Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has announced in a interview he will stand for re-election next year, hoping to extend nearly a quarter of a century in power.
Kagame, who became president in 2000, is eligible to continue in office for another decade after a constitutional amendment in 2015 changed term limits that would have forced him to step down two years later.
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In the interview with the pan-African Jeune Afrique magazine published on Tuesday, the 65-year-old was asked about his intentions for next year’s election.
“I am happy with the confidence that the Rwandans have shown in me. I will always serve them, as much when I can. Yes, I am indeed a candidate,” he said.
Kagame won the last election in August 2017 for a seven-year term with 98.63 percent of the vote, according to the electoral commission.
The president was re-elected as chair of the governing Rwandan Patriotic Front party earlier this year for another five-year term.
He has faced mounting criticism for what human rights groups have said are the suppression of political opposition and the muzzling of independent media.
The country was ranked 131 out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Kagame has rejected these accusations.
‘Not a surprise’
Green Party and opposition leader Frank Habineza, Kagame’s only known challenger in the upcoming elections, said the president’s plan to stand again next year “is not a surprise”.
“We are not scared of him, we are getting organised better as a political party to put up a better campaign than we did in 2017. We are confident,” he told the AFP news agency in Kigali.
“Democracy is a struggle so we shall continue to fight democratically for political space and democracy, rule of law and human rights in Rwanda.”
The United States in 2015 criticised the constitutional change, saying Kagame should step down when his term ended and allow a new generation of leaders to come through.
When asked what he thought the West would think of him running again, he replied, “I’m sorry for the West, but what the West thinks is not my problem.”
“People are supposed to be independent and should be allowed to organise themselves as they wish,” Kagame added.
The US-based watchdog Freedom House described Rwanda as “not free” in its latest report and said the party has been “banning and repressing any opposition group that could mount a serious challenge to its leadership”.