The Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, is to seek a third term in 2017, confirming a decision widely expected after the approval of constitutional changes.
He said in a televised address: “You requested me to lead the country again after 2017. Given the importance and consideration you attach to this, I can only accept. But I don’t think that what we need is an eternal leader.”
Kagame has been president since 2000, but he has effectively been in control since his forces marched into the Rwandan capital, Kigali, to end the 1994 genocide.
He was originally limited to two terms, but Rwanda has approved changes to the constitution that would effectively allow Kagame to stay in power until 2034. He can run for another seven-year term in 2017, followed by two five-year terms.
Kagame insisted for months that he had yet to make up his mind about whether to run in the election in 2017.
Neighbouring Burundi was plunged into chaos in April when the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced he would seek a third term. This led to months of street protests and violence in which more than 400 people died. Nkurunziza later won in a disputed vote.
Rights groups acknowledge that Kagame has broad support for rebuilding Rwanda, but accuse the authorities of stifling the media and opposition voices, charges that the government denies.
The US, which has long praised Kagame for transforming the country since the genocide, said the president could best serve his nation by stepping down in 2017.
The European Union criticized the speed at which the referendum vote was held, saying it did not give enough time for the public to consider the arguments. The vote took place about a month after the Rwandan parliament gave its final approval to the changes.
The Democratic Green party, the main opposition group in Rwanda – which is tiny and has no seats in parliament – had its attempt to block the constitutional amendments rejected in the courts.