In a move that has been opposed by the United States and other donors, Rwanda’s lower house of parliament on Thursday voted to allow President Paul Kagame to extend his rule beyond a second term, which ends in 2017, and possibly stay on until 2034.
According to lower house speaker Donatilla Mukabalisa, Article 172 of the amended constitution, which would allow the president to extend his rule, was supported by all 75 lawmakers present. The lower house has 80 seats however some lawmakers were absent. Under the amendments, which were approved after debates were held on Wednesday and Thursday, the presidential term will be decreased to five years from seven. Furthermore, while the limit of two terms will remain, an exception is made for the currently president, namely Kagame. According to one lawmaker, who explained the amendment, article 172 effectively allows President Kagame to serve out his seven-year term, which ends in 2017, and also to seek a third seven-year term after that. Furthermore, even beyond that, the president could seek two more five-year terms. President Kagame, who has not explicitly indicated that he wants to run again, stating only that he is open to persuasion, could effectively remain in power until 2034.
While draft amendments to the country’s constitution, which have been approved by the lower house, still need to be backed by the upper house of senators and then put to a referendum, they are not expected to stumble at either stage. Parliament, which is dominated by the president’s backers, debated the issue after a petition calling for changes was signed by 3.7 million supporters of the president. While the country’s main but small opposition, the Democratic Green Party, attempted to block the amendment to extend the president’s term, a court rejected the bid. Critics however have disclosed that the government stifles opposition media and politicians, a charge that officials have denied.
On Thursday, Rwanda’s Supreme Court ruled that President Paul Kagame could run for a third seven-year term in office, effectively rejecting an attempt by the main opposition party to block changes to the country’s constitution.
In July, the Kagame-controlled parliament backed a motion to let him run again as the leader of the East African state. While the constitutional changes still must pass a referendum, there is little chance of them failing due to the president’s control over the media and many other aspects of public life. In response to Thursday’s ruling, the opposition Democratic Green Party, which brought the case before the Supreme Court, disclosed that it would continue to push for protection of existing constitutional term limits. Green party leader Frank Habineza stated “we are not happy but we’ve not given up. We are going to appeal to the president.” While the president has not explicitly stated that he wants to run again, he has made clear he is open to persuasion.
Thursday’s ruling is likely to attract attention in other African nations where term limits are under similar pressure. The Republic of Congo is holding a referendum later this month on constitutional changes that would allow 71-year-old President Denis Sassou Nguesso to extend his decades-long rule. Meanwhile in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, opposition parties have accused President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for fourteen years, of attempting to extend his time in office via violence and manipulation of a packed electoral calendar. In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office sparked months of protests and a failed coup in April.
After a regional summit on the on going political crisis in Burundi was held in neighbouring Tanzania on Sunday, East African leaders declared that the upcoming elections in Burundi should be delayed by at least a month and a half and that the on going violence must end. The leaders, however, stopped short of calling for Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to abandon his controversial bid for a third consecutive term in office, which has effectively sparked weeks of civil unrest, a coup attempt and a major refugee crisis that is now affecting the region.
In a statement read out the East African Community’s (EAC) secretary general Richard Sezibera, which was released shortly after a meeting of regional leaders was held in neighbouring Tanzania, the East African leaders stated “the summit, concerned at the impasse in Burundi, strongly calls for a long postponement of the elections not less than a month and a half.” The statement further called “on all parties to stop violence,” for the “disarmament of all armed youth groups,” which is a clear reference to the ruling party’s supporters who have been accused of attacking the party’s opponents, and for “the creation of conditions for the return of refugees” who have fled the crisis. The EAC summit was attended by leaders from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is a key regional player and Burundi’s neighbour, sent a minister to represent him. South African President Jacob Zuma was also present at the talks. The summit had been seen as a critical opportunity to resolve the crisis, with talks between the president’s camp and the main opposition currently at a deadlock.
