Rwandan President Paul Kagame has made his first public declaration of intent to run for a fourth term in the upcoming elections scheduled for next year. In an interview with the French-language news magazine Jeune Afrique, Kagame, who has maintained a firm grip on the country for many years, stated, “Yes, I am indeed a candidate.” He expressed his gratitude for the trust that Rwandans have placed in him and his commitment to serving them for as long as possible. The Rwandan government had previously synchronized the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections, both slated for August next year.
Kagame had previously remained ambiguous about his intentions but oversaw contentious constitutional changes in 2015 that enabled him to run for multiple terms, potentially extending his rule until 2034. A former rebel leader, Kagame assumed the presidency in April 2000, effectively serving as the country’s de facto leader since the end of the 1994 genocide. He has been re-elected with over 90 percent of the vote in the elections held in 2003, 2010, and 2017.
Despite Rwanda being considered one of the more stable countries in Africa, human rights organizations have accused Kagame of governing with an environment of fear, suppressing dissent and freedom of speech.
In 2021, Paul Rusesabagina, renowned for his role in the “Hotel Rwanda” story and a vocal critic of Kagame, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges following his arrest the previous year. His family alleged that he was kidnapped when a plane he believed was destined for Burundi landed in Kigali.
Rusesabagina was released from prison in March of the current year and flown to the United States after receiving a presidential pardon. In July, he released a video message asserting that Rwandans were living as “prisoners in their own country.” Rwanda’s ranking in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders stands at 131 out of 180 countries.
In 2022, when asked if he would seek re-election, Kagame mentioned that he would “consider running for another 20 years,” emphasizing that elections were about the choice of the people. Kagame became president at the age of 36 when his Rwandan Patriotic Front party ousted Hutu extremists, who were held responsible for the genocide in which approximately 800,000 people, primarily Tutsi but also moderate Hutus, were killed between April and July 1994.