Is Kagame’s bid for a fourth term a true expression of democratic choice, or does it signal a drift towards authoritarianism?

Human rights groups have also accused Kagame’s government of targeting political opponents, including alleged extrajudicial killings.

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Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, speaks as he attends a session of the World Governments Summit, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, February 12, 2024. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

As Rwanda prepares for its presidential election next month, President Paul Kagame’s ambition for a fourth term is drawing criticism. Western governments and human rights organisations have asked him to step down, claiming that his prolonged leadership violates democratic values.

In reaction, Kagame has vehemently defended his candidature, claiming that the decision is up to the Rwandan people and accused his critics of double standards. This clash highlights Rwanda’s greater argument over democracy, sovereignty, and the balance of stability and authoritarianism.

The arguments

The debate over Kagame’s fourth term bid raises fundamental questions about the nature of democracy and sovereignty. While Kagame emphasizes the right of Rwandans to choose their leader, critics worry about the erosion of democratic norms and the suppression of political dissent. The upcoming election will test Rwanda’s democratic resilience and the legitimacy of Kagame’s prolonged leadership.

Kagame’s defense

Kagame argues that external critics have double standards and that the true essence of democracy lies in allowing citizens the freedom to choose their leaders without outside interference. He contends that Rwandans, not foreign entities, should decide his political future.

Critics’ perspective

Critics, including Western countries and human rights groups, argue that Kagame’s extended rule undermines democratic principles and point to his government’s alleged human rights abuses as evidence of authoritarianism.

Supporters’ viewpoint

Supporters believe Kagame’s continued leadership is necessary for Rwanda’s further economic growth and stability. They argue that his track record since the genocide demonstrates his capability and that Rwandans should be patient for more benefits to materialise.

The facts

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is seeking a fourth term in the upcoming election next month. However, Western countries have criticised Kagame’s long tenure, urging him to step down.

Human rights groups have also accused Kagame’s government of targeting political opponents, including alleged extrajudicial killings.

But Kagame defended his bid, asserting that democracy allows for freedom of choice and that Rwandans should decide their leader.

“They say you have been there too long, but that is none of their business … Rwandans are the ones to make those choices. They have the freedom to do it. But you find that in most cases, the complaints are from outside. These are double standards; it’s even arrogance,” he said in an address.

On the other hand, Kagame has been credited with stabilising Rwanda and boosting public health and the economy since the genocide.

The National Electoral Commission has cleared Kagame and two other candidates to run in the presidential election.

 

 

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