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Rwandan President Announces Bid for Fourth Term Despite Western Criticism
Rwandan President Paul Kagame defies critics, announces fourth term bid despite Western scrutiny over firm governance and censorship.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has declared his intention to run for a fourth term in the upcoming elections, shrugging off Western criticism of his extended rule. In an interview with the French-language publication Jeune Afrique, President Kagame, who has been in power since 2000, asserted, "What the West thinks is not my problem."
The 65-year-old leader, who won the previous election in 2017 with over 98% of the vote, has been the de facto leader of Rwanda since the devastating 1994 genocide. Notably, the upcoming election will mark the first time that individuals born during Kagame's presidency, who have known no other leader, will be eligible to vote.
While Rwanda has positioned itself as one of the most stable nations on the African continent, human rights organizations accuse Kagame of governing under an atmosphere of fear and suppressing dissent and freedom of expression. In a high-profile case, Paul Rusesabagina, renowned for his heroic role in Hotel Rwanda and his vocal criticism of Kagame, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for terrorism in 2021, following his controversial arrest the previous year. Rusesabagina's family described his capture as a kidnapping.
After his release from prison in March 2023, facilitated by a presidential pardon and his subsequent flight to the United States, Rusesabagina released a video message in July, asserting that Rwandans were "prisoners in their own country." Rwanda currently ranks 131st out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index for 2023.
When questioned in 2022 about his potential re-election bid, Kagame responded that he would "consider running for another 20 years," emphasizing that elections were a matter of the people's choice.
Kagame's political journey began when, at the age of 36, his party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, ousted the Hutu extremists accused of instigating the genocide, resulting in the deaths of approximately 800,000 people, primarily Tutsis but also moderate Hutus, between April and July 1994. In 2003, Rwanda adopted a new constitution, initially allowing the president a seven-year tenure renewable once. However, this was amended in a contentious referendum in 2015, which granted the president the opportunity to run for a third seven-year term and then serve two additional five-year terms starting in 2024.
Regarding concerns over Western opinion regarding his candidacy, President Kagame stated to Jeune Afrique, "What these countries think is not our problem. Personally, I no longer know what corresponds to Western values. What is democracy? Is the West dictating to others what they should do? But if they violate their own principles, how do we listen to them? Seeking to transplant democracy to someone else is already a violation of democracy in itself. People are supposed to be independent and should be allowed to organize themselves as they wish."
Critics argue that Rwanda remains a perilous environment for government opposition, with several prominent figures facing attacks and even fatalities while in exile. Despite these allegations, the Rwandan government has consistently denied any involvement in these incidents. In 2014, Kagame issued a stern warning, asserting that those who betray the country would face "consequences." He has staunchly defended Rwanda's human rights record, claiming that the nation respects political freedoms.
In a recent development, President Kagame, along with his Cameroonian counterpart, initiated a reshuffling of their respective heads of military agencies in response to a coup in Gabon. The Rwanda Defense Force, in a press release via X app (Twitter), disclosed Kagame's approval of the retirement of 83 senior officers and other military personnel. Notably, Kagame's 2015 constitutional amendment could potentially extend his rule until 2034.
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