Approximately six million Rwandans on Dec. 19 approved a referendum by a vote of 98% to amend Article 101 of the Rwanda constitution which states the president may only serve two seven-year terms. The referendum will allow President Paul Kagame (official profile) to serve another seven-year term beginning in 2017 and then two more five-year terms. Kagame has served as president since 2003. Last month, the Rwandan Senate unanimously approved the referendum following approval from Rwanda's lower house of parliament in October. Also in October, Rwanda's Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the referendum, but this did not stop the vote from moving ahead.
A constitutional amendment to extend the presidential term limit is not uncommon with neighboring African countries such as the Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Countries providing international aid to Rwanda expressed concern regarding the referendum, which could extend Kagame's term to 2034. The director of the UK's Royal African Society stated "The longer somebody stays in power, the less effective they are [sic] and breaking the rule of law and the constitution weakens the state." In September, the US State Department Constitutional Reform Commission issued a press release stating: "We do not support those in positions of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest."
From Jurist, Dec. 19. Used with permission.