Rwanda has possibly joined the “constitutional coup” club. The term, dubbed by the Human Rights Watch, refers to presidents who extend their term limits by altering the constitution, an alteration that will come to Rwanda’s constitution in order to keep President Paul Kagame in power. Kagame’s success as a democratic president is what makes him so popular – but it is also what threatens the democratic tradition of term limits. With little opposition (little meaning one minority party that currently has no representatives in government) to his presidential extension, doubts have arisen over how fair Kagame really is. Kevin Sieff, in the Washington Post, speculates that it is fear rather than overwhelming popularity fueling the term extension. Kagame has been ruthless in exacting justice from the genocide, and Sieff attributes this with the possibility that Rwandans are too afraid to speak out against Kagame.
But just as plausible is that Kagame really is that popular. As Americans, we tend to be very sensitive when the words “democracy” and “Africa” appear in the same sentence. And whether Kagame’s continuation as president should be considered democratic is debatable (Nearly 4 million people did sign a petition for him to remain president.) But Kagame has led Rwanda out of an incredibly dark time. As memory recalls, our own American president Franklin Roosevelt was elected an unprecedented four times (though there was no constitution limit against this) because he lead the country out of the Great Depression, a past not nearly as traumatic as genocide. When reflecting on what Kagame represents, it is no surprise that the only opposition to his stay in office is a party with zero reps.
What do you think? Is Kagame’s stay as President democratic?