How independent is FERWAFA Electoral Commission?

In every election, it’s paramount that the electoral commission is free from the direction or control of any authority in the performance of its functions. An election commission is a body charged with overseeing the implementation of election procedures.

And so, the credibility of the Federation of Rwanda Football Association (FERWAFA) general elections scheduled for September 10 will largely depend on how independent the electoral commission, headed by Adolphe Kalisa, is.

The roles of an independent electoral commission include, among others; ensure that regular, free and fair elections are held; organise, conduct and supervise elections in accordance with the FERWAFA Constitution; hear and determine election complaints arising before and during polling.

But before going into the nitty-gritty of the whole exercise and whether it even should go ahead altogether, it’s important to note that Kalisa is not only an active member but also a top ranking official of APR FC—he is the club secretary general.

Only this fact puts his independence in serious doubt, at least in the eyes of the neutrals and those advocating for a free and fair election—this is even without looking at other factors that include him being a close ally of the incumbent FERWAFA president Vincent Nzamwita.

And the fact that Kalisa and his team have their offices and work from FERWAFA headquarters, which inevitably raised a few eyebrows, and leaves several questions needing answers.

Kalisa is holding the same position in APR FC that Nzamwita, who is seeking a second term as the head of Rwandan football, held several years ago before he left to go into private business.

Before I get slaughtered for suggesting that there could be a conflict of interest by Kalisa presiding over an election in which his friend is a candidate, it’s important to note that, it’s Nzamwita, who appointed the same commission—or if he didn’t do it directly, at least he had the final word.

Leaving aside the credibility of the election commission by all the parties involved, the whole election process has been under serious scrutiny since it was announced that the exercise had been brought forward by several month, thanks to the power and money of the incumbent president.

Nzamwita, who has very little to show off in terms of achievements in the past four years, has strategically ring-fenced the FERWAFA presidency for himself and those he thinks are not strong enough challenge his chair.

His critics accuse him of using federation money to buy loyalty from some general assembly members (voters), especially the poor clubs in the second division, the women clubs as well some of the upcountry topflight division clubs.

However, Nzamwita, unpopular as he is, is widely expected to win a second term against former AS Kigali president Albert Mwanafunzi, who until announcing his bid on Saturday, has been the head of the Competