Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Sunday lashed out at “other nations” for interfering in his country’s internal affairs after criticism over a move that would allow him to extend his rule.
“We can be good friends, we can agree to disagree but there is a line when it comes to the interest of Rwandans,” Kagame, aged 58, told the leadership of his Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR).
“They tell us we should have the right to make our own choices, but our choices then become defined as manoeuvring,” he said in quotes relayed by the FPR’s Twitter account.
“Our actions do not correspond to the wishes of other nations,” he said.
The Rwandan Senate last month passed a constitutional amendment that reduces presidential terms from seven to five years and maintains the two-term limit but makes an exception for Kagame, allowing him to run in 2017 for a third seven-year term, at the end of which the new rules come into force.
The amendment must still go to a national referendum, but is expected to pass easily.
The president’s remarks came after the European Union on Thursday warned that the move undermined democratic principles in the central African country.
“The adoption of provisions that can apply only to one individual weakens the credibility of the constitutional reform process, as it undermines the principle of democratic change of government,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
Two days earlier, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said Kagame must set “an example” for the region.
“We expect President Kagame to step down at the end of his term in 2017,” she said.
Kagame said Sunday: “If you want something from me by looking down on me, you can be sure 100 percent you won’t get it. You can be sure you will get the opposite.”
Kagame has run Rwanda since his ethnic Tutsi rebel army ended the 1994 genocide and ousted Hutu extremists.
While he apparently retains broad public support, his critics have accused him of displaying increasingly authoritarian tendencies.
Supporters portray Kagame as a guarantor of post-genocide stability and the economic growth that has transformed the country over the past 20 years.
But critics say the constitutional move is orchestrated by a government and leader with an iron grip on a country where freedom of expression is severely curtailed, and is part of a wider trend of African leaders seeking to stay put.