Rwandan President Paul Kagame has officially declared his candidacy for a fourth term in the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for next year. Kagame, who has been in power for several decades, made this announcement in an interview with the French-language news magazine Jeune Afrique, published online on Tuesday.
In the interview, the 65-year-old president expressed his gratitude for the confidence Rwandans have placed in him, pledging to continue serving them to the best of his ability. Kagame’s decision to run for a fourth term comes after presiding over controversial constitutional amendments in 2015 that extended his eligibility for additional terms, potentially allowing him to stay in power until 2034.
As a former rebel chief, Kagame assumed the presidency in April 2000 but had been the de facto leader of Rwanda since the conclusion of the 1994 genocide. He has previously been re-elected with overwhelming support, securing more than 90 percent of the vote in the 2003, 2010, and 2017 elections.
The only confirmed challenger to Kagame in the upcoming elections is Frank Habineza, the leader of the opposition Green Party, who announced his candidacy in May 2024. Habineza expressed confidence in his party’s ability to mount a robust campaign against Kagame, emphasizing their commitment to democratic principles, the rule of law, and human rights in Rwanda.
Despite Rwanda’s reputation as one of the most stable countries in Africa, human rights organizations have accused Kagame of governing through fear and suppressing dissent and freedom of speech. In 2021, prominent Kagame critic and “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina was sentenced to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges, following his arrest the previous year.
While Kagame secured his release from prison and was flown to the United States in March this year after a presidential pardon, Rusesabagina released a video message in July, claiming that Rwandans were “prisoners in their own country.” Furthermore, Rwanda’s ranking in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders was 131 out of 180 countries, indicating limited press freedom.
In response to questions in July 2022 about seeking re-election, Kagame stated that he would “consider running for another 20 years,” emphasizing that elections are about the people’s choice. Kagame’s continued leadership was affirmed when he was re-elected as the head of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party during its national congress in April this year.
Over the years, many individuals who opposed Kagame, even within the RPF, have faced imprisonment, violence, or have chosen exile. Kagame came to prominence at the age of 36 when the RPF ousted Hutu extremists responsible for the 1994 genocide, during which approximately 800,000 people, mainly Tutsi but also moderate Hutus, lost their lives between April and July 1994.