President Nkurunziza was not present during Sunday’s summit, with his spokesman indicating that the president would instead be pushing ahead with his re-election campaign. However it is widely believed that the president’s absence is linked to the 13 May failed coup attempt, which occurred when President Nkurunziza attended the first crisis meeting in Tanzania’s economic capital. In an attempt to benefit from the president being out of the country, a top general launched an unsuccessful bid to oust him.
The political crisis in Burundi erupted after the ruling party designated President Nkurunziza, who has been in power for ten years, as its candidate for the upcoming elections. The opposition and rights groups however have indicated that this move effectively violates the constitution as well as a 2006 peace agreement, which ended the country’s 13-year civil war. That war killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and there are now growing fears that the current political crisis may push the country back into conflict. Despite the civil unrest leaving at least 30 people dead, the Burundian government has maintained that parliamentary elections will take place on 5 June, with presidential elections scheduled for 26 June.
The United Nations has launched a human rights investigation into the on-going violence that is taking place in the Central African Republic (CAR). The launch of the investigation comes after the UN Security Council ordered an inquiry in December to identify suspects who could be prosecuted for the violence. On Monday, inquiry head Bernard Acho Muna indicated that he hoped the presence of investigators in the CAR would help prevent genocide. The Cameroonian judge added that “we have to put an end to the impunity,” noting that the “hate propaganda” in the CAR was similar to that in Rwanda before the 1994 genocide that killed about 800,000 people. Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, before heading for the CAR, Mr Muna stated “we don’t wait until genocide is committed and then we call for prosecution….I think it is in our mandate to see how one can stop any advances toward genocide.” The inquiry will “…present to the Security Council a complete file so that the appropriate action can be taken.” A team of UN investigators will arrive in Bangui on Tuesday to begin interviewing Christian and Muslim victims of attacks, as well as senior political and military officials and activist groups. The commission, which includes former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda and Fatimata M’Baye, a lawyer from Mauritania, will spend two weeks in the CAR and will also look into Chad’s role in the violence. They will then draw up a confidential list of suspects for eventual prosecution, which will be submitted to world powers later this year. They will also be in touch with a preliminary inquiry, which will be carried out by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Since the beginning of the conflict last year, thousands of people have been killed while the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) says that about 1.3 million people, a quarter of the population, are in need of aid. Tens of thousand of Muslims have also fled the country as Christian militias have stepped up their attacks since the forced resignation of the CAR’s first Muslim ruler, Michel Djotodia, in January 2014. Many Muslims have crossed the borders into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad, while thousands more are living in camps inside the CAR. Although interim President Catherine Samba Panza has appealed for an end to the bloodshed, this appeal has gone with little success.
On Friday, UN aid chief Valerie Amos announced that fewer than 1,000, of the more than 100,000 Muslims who once lived in the capital city, remain in Bangui.
Somali Forces Launch Operations to Retake al-Shabaab Controlled Regions
Officials indicated Monday that African peacekeepers, operating alongside government forces, have recaptured several strategic towns in the south-western region of Somalia. The recapture comes just days after the African Union’s AMISOM force announced that it had launched a wide scale offensive against al-Shabaab militants in areas located near the Ethiopian border. The operation to remove the militant group from its last remaining strongholds in central and southern Somalia also comes in the wake of a sure of attacks in the country’s capital, Mogadishu, where al-Shabaab continues its bid to oust the internationally-backed government.
Speaking to reports, regional government official Abdulahi Yarisow confirmed the operations, stating “AMISOM and the Somali troops kicked al-Shabaab out of several key towns including Wajid and regional capital Hudur,” adding that “our military advancement will continue until we eliminate the enemy from the rest of the country.” A statement released by AMISOM indicated that troops had secured the towns of Ted, Rabdhure and Buudhubow, effectively driving out al-Shabaab militants from the area. The statement added that “the SNA (Somali National Army) and AMISOM joint operations signal the beginning of the renewed efforts by the Somali government forces working more closely with AMISOM forces to dislodge al-Shabaab from many of its strongholds across the country.”
Although Hudur had been captured from al-Shabaab by Ethiopian troops in March 2012, their withdrawal from the region resulted in the town falling back into the control of al-Shabaab.