Rwandans are no longer afraid of their past and are optimistic about their future, president Paul Kagame said during a state of the nation address at the Petite Stade in Kigali. The president was speaking days after the country backed proposed constitutional changes to amend term limits that would allow Kagame to run for a third term. An overwhelming majority of voters (98%) backed the proposed changes.
During the speech, Kagame, 58, said the majority of people who voted in favour of the constitutional changes were young Rwandans, who "belong to a generation that has never had reason to fear a policeman".
The president added: "We are not afraid of the past. We are full of optimism for the future. Let us not miss our moment. There is an even better Rwanda ahead, and the chance to definitively transform Rwanda.This is the future we always wanted for our children."
Several analysts had predicted Rwandans would likely back the constitutional amendments as they have been experiencing economical development and stability since Kagame became president in 2000.
The referendum was scheduled earlier in December after the parliament backed a proposal to amend article 101 concerning presidential terms. It is believed that some 3.8 million Rwandans signed a petition calling for a third term for the sitting leader.
Kagame – seen by many as the man who stopped the genocide that caused the death of at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994 – said he would announce the future on his political career after the referendum.
According to the amendments, he can now be re-elected in the 2017 election and stay in power for two subsequent five-year terms, potentially until 2034.
Although Kagame is seen by many as a leader capable of bringing about social and economic progress in Rwanda, he has 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 he was against the changes, which he said were anti-democracy.