Is Paul Kagame Right to Run for a Third Term as Rwanda President?


Paul Kagame will run for a third term as president of Rwanda in 2017 – that much we know. His decision was announced shortly after a national referendum, where 98 percent of voters approved constitutional changes that would allow him to run again. Yet, despite the overwhelming support, the US, EU and other international bodies have condemned the idea since it was first suggested.

Rwanda’s political opposition is naturally against the move too, having labelled it as undemocratic. But international observers and rights groups have also raised questions over Kagame’s regime. Meanwhile public support – at least on paper – remains largely in favour of the man who lifted Rwanda out of genocide and into economic stability.

So is Paul Kagame right to run for a third term as president?


The case for Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame boasts a long profile of steering Rwanda out of troubled times and into relative economic stability. So let’s look at the case for the Rwandan president running for a third term in office


He pulled Rwanda out of genocide

One thing nobody can take away from Paul Kagame is the role he played in bringing an end to the horrors of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and the civil war that preceded it. Kagame – an ethnic Tutsi in exile – honed his military skills in Uganda, before returning to his home country in 1990, to take command of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) forces.

For the next four years, Kagame would lead the rebels in their fight against the Rwandan regime, which climaxed with a 100-day genocide against ethnic Tutsi. Hutu extremists would kill an estimated 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu in little more than three months. Kagame’s RPF forces ultimately overpowered the Hutu government and brought peace to an ethnic conflict that had been brewing since the 1950’s.


He steered Rwanda to economic stability

Off the back of leading Rwanda out of civil war and since he was first elected in 2003, Paul Kagame has guided his country through a long period of economic stability. The country enjoyed annual GDP growth by an average of 8 percent between 2001 and 2014, according to statistics from the World Bank.

The figures will tell you the average Rwandan is better off and living for longer than they were 20 years ago. They will tell you infant deaths have fallen by two-thirds and that Rwanda devotes 17% of its entire national budget to education.

Widespread poverty and crime still exist in the country, but few will argue the numbers Rwanda can boast, regarding development over the last 20 years, are anything less than outstanding.


The numbers also say Rwanda wants Kagame to run

Perhaps the most important case for Kagame’s third term bid should be the numbers that suggest widespread support from within Rwanda. More than 3.7 million Rwandans – 60 percent of registered voters – reportedly signed a petition last year calling for changes to the constitution that would allow Kagame to run again.

Lawmakers claimed they only found 10 people across the nation that actively opposed the changes. Lawmakers later unanimously approved the changes and the national referendum last month saw 98 percent of voters give the green light to making the changes that pave the way for another Kagame campaign.


The case against Paul Kagame

Although the numbers largely swing in favour of Kagame running again, there has been plenty of criticism since the possibility was first announced. Opposition within the country has been almost non-existent, but that hasn’t stopped international voices condemning the idea. Here are a few reasons why.


Questions over Kagame’s rule

Despite everything Kagame has done for his country, question marks remain over his regime. The likes of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have heaped praise on the Rwandan leader for his work over the last 22 years. However, various rights groups have accused the leader of grave violations during his time in charge.

Amnesty International has accused Kagame’s regime of extrajudicial killings, claiming thousands Rwandans were either murdered or disappeared between December 1997 and May 1998. Human Rights Watch later accused Rwandan troops of involvement in the Second Congo War and the nation has now been accused of recruiting refugees to fight in the Burundi conflict.


98 percent is a difficult figure to believe

When Ethiopia’s ruling party sealed a 100 percent election victory in May, democracies around the world scorned at the nation’s crackdown on opposition and freedom of speech. The 98 percent result from Rwanda’s recent referendum has been met with similar scepticism from critics that accuse Kagame’s regime of similar oppression.

Kagame’s image as a hero that pulled Rwanda out of its darkest days sets him apart from other iron-fist rulers of Africa’s recent history. At least that’s how it appears to onlookers from allied nations, such as the UK and US, but criticism is mounting as the president hints at maintaining his grip on power for years to come.


Third terms are threatening democracy across Africa

The main cause for concern of the UN and other international bodies is the growing trend of leaders in African extending their stay in power. Paul Kagame’s approach has certainly been the most democratic – at least on paper – compared to the likes of Pierre Nkurunziza, whose third term bid descended Burundi into one of Africa’s worst political crises.

Kagame’s third term looks unlikely to cause such upheaval, but the concern is that one of the continent’s most inspirational leaders could encourage more third terms in surrounding nations. Either way, there’s no denying the leader has a huge influence on surrounding nations – something the world has already seen with Congo and Burundi.


So, while questions remain over Kagame and his presidency, one thing is for certain: He will run for a third term in power. It’s a move that could see him stay in office until 2034, unless the country’s democratic system says otherwise. However, it’s that very democratic voice the leader is accused of quietly oppressing.

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.