Readers of this column will recall a series of articles about the gold standard that future presidential aspirants should measure themselves against. In the first instalment I asked the question: who wants to fill Kagame's shoes? In the second instalment titled 'inside Kagame's shoes' I provided the parameters of this standard for the highest office in the land. The metaphor of Kagame’s shoes was not some unmitigated sycophantic overture. On the contrary, it was due to a patriotic drive to protect the republic. More so now around electoral season.
The ideal of democracy provides for electoral season as a serious moment in a nation’s political life. It affords a society an opportunity to set aside all manner of pettiness, to elevate the national discourse to matters to do with people’s lives and livelihoods. It is a time to renew and reinvigorate the destiny of a society; it is a time to reflect on where a nation might have veered of its path and to ponder ways to bring it back on the rails.
During this period, the individual and the collective are expected to coalesce; they become one and the same. It is a serious moment for serious people. As a result, it is a time when the best among us gifted with the ability to see farther step up and promise to take the mantle, to “point us there” where the rest of us are unable to envision. They help to expand the horizon of our imagination, to break the collective mental walls about the possible.
This is no ordinary task. Consequently, it’s a time when the crème de la crème rises. Think of oil rising above water. Those with exceptional human quality possess within them something that functions as an escalator from which they rise. This quality produces the dexterity to at once demonstrate this superior quality and the humility to ensure it is not confused for superiority; it is a wisdom demonstrates that the superior quality will be put in the service of the less endowed (morally, materially, intellectually).
This is the purpose of primaries during election period. They are a means for weeding out mediocrity from the field of candidates so that the cream may rise. It is a role that has been crucial in the democratic process so much so that it is difficult to think of a society that doesn’t undergo a similar process.
Moreover, developing countries have been eager to copy and paste such approaches from mature democracies mostly because any other approach was likely to become dismissed as undemocratic. This might change.
Of late, the influence of big money in the electoral process – both the primaries and general election – has increasingly violated the sanctity of the entire democratic process and brought into question the utility of the primaries in weeding out the crazies with certified membership in the lunatic fringe.
This is what analysts mean when they say the system is broken and that it needs fixing pronto, else sayonara democracy and karibuni plutocracy. When systems break, all bets are off. Which is what explains the politico-social chaos taking root in Europe and America – the “rise of extremist politics.”
Consequently, the political discourse in Europe and America is increasingly devoid of the sense of elevation. It is destroying the ideal of democracy and diminishing its real value in people’s lives, a displeasure that is expressed through the rise of ethnic nationalism.
No cream is rising. The genie is out of the bottle and America and Europe don’t know how to put it back in. The ripple effect is being felt all over. Ethnicity is increasingly becoming a qualification for leadership. The more ethnically volatile a society, the more prevalent the phenomenon and the higher the risk for social rapture.
Rwanda’s presidential elections
The worst consequences of the counter-elevation of the discourse on electoral politics has been felt in Rwanda. As a result, these thoughts always come to mind every time the electoral season is around the corner in this country.
Any Rwandan who says that they have not thought about the 2017 elections is possibly lying. As I thought about them I recalled two events that took place almost one week apart. One was the press conference called by Mr. Mpayimana Phillipe to declare his intention to seek the presidency; the other was the announcement that Swahili is now an official language in Rwanda.
Asked why he wants the presidency, Mr. Mpayimana said that he was of age and a Rwandan citizen. This is akin to a teen who has come of age who decides on his 16th birthday they should go to the National ID Centre to pick up their identity card. There was nothing –in thought or disposition – that was elevating, nothing about how he would use the presidency as a vehicle to get us to ‘that place’ which he currently envisions and wishes not only to point us to but to take us there with him.
The Swahili announcement immediately took me to another presidential aspirant who once called a press conference to agitate for the inclusion of the French language on the 500 Francs note. I thought he must be giddy now that he can add to his political agenda the inclusion of Swahili on the bank notes.
If a candidate neither possesses nor aspires to possess any exceptional qualities for the presidency and still expects to win the election, there must be some unstated ‘qualification’ the basis of which victory is expected. There is only one question left to ask.
Which is the unstated qualification?