Rwanda does not need to “convince” Barack Obama, Donald Trump or European leaders that it is aspiring to the democratic ideals of the West, the country’s President has told The Telegraph.
“I don’t need to convince Obama, or Trump, or whoever in Europe. I don’t need that because, what does it mean to me?
“It doesn’t mean anything. Convince them that I’m going to be able to live a life like theirs? No, first of all who even told them I’m aspiring to live a life like theirs?
“I don’t want to live like the British, the Americans, the French – that’s their business. Where they live is where they live.
“I want to live like a Rwandan, an African, I don’t want to become something else.
Paul Kagame has been accused of following in the footsteps of a raft of African leaders who have rewritten their constitutions in order to stay in power.
He was swept back into office for third time last week after securing 99 per cent of the vote, having conceded himself that the election “was just a formality”.
He has already ruled for 17 years and could now remain in office until 2034, by which time he will be 77.
Asked in an interview with the Daily Telegraph if he was concerned about accusations of “stayism” and challenged on what he would do to convince the international community that he was opening up the county’s democratic space, he said: “The strategy is ‘let’s keep hitting at this man until maybe he collapses under the weight of this. This is how I interpret this.
What people have said about us twenty years ago, they are still talking about. I think there must be something wrong with them, not with us.”
Mr Kagame has been the de-facto leader of Rwanda since his rebel army defeated extremist Hutu forces, ending the country’s genocide and seizing the capital in 1994.
At least 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, were killed over the course of just 100 days.
He is praised with rebuilding the country, which now boasts annual economic growth of around seven percent and has the largest number of female MPs in the world.
But he has also been criticised repeatedly for stifling opposition, silencing the country’s media and trying to cling to power.
Britain, Rwanda’s biggest direct donor, will give £64 million to the country this year.
In 2015, 98 per cent of Rwandans were said to have voted “yes” to rewriting the rules that mean Mr Kagame’s recent electoral success could see him remain in office until 2034 following Friday’s election.
The US warned at the time that he would face instability and uncertainty if he pressed ahead with the changes.
Speaking in the country’s capital of Kigali , Mr Kagame insists there is a “disconnect” between what his critics in the media and the West have to say of him, and the views of his electorate.
He said his overwhelming victory was an an example of voters “telling journalists ‘you don’t know what we are concerned about’. It is as if it is a vote of defiance.”
But he concedes that Rwanda needs to to “work harder” to get to a position where it can elect a new leader within the next seven years.
And he is adamant that he never intended to rule for a third term, but that his party had chosen him again.
“It’s not what I expected, it’s not what I was looking for, it’s not what I wanted”, he said. “But the circumstances have driven us to this point.”
Asked if he has plans for the county to have a new leader, he said:” Yes, I think there will be, one way or the other. And it’s not an issue of whether I want it, or not, it’s an issue of reality.
“One problem we must address is that of who takes over from me come 2024. This should be one of the priorities.
“We must work harder so that what made Rwandese people ask me to stay longer can be addressed in this seven years.”The Telegraph