Rwanda looks East after changing term limits

Saturday January 09 2016

Rwanda could be looking for new friends in the Middle East and Asia as the country rides out a wave of criticism by Western countries for allowing President Paul Kagame to seek another term in office when his current one expires in 2017.

Shortly after announcing that he will run for a third term, President Kagame on Monday visited the United Arab Emirates and held talks with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The two had met in October 2014.

Political analysts point out that President Kagame’s frequent visits and growing interest in the Middle East signals Rwanda’s shift from the West as the country sheds its “Darling of the West” tag.

Recent events indicate that President Kagame and his government have already sought out new allies in case the old ones decide to act the way they usually do in such circumstances — through sanctions and aid cuts.

“President Kagame is aware that Rwanda will require new friends who unlike the US or European countries, will not criticise or take action over his decision to run for another term in office following the amendment of the constitution and the referendum,” said a Rwandan political analyst, who spoke to The EastAfrican. “Such countries may include China, Turkey, Israel, the Emirates, Singapore and far east countries like South Korea.”

The analyst added that Rwanda’s recent decision to reinstate diplomatic missions in different Middle Eastern and Asian countries points to that.


President Kagame has come under heavy criticism by the US government over his January 1 announcement that he will run again for presidency in 2017, following the amendment of the constitution and a referendum in which 98 per cent of the voters voted in favour of the incumbent to run again.

John Kirby, spokesperson of the Bureau of Public Affairs at the State Department, said on January 2 that the US was “deeply disappointed” that President Kagame had announced his intention to run for a third term in office come 2017.

“With this decision, 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,” said Mr Kirby.

READ: Rwandan president confirms third term run

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

The Rwandan leader however fired back at his American critics, saying that the US need not to be disappointed in the people’s choice of a leader, adding that Africa’s problems such as poverty, disease, governance, technology and more cannot be easily solved by what is behind this “deep disappointment” attitude.

“There are quite many very disappointing things happening across the globe we hope to carry our own burden and not be others’ burden,” President Kagame said through Twitter.

Once seen as a “darling of the US” for his economic transformation of the country torn apart by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the Rwandan leader has braved attacks from former allies such as Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN.

Ms Power, previously an avid proponent of President Kagame’s government, described the events that led up to the December 18 as “parliamentary manoeuvrings” — to the chagrin of President Kagame.  

Kagame’s latest visit to the United Arab Emirates could be a hint about the direction that Rwanda is taking now.

On his trip to the rich Asian nation, Kagame secured funds worth $75 million for the construction of the Eastern Province Nyagatare-Rukomo highway.

Also in April last year, Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo led a delegation to China, where she secured funding for the 120MW Nyabarongo II dam and Mutobo water project, which is expected to cost about $200 million.

And in October, Ms Mushikiwabo travelled to Moscow, where she met Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss bilateral co-operation.

This could indicate that President Kagame is keen on making new friends after evaluating the possible loss of those who adored him in the West.