The United States opposes any move by Rwanda's Gen. Paul Kagame to remove term limits in order to run again in the country's presidential elections two years from now, according to a strongly worded statement by the U.S. State Department.
"President Kagame is currently serving his second seven-year term in office, having run previously in 2003 and 2010, after winning his first election for president in 2000. The next presidential election is scheduled for 2017. The current Rwandan constitution provides a two-term limit," said Rodney D. Ford, spokesperson for the State Department's Bureau of African affairs.
"We are committed to support a peaceful, democratic transition in 2017 to a new leader elected by the Rwandan people," he said.
It's clear that the United States' firmly articulated position was influenced by the current political crisis in Burundi which threatens to destabilize the East and Central Africa. Since Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced, in April, that he would seek a third term in office, he has faced violent protest and survived a coup d'état in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura. Nkurunziza is hugely popular with Burundi's rural majority and he claims the right to be elected twice by universal suffrage, as both Rwanda's Kagame and DR Congo's Kabila have. Burundi's constitutional court has confirmed that the country's constitution allows him to run again, but the US disagrees."The United States supports the principle of democratic transition in all countries in the region through free, fair, and credible elections, held in accordance with current constitutions, including provisions regarding term limits," Ford said, in the statement, evidently covering Burundi, Congo and Uganda as well.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni arm-twisted his country's Parliament to remove term limits and he recently announced that he intends to run again next year, as he enters his 30th year in power. Ugandan opposition parties are now threatening to boycott the March 2016 presidential election unless Museveni's hand-picked election commission is replaced by an independent commission.
The State Department made it clear the statement was meant to address the leaders in East and Central Africa specifically, and broadly throughout the continent, by echoing the substance of President Obama's 2009 speech in Accra, Ghana. "The United States believes that democracy is best advanced through the development of strong institutions, not strongmen. For that reason, as Secretary of State Kerry has said, we do not support changing constitutions to benefit the personal or political interests of individuals or parties. Changing constitutions and eliminating term limits to favor incumbents is inconsistent with democratic principles and reduces confidence in democratic institutions."
The State Department was responding to inquiries by this reporter. The Rwandan Mission to the United Nations has made no comment as yet.
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