UK Africa Minister James Duddridge.

 

UK Africa Minister James Duddridge.
UK Africa Minister James Duddridge.

 

The United Kingdom has joined the United States in criticizing Rwanda over the way the East African country handled its just-concluded Referendum on amending the Constitution to allow President Paul Kagame become eligible for a third term.

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According to a release on December 21, 2015 by the UK Africa Minister James Duddridge, his country is concerned about the ‘constraints on political space and the media in the run up to the Referendum’ held on December 18 and 19, for the Diaspora and home voters, respectively.

‘I acknowledge the broad participation of the Rwandan people in the referendum and its outcome. However the way in which it was conducted has damaged Rwanda’s international reputation. The short timeframe between the announcement of the referendum and the vote did not allow sufficient time for voters to consider and debate the proposed changes and for the case for and against to be made. A copy of the revised constitution was only made available less than one day ahead of the referendum, Mr Duddridge wrote, and added that” ‘it is vital that issues of such importance are debated freely and without fear’.

Citing the UK’s contribution to Rwanda’s economic development and stability, Mr Duddridge says Rwanda ‘is rightly held in high regard at home and overseas’.

He however, pours cold water on the developments attained so far, arguing that the change of Constitutions to benefit incumbent leaders (like Kagame) is recipe for disaster.

‘The UK believes that a leader who willingly cedes power and enables a peaceful and democratic transition will always be held in high regard by both their people and the rest of the world. Changing the constitution for the benefit of the incumbent risks serious damage to long-term stability and Rwanda’s reputation as a world leader’ Mr Duddridge wrote, noting that ‘the Referendum and the elections in 2017 mark a critical juncture in Rwanda’s history’.

Over the past few months Rwanda has been under global lens following a nationwide agitation by the citizens for Parliament to amend Article 101 of the Constitution that mandates a President of Rwanda to serve two-seven-year terms.

As a result, the Parliament and Senate debated and upheld the peoples’ demands to amend the Constitution before calling for a Referendum on the issue.

The Referendum held last week returned an overwhelming Yes verdict of 98 per cent, clearing the last hurdle for a possible Kagame presidency up to 2034.