Rwanda’s top court clears way for Kagame third term

Rwanda’s Supreme Court ruled to lift a constitutional two-term presidential limit following a petition by the ruling RPF to extend long-time President Paul Kagame’s time in office. The ruling is likely to draw attention to a host of other African leaders, from Congo Republic’s Denis Sassou Nguesso to DRC’s Joseph Kabila who are trying to do the same.

KIGALI, RWANDA (REUTERS) – Rwanda’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday (October 08) that President Paul Kagame could run for a third seven-year term, rejecting an attempt by the main opposition party to block changes to the country’s constitution.

In the latest instance of an African leader seeking to extend his days in power, the Kagame-controlled parliament backed a motion in July to let him run again as leader of the east African state.

The constitutional changes must pass a referendum although there is little chance of them failing due to Kagame’s control over the media and many aspects of public life, as well as his popularity as a nation-builder after a 1994 genocide.

Kagame has not said explicitly that he wants to run again but has made clear he is open to persuasion.

Term limits are a hot topic in Africa after similar moves by other leaders in the region to bid for more time in power – some analysts refer to the trend as ‘third term-ism’.

“Firstly, he had two terms of seven years each; that’s a long time. Secondly, given that he is the one that actually approved the term limits in the constitution and is now trying quite… I think insidiously to overturn them through a seeming public endorsement of his policies. While he has done extremely well economically. The democratic space in Rwanda has increasingly been closed down over the last decade and that is dangerous,” said South Africa based political analyst, Ayesha Kajee.

Congo Republic is holding a referendum this month on constitutional changes that would allow 71-year-old President Denis Sassou Nguesso to extend his 31 years in power.

Reforms include raising the maximum age for presidential candidates from 70.

“Should we change the current constitution? At the request of my dear compatriots on many occasions I was asked to start a conversation on a national level,” he said in a televised address.

In neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, opposition parties have accused President Joseph Kabila, who has been in charge for 14 years, of plotting to extend his time in office via violence and manipulation of a packed electoral calendar.

In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza sparked months of protests and a failed coup in April when he decided to run for a third term after a controversial court ruling that the first of his two terms did not count because he was not directly elected.

In July, Nkurunziza ran and won elections boycotted by his rivals.

“Given that Mr. Nkurunziza’s third term as it were happened on a constitutional and legal technicality with his supporters saying that his first term was not really an elected first term. I think that unless similar situations occur elsewhere on the continent it would not really set precedent as it were,” said Kajee.

Mass protests in Burkina Faso forced Blaise Compaore out of the presidency last year after he attempted to extend his 27-year rule. The country was plunged into uncertainty – there was a short-lived coup led by presidential guard soldiers last month.

However, many saw Compaore’s exit from power as a victory for Burkina Faso, calling it a people driven revolution.

In other parts of the continent, Africans hold mixed opinions on ‘third term-ism’.

“As a citizen of Africa, I am saddened by the sight of our leaders who have duplicitous speech. The first type of language they use is what is heard when they are still in the opposition. They advocate for two term limits. Once they become president, they want to change the constitution. This is sad for Africa. I believe the mentality has to change and we must uphold the constitution that we ourselves have put together,” said Kpalou Guede in Ivory Coast.

“They should only stay for 10 years maximum. Because what we have seen, they lead well in the first 3-5 years and then they go their own way and start looting the country. They also put a new system that those who don’t obey them do not benefit from them,” said Crispus Akuya in Kenya.

“This is a matter of principal. Yes, I think a leader – if he is doing a good job, there is no harm in him continuing provided the people want him to. As long as he can stand for the election again and win the election, signifying that the people want him, then there’s no harm in him being a leader for a longer time,” said Ravi Bhatnagar in South Africa.

Former rebel leader Kagame won international and domestic praise for rebuilding Rwanda after the genocide, in which 800,000 people, most of them Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were massacred.

Rwanda’s economy is expected to grow by 6.5 percent this year after 7.0 percent in 2014.

But international donors have criticised Kagame’s suppression of dissent and any move to change the constitution.