He was speaking yesterday (May 11) at the World Economic Forum on Africa, which Rwanda is hosting for the first time.
President Kagame was responding to a leading question asked on a panel by former UK prime minister Tony Blair: “Why pursue a third term?”
The Rwandan president said he decided to move ahead with a controversial bid for a third term in office despite the criticism by West led by the United States because Rwandans wanted him to.
“I didn’t ask for this thing,” he said, adding that there had been a very healthy debate within his party and with ordinary citizens about whether he should continue on as president. “I’ve told Rwandans it’s not just not what you think of for yourselves, but what others think of us.” “I said, maybe you need to take a risk with someone else,” Kagame said, suggesting they pick someone from the ruling party RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) or elsewhere. “But they kept saying no, we want you to stay.”
To allow him to run for a third term in 2017, the country’s constitution had to be changed, and the Rwandan legislature approved the move, which was also supported by Rwandans in a referendum vote last December.
“I found myself having to make a decision based on what the people of this country want or what people outside want. What is the right time? The right time cannot be determined by those outside,” he added.
The East African nation under Kagame’s rule since 2000 has experienced tremendous growth since the 1994 genocide which shattered the country economically, emotionally and politically.
Earlier in the year, the Rwandan leader lambasted the US for criticizing him for his decision to run in next year’s election. The US state department said it was “deeply disappointed” by Kagame’s announcement that he will run for the third term.
The US comment came after millions of Rwandans voted in favor of the constitutional changes which will allow the 58-year-old leader extend his mandate. According to the new statutory guidelines, the leader will run for a seven-year-long term in 2017 and two subsequent five-year long-terms in 2024 and 2029 and possibly staying on until 2034.
While Kagame has been criticized for obeying his people’s will by some leaders, he has received open support by others including Blair and investor/philanthropist Howard Buffett.
Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative provides capacity building services to the Rwandan government and has been very supportive of Kagame’s leadership.
The outspoken Buffet said he was in support of the African leader’s governance.
“If I didn’t think president Kagame was going to be here for another seven years, we wouldn’t even consider doing some of the things we’re trying to do,” Buffett said adding that outsiders should let Rwandans be as they know better what they want for the future.
“Let’s not think we know better than Rwandans what they want for the future. Let’s look at the result, let’s not put form before substance. This is not my or your future, this is the Rwandans future. It is imperative that they drive what will achieve success.”
It is argued that Kagame borrows a leaf from his counterpart Yoweri Museveni with whom they fought for military victories in Uganda in the 1980s. At one point, Kagame held a senior position in Uganda as acting chief of military intelligence to the ruling party.
President Museveni is set to be sworn in for a fifth term to extend his 30-year-old rule for another five years. Museveni is being inaugurated amid controversies from the opposition led by Kizza Besigye who has faced the government’s wrath for opposing the widely disputed February 18 elections.
In the recent past, Africa has been embracing democracy but the selfish moves by some regional leaders to extend presidential terms is worrisome, with some like Zimbabwe’s leader Robert Mugabe saying they will rule even on a wheelchair if it calls for that.
In his argument about the condemnation, Kagame dismissed the international critics saying “We’re damned if we do or damned if we don’t.”