President Paul Kagame has distanced himself from the debate that has gained momentum over the past few months on whether Rwanda should amend its Constitution to remove term limits.
The Rwandan leader has not been categorical on whether he will step down come 2017 when his constitutional term comes to an end.
For the first time this week, President Kagame spoke extensively on the mostly one-sided debate, which is led by calls for a constitutional change.
Several government officials and members of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Inkotanyi have intensified campaigns to amend Article 101 of the Constitution to remove term limits, a move that would allow President Kagame to run again.
But President Kagame said he was for the preservation of the Constitution.
“There are the two groups of people, or at least two schools of thought. One says there are term limits in the Constitution; come 2017, these terms limits should not be removed. The Constitution should be respected as it is. And they say that there is no reason whatsoever any change should happen, that is one group,” he said.
“The other group is saying no, we think this Constitution is made by people, it can be changed by people. We think something else should happen other than what it suggests and we continue with the person we have in place for whatever reasons they may give. These are the two schools of thought.
“You want to know where I belong? I belong to the first one. So the debates are about these two schools of thought,” President Kagame said, adding that in a democratic environment, a healthy political debate should thrive on what will happen come 2017.
The Rwandan leader denied the term-limit debate was instigated by himself or his Cabinet members, saying the debate was kicked off by the media and people themselves who have been asking him to stand again.
President Kagame said this despite senior government officials, including Minister of Justice and Attorney General Johnston Busingye, whose ministry will play a key role in the events that will unfold over the next two years, openly supporting calls to remove term limits from the Constitution.
Minister for Local Government Francis Kaboneka, whose docket is seen as one of the vital institutions ahead of 2017, was also quoted by local media openly supporting calls to amend the Constitution to allow President Kagame a chance to run again after his constitutional mandate expires in 2017.
Mr Kaboneka, a youth RPF mobiliser, made the remarks at a rally in the Northern Province district of Musanze where locals vowed “to commit suicide” or “go into exile” if President Kagame does not continue ruling the country beyond 2017.
Several other senior officials have written in favour of, or been heard on radio stations, supporting the constitutional amendment.
At the press conference held on Thursday, President Kagame defended his officials, saying they also have a right to say what they want or think on national matters.
The EastAfrican understands that RPF, the ruling party — with unlimited resources from its business ventures and contributions from wealthy members — has finalised plans to ignite a mass movement to trigger a constitutional change through a referendum, beginning at the grassroots level.
President Kagame, who also serves as the chairman of the party, is expected to play an “outsider” role until mid-2016 where he will most likely be forced to respond to the growing public calls to stay in office.