Rwandan President Paul Kagame has lambasted critics of his decision to run in next year's election. The leader made the comment days after the US state department said it was "deeply disappointed" by Kagame's announcement that he will run for a third term.
Earlier in December, millions of Rwandans voted in favour of constitutional changes to allow Kagame, 58, to extend his mandate. The approved amendments allowed the leader to run for a seven-year-long term in 2017 and two subsequent five-year-long terms in 2024 and 2029, potentially staying in power until 2034.
Kagame said he would decide on the future of his political career after the referendum, in which 98% of the voters backed the proposed amendments.
Paul Kagame's political career
Kagame became the leader of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) armed wing, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), as the country had descended into a civil war which then sparked the 1994 genocide in which at least 800,000 people – mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus – were killed in three months.
In the aftermath of the genocide, Kagame served as vice president and minister of defence until 2000, when he became president after being elected by government ministers and the national assembly.
The RPF became a political party while its armed wing was renamed the Rwandan Patriotic Army (now the Rwandan Defence Forces).
In 2003, Rwanda adopted a new constitution replacing a transitional one, and Kagame was re-elected as president. He won the election again in 2010.
During a televised New Year's address, Kagame said: "You requested me to lead the country again after 2017. Given the importance and consideration you attach to this, I can only accept. But I don't think that what we need is an eternal leader."
His decision to run in next year's election has drawn some criticism, however. The US – one of Rwanda's biggest aid donours – accused the Rwandan leader of failing to reinforce democratic institutions in the country.
Two days later, Kagame took to Twitter to comment on the criticism. He said: "Africa's problems: Poverty, disease, governance, technology...etc etc will not easily be solved by what is behind this 'deep disappointed' attitude !!!"
The leader had already criticised foreign countries for reacting negatively to the third term.
In a statement in December, he said: "We can be good friends, we can agree to disagree but there is a line when it comes to the interest of Rwandans. Our actions do not correspond to the wishes of other nations."
Supporters and critics of third term
Kagame is seen by many as the man who stopped the 1994 genocide and a leader capable of bringing about social and economic progress in Rwanda. However, he has also been accused of cracking down on political opponents and freedom of speech, implementing a climate of fear. The government denied the allegations.
Frank Habineza, leader of the country's only opposition party – the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) – told IBTimes UK his party was against the changes, which he said were anti-democracy.
Phil Clark, reader in international politics at Soas University, told IBTimes UK the current scenario in Rwanda goes beyond the fact people are simply either pro or anti-Kagame. He said: "There are concerns over Kagame staying too long in power. At the same time, many people fear what may happen if he leaves, given Rwanda's history of violent transitions.
"There is also broad recognition of Kagame's, and the Rwanda Patriotic Front's, ability to improve the lives of everyday Rwandans, especially in terms of education, healthcare and the general stability of the country. Many Rwandans hold all of these views simultaneously, which reflects the country's complex history and the complexity of people's lives today."