Rwandan president hits back at US over extending his rule

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) - Rwandan President Paul Kagame has hit back at the United States for criticizing his decision to seek a third term in office, repeating his earlier stand that foreigners shouldn’t determine the destiny of Rwandans.

More than 98 percent of Rwandans voted in a Dec. 18 referendum to lift term limits and allow Kagame extend his time in power, possibly until 2034.

The U.S. is “deeply disappointed” by Kagame’s decision to run for re-election in 2017, a State Department spokesman said on Saturday.

“With this decision, President Kagame ignores an historic opportunity to reinforce and solidify the democratic institutions the Rwandan people have for more than 20 years labored so hard to establish,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Responding Monday on Twitter, Kagame said he is not concerned that the U.S. government is disappointed: “Africa’s problems: poverty, disease, governance, technology . etc, etc will not easily be solved by what is behind this (deeply disappointed) attitude !!!”

“There are quite many very disappointing things happening across the globe we hope to carry our own burden and not be others’ burden.!!!” he wrote in a series of tweets.

“I promise we don’t intend to disappoint … especially ourselves!!!”

The United States has been a key ally of Rwanda. But in its response to Kagame’s decision to run again, the State Department said it believes constitutional transitions of power are essential for strong democracies and that efforts by incumbents to change rules to stay in power weaken democratic institutions.

Kagame thinks differently. In his New Year’s message to Rwandans he said: “You clearly expressed your choices for the future of our country (in the referendum) … You requested me to lead the country again after 2017. Given the importance and consideration you attach to this, I can only accept.”

Kagame 58, has been Rwanda’s effective leader since 1994 when his rebel movement ended a genocide by Hutu extremists in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. He is widely credited with bringing stability and economic growth to Rwanda but is criticized as an authoritarian ruler who is criticized for human rights abuses.