Africa, News, Politics

Rwanda eases the way for a ‘President for Life’

Return to the homepage and video channel at or just click here to see the complete issue and video channel.


( — While most African leaders want you to believe they’re for ending the colonial-era practice of rule by a President-for-Life, Rwanda is one among several moving quietly to embrace it.

President Paul Kagame of Rawanda. He may be president for life.
President Paul Kagame of Rawanda. He may be president for life.

A petition drive allegedly from Rwandese citizens is urging a constitutional amendment to allow President Paul Kagame to stick around for a third term.

Rebuilding Rwanda into a normal society has been delicate and costly, explains one parliamentarian, and President Paul Kagame has been a good steward during that period. So why experiment with another leader at this time?

Critics see Kagame with a different lens. According to them, he is a man accused of curtailing civil rights, funding rebels in neighboring countries and assassinating critics.

Moves to lift the two term rule in Rwanda have caused headaches in the U.S. State Department which issued a statement last week against amending the constitution for political self-interest.

President Barack Obama also weighed in. “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,” he said in an address to the Africa Union last July.

“Africa’s democratic progress is also at risk when leaders refuse to step aside when their terms end,” Obama said. “No one should be president for life.”

But Obama may have been jumping the gun. Several African leaders are actively preparing bids for a third term despite the fierce civil unrest in Burundi over term limits sparked by President Pierre Nkunruziza’s reinterpreting the constitution for an extra term.

In the Republic of the Congo, president Denis Sassou-Nguesso last month dumped two ministers opposed to ruling party plans to change the constitution to permit a third term run next year.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, incumbent Joseph Kabila appears to be planning a run for an illegal third term in elections set for late 2016. Protests in January against the move claimed more than 30 lives.

Leaders considered the last vestiges of Presidency-for-Life include Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe and Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. Swaziland has a permanent king, and in Ethiopia, there is no term limit for the executive prime minister and the ruling party controls 100 percent of the parliamentary seats.

Those few against the practice are Botswana’s Ian Khama, Tanzania’s incumbent Jakaya Kikwete, and Mauritania’s President Ould Abdel Aziz. Liberia and Senegal are even proposing to cut the number of years in a term – from six to four and seven to five respectively.

Writing in the Nigerian paper The Tide News, editor Shedie Okpara opined: “When people can freely ditch their rulers, it gives those rulers an incentive to govern a bit better. In most African countries, the best chance of proper reform comes with a change of government, even though new leaders are not always better.”


Return to the homepage and video channel at or just click here to see the complete issue and video channel.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Follow our videos