US urges Kagame to retire, regrets referendum was called on short notice

KAGAME SHOULD STEP ASIDE: US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power

KAGAME SHOULD STEP ASIDE: US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power

While congratulating millions of Rwandans for taking part in the just concluded constitutional amendment referendum, the United States on Saturday renewed calls on President Paul Kagame to respect term limits and step aside for another leader to steer Rwanda forward.

Despite the fact that Rwandans have just voted over 98% for the country’s 2003 constitution to be changed allow Kagame a third, fifth possibly a sixth term, the United States insists the Rwandan leader has a great opportunity to cement his development-oriented legacy by respecting the principle of term limits and standing down in 2017.

“President Kagame, who in many ways has strengthened and developed Rwanda, now has a historic opportunity to enshrine his legacy by honouring his commitments to respect the term limits set when he entered office,” the White House’s National Security Council statement read Saturday.

The White House went on to indicate that by leaving power in 2017, Kagame would have set a laudable democratic precedent for Rwanda and for the region as whole.

On the referendum, the United States expressed disappointment that it was scheduled on short notice and that it did not allow debate on the issue.

“While we commend the people of Rwanda for peacefully exercising their civic rights, we regret that the arrangements for the referendum failed to provide sufficient time and opportunity for political debate on the merits of the proposed provisions,” the White House statement added.

Kagame, who is set to announce his decision on their the third term bid, has stated his decision will be based solely on the interests of Rwandans, and not on those of “other nations.”

President Paul Kagame’s potential third term candidacy has received criticism from the West particularly US, and the European Unions. Analysts and observers contend Kagame will soon announce he is running for the third term, setting up a fierce row between him and most of Rwanda’s major development partners.

The United States annual development package to the Central African nation amounts to about $100 million annually and Washington has said must respect term limits and hand over power to another leader or risk affecting the bilateral ties.

“President Kagame has an opportunity to set an example for a region in which leaders seem too tempted to view themselves as indispensable to their own countries’ trajectories,” Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations said earlier this month adding “Nobody is indispensable.”

The 58 year-old Rwandan leader who has been effectively in power since 1994 when he led the liberation struggle that ended the genocide has warned the West not to interfere in his country’s internal politics.

“We can be good friends, we can agree to disagree but there is a line when it comes to the interest of Rwandans,” Kagame told his ruling RPF forum this month.

In a veiled response to Ambassador Power’s criticism of Rwanda’s National Assembly’s role in changing the constitution, Kagame said “They tell us we should have the right to make our own choices, but our choices then become defined as manoeuvring.”