Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has said he did not seek to prolong his time in office, but decided to run for a third term because Rwandans wanted him to do so. Kagame, 58, was supposed to step down before the 2017 presidential election, but last December millions of Rwandans voted in favour of constitutional changes to allow the leader to extend his mandate.
The approved amendments have allowed him to run for a seven-year term in 2017 and two subsequent five-year terms in 2024 and 2029, potentially putting him in power until 2034.
"By the way, I didn't ask for this thing," Kagame said at the World Economic Forum in Kigali, Reuters reported. "I was actually trying to tell my people: 'You know what, there's room. Can't you find someone else? You need to take a risk and look for someone else. And they kept saying 'No. We are not ready to take risks. We want you to stay.' I said, 'But I'm having difficulties staying'."
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. In an exclusive interview with IBTimes UK, Jean-Paul Kimonyo, senior adviser to the president, said the progress Rwanda has made in the last 20 years is something that its inhabitants could only have dreamed about since 1994.
However, Kagame 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 – told IBTimes UK: "Kagame has been the president officially since 2003, but basically, he has been in charge since 1994. We know it will be difficult to beat the president, but we are not losing hope and we will continue our work. Our party thinks it can contribute to build a democratic process in the nation.
"We know the country has achieved a lot economically, but we are calling for more democracy.," he continued. "We believe people should be more involved in the political process, because sometimes they are not happy with the decisions made by the government.
"We also need to have more freedom of expression, freedom of the media and freedom of association, because here many people fear to express themselves thinking that they might lose their jobs or go to prison."