else’s terms. They demand that we replace systems that are working well for us with dogmas in which their own people are rapidly losing faith,” he added.
The Rwandan leader and his party Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) came under heavy criticism before and after the polls over perceived lack of political space and locking out credible opponents from the August 4 election.
President Kagame, however, pointed out that, given Rwanda’s history, the country had chosen to do things differently, opting for a consensual political model rather than confrontation and divisive ones, which he said critics want to impose on the country.
Buoyed by the presence of many African leaders, the Rwanda leader, who is now poised to take over the chairmanship of the African Union next year, used the opportunity to advance “African ideals”, pointing out that the continent was ready to plot its own path without being shoved around.
“Africa has no civilisation problems — only assets,” said the president, who is also leading efforts to reform the AU and its organs. It is important for Rwandans and Africans to feel reassured that attacks on our character only make us stronger, provided that we respond with clarity and conviction”.
“Africa is on the right path and we are going to be just fine,” President Kagame added.
He said that Africans need to do what they know is right for the people and they will be vilified because the results are much better and the costs much lower.
“Those who are worried of our welfare should feel at ease. We are the best students of our shortcomings,” he said.
He added that African countries need to do what is good for them because there is no single model for nation building.
The Rwandan leader also highlighted the progress the country has made over the past 23 years and reconstruction following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, adding that his government will do even more.
President Kagame, who has hinted at this being his last term despite the 2015 constitutional amendment which allows him to stay in office until 2034, said that his government will continue to empower young people, especially ‘first time voters’.
He thanked the leaders and members of the eight other parties which joined RPF to nominate him as their candidate, as well as his opponents in the election. He pledged to work together with them all.
Several political parties, including the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, are expected to be rewarded with top positions in the government.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who arrived in Kigali on Friday morning and was welcomed by the Minister of Education Dr Papias Malimba Musafiri received a rousing welcome upon arrival in the national stadium.
Also to receive a thunderous welcome was Kenya’s President Kenyatta.
Those present included Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal, Edgar Lungu of Zambia, Sassou Nguesso of Congo, Hage Geingob of Namibia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and Yemi Osinbajo, the acting President of Nigeria. Others were the presidents of Gabon, Togo, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, South Sudan, Djibouti and Niger.
Conspicuously missing was President John Magufuli of Tanzania and Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza.