Rwandan President Paul Kagame is comfortable with the debate on whether the country's constitution should be amended to allow him to run for a third term. Speaking at a press conference in Kampala, Uganda, where he had flown as the guest of honor for a local youth event, he argued that the Rwandan citizens are free to say they don't want him, but they are also free to say that they want him.
The Rwandan leader is widely credited for having put an end to the 1994 genocide that killed over 800,000 people. In recent years, human rights organizations have raised concerns over the country's deteriorating human rights record.
Rwandans activists campaigning for democracy were “chilled to the bone” by this announcement. The activists believe that President Kagame is pursuing a third term as a strategy to shield himself from future prosecution. In particular, they identify the recently released United Nations Mapping report that accuses him of war crimes against members of the Hutu ethnic group. The same report emphasized that the crimes could amount to genocide if proven in a court of law.
Analysts are also alarmed that this decision to seek another term could destabilize the Great Lakes region by leaving no option open to the Rwandan opposition other than to take up arms.
The presidential term limits debate in Rwanda is championed by internal security minister, Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana. Sheikh Fazil is also campaigning for the legal recognition of polygamous marriages, which are currently outlawed. President Kagame seems to agree with the Sheikh Fazil:
This Sheikh has a right to express himself and it's as if people expect me to go to this person and say ‘you shut up. Don't talk about this anymore.’ No. This is not my business.
On Twitter, Ugandan journalist Timothy Kalyegira scoffed at the decision with an accompanying dose of satire:
@TimKalyegira: Thousands of tearful Rwandans will soon start narrating to world media how betrayed they will feel if Kagame does not seek a third term.
British journalist Ian Birell was equally unimpressed:
@ianbirell: People are free to say they want me to be president again, says Kagame. They're not free, of course, to say he should go…
But Ian Birell's comments immediately attracted the wrath of the Rwandan ambassador to the United Kingdom, Erneste Rwamucyo, who accused him of western paternalism:
@ErnestRwamucyo: This paternalism and ‘know it all attitude’ on Africa and African leaders is not good. A pple out to be respected.
To which Mr. Birell responded:
@ianbirell: There is nothing paternalistic about supporting human rights and opposing repressive & despotic regimes
As the debate raged on, a heated exchange involving several Ugandan journalists ensued. It all started when Bob Muheebwa asked whether there were other Ugandan journalists apart from Andrew Mwenda and Alan Kasuja interested in interviewing President Kagame. The journalists wondered why Mwenda and Kasuja are never critical of President Kagame in their writings.
George Bankole's answer was more blunt. In an apparent reference to both journalists, Mwenda and Kasujja, he said:
@Snottyganda: @tijo5 Cos both hve been compromised with Cash incentives @mugumya@TimKalyegira@Gilespies@AndrewMwenda@kasujja
Giles Muhame, managing editor for the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone, seemed to agree:
@Gilespies: @Snottyganda What else can i add? @tijo5@mugumya@TimKalyegira@AndrewMwenda@kasujja
So did journalist Timothy Kalyegira:
@TimKalyegira: @Snottyganda@tijo5@mugumya@AndrewMwenda@kasujja Others compromised by the sheer flattery of being on casual terms with a head of state.
Andrew Mwenda maintained silence on the issue, but Allan Kasujja later denied the allegations:
@kasujja: @TimKalyegira @tijo5 @mugumya @AndrewMwenda I am amazed at how simplistic your arguments have become. Can't my motivation be justice?
Again, Timothy Kalyegira responded:
@TimKalyegira: @kasujja It can be justice. We just find it interesting, this parade of Ugandan journalists singing Kagame's praises.
Rwanda currently has a constitutional two term limits for the presidency. Each term is composed of a total of seven years, which is the longest single term in Africa. President Kagame officially assumed office in 2000 although many believe he has technically been in power since the 1994 genocide.