The United States said on Friday it is opposed to a third term in office for Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Rwanda’s Parliament is expected to consider an amendment to the country’s constitution that would lift a two-term limit on presidential terms and potentially enable Mr Kagame to seek re-election in 2017.
Rwanda is a key US ally in Africa, with Washington also ranking as one of Rwanda’s leading donors. The Obama administration’s stand against a possible third term for Mr Kagame will thus be seen as significant in Kigali and throughout the Great Lakes region.
“The United States believes that democracy is best advanced through the development of strong institutions, not strongmen,” a spokesman for the State Department’s Africa bureau said in response to a Nation query.
“Changing constitutions to eliminate term limits in order to favour incumbents is inconsistent with democratic principles and reduces confidence in democratic institutions,” the statement added.
“We are committed to support peaceful, democratic transition in 2017 to a new leader elected by the Rwandan people.”
‘A DISTURBING PRECEDENT’
The US stance against a third term for Mr Kagame follows critical comments by a State Department official last month regarding Rwanda’s human rights record.
“Alongside Rwandaâ€™s remarkable development progress, there have been equally consistent efforts to reduce space for independent voices and to diminish the ability of the media, opposition groups and civil society to operate,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Feldstein said in testimony to a US House of Representatives subcommittee on Africa.
Repressive actions by the Rwandan government are setting “a disturbing precedent for the region and continent,” Mr Feldstein warned.
“Other countries are carefully watching Rwandaâ€™s model of economic liberalisation and political repression. In my discussions, counterparts frequently point to Rwanda and question whether protecting the rights of their citizens matters if they can achieve substantial economic development.”
In the US view, Mr Feldstein added, it is wrong to assume that a country can continue to experience strong economic growth and foreign investment while restricting political rights.
“This is not a sustainable path,” the State Department official declared. “At some point â€” if unchecked â€” human rights violations will begin to affect Rwandaâ€™s economic performance, stability and the willingness of foreign investors to pump in outside capital and do business.”