Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No Limits? Rwandan Ruling Shows How African Leaders Can Stay in Power

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No Limits? Rwandan Ruling Shows How African Leaders Can Stay in Power

Article excerpt

Rumors that Rwandan President Paul Kagame may seek a third term in office first started in 2013.

Before then, Mr. Kagame had openly and routinely discussed his retirement in 2017, when his second, seven-year term ends. Then the state-controlled media began to talk up the prospects of a third term, praising Kagame's transformation of post-genocide Rwanda. And Kagame slowly began to drop his own hints.

"I think at some point we need to leave countries and people to decide their own affairs," he said in 2014. "Why I'm saying that is because I'm asked when and whether I plan to leave office - right from the start of my first political term in office. It is as if I am here just to leave. I'm here to do business on behalf of Rwandans."

On Thursday, Rwanda's high court ruled that it was legal for the parliament to amend the constitution to remove the two-term presidential limit. By doing so, Rwanda joins a clutch of other African democracies where leaders have tried recently to sidestep term limits and stay in power, often against a backdrop of popular dissent. Not all have succeeded.

In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza triggered weeks of violent protests and a failed coup attempt by running for a third term. In Burkina Faso, former President Blaise Compaore was ousted amid mass street protests at his attempts to extend his 27-year rule. Then there's Uganda and Congo: both Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Joseph Kabila are gearing up to stand again for president in 2016, after 29 and 14 years in office, respectively. Mr. Kabila is already facing periodic protests and violent clashes between youth and the police.

Leaders in "Burundi, Burkina Faso, and Congo have tried to extend their terms, but there has been enough political space to rise up and protest," says Timothy Longman, a political science professor at Boston University.

That is not the case in Rwanda, where years of repressions have stamped out a strong opposition and civil society. And despite the main opposition Democratic Green Party (DGP) challenging the proposed constitutional amendment, the checks and balances on presidential power appear not be working, allowing Kagame to manipulate the democratic process.

Amid mounting international criticism, Kagame and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front have gone through the official routes necessary to get around term limits. The Rwanda parliament backed the amendment in July after 3.8 million people - in a country of 12 million - signed an official petition demanding that Kagame be allowed to stand again.

"The irony is that you go through the trappings of the rule of law," Mr. Longman says. "You make it look like you are changing the rule of law, when really you are changing the constitution, at will, to serve your own interests."

Check and BalancesKagame may feel that he is the only person who can effectively rule Rwanda. …

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