US ‘concerned’ by Rwanda’s move to form constitution reform commission

President Kagame has repeatedly dismissed the notion that he intends to tamper with the constitution to cling on to power but critics don't buy his denials

President Kagame has repeatedly dismissed the notion that he intends to tamper with the constitution to cling on to power but critics don’t buy his denials

The United States has expressed concerns about Rwanda’s legislature and President Paul Kagame’s plan to establish the constitution reform commission that would oversee the amendment of the constitution to remove term limits and allow the president to run for a third term.

Following the recent vote in Rwanda’s chamber of deputies supporting the formation of the constitution commission the US State Department says the decision is neither democratic nor does it respect the principle of peaceful transition of power.

“We respect the ability of any parliament to pass legislation that reflects the will of the people it is elected to represent; however, we continue to firmly support the principle of democratic transition of power in all countries through free, fair, and credible elections, held in accordance with constitutions, including provisions regarding term limits.” State Department Spokesperson said in a statement Friday.

Kirby added that “We do not support those in positions of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest.

The statement goes on to quote US President Barack Obama (on his recent trip to Africa) as saying “when a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife – as we’ve seen in Burundi. And this is often just a first step down a perilous path.”

The United States urges the Rwandan leader to fulfil his repeated vows that he “will not be around as president in 2017.”

“President Kagame has repeatedly stated his commitment to respecting constitutional term limits and to mentoring a generation of leaders able to sustain Rwanda’s remarkable economic growth and stability. The United States underscores the importance of these commitments.” State Department statement adds.

“I cannot be here and say I must be President for life,” President Kagame told Johns Hopkins University’s International Reporting Project fellows in 2012.

In that same interview the Rwandan leader laughed off questions about him changing the constitution overstaying in power.

“I will not be around as president come 2017, I don’t know how many times I will have to stress this,” he said.

In August, the Rwandan lower chamber of parliament voted to establish the constitution reform commission,that if approved by the Central African nation’s senate would spearhead possible changes to the constitution and pave way for President Kagame to run the controversial third term.

Prior to the vote, Rwanda’s parliament had overwhelmingly voted to amend the constitution and remove the term limit provision that currently restrict the president to two seven-year terms in office.

Parliamentarians also have been crisscrossing the country consulting with the electorate on the third term and according to their report, only 10 Rwandans oppose Kagame’s third term run.

After the commission is fully in place, a referendum is set to be organized for the voters to vote yes or no on whether or not article 101 should be lifted from the constitution.

President Kagame is serving his second term, and Rwanda is due to hold presidential elections in 2017.

Parliament has thus far received petitions with more than three million Rwandans requesting the constitution be changed and allow Kagame to run for the third term.

The country’s opposition (especially groups in the diaspora) however, say all these are political maneuvers aimed at keeping Kagame in power.

Kagame on the other hand has said he is in no way involved in the constitution amendment campaign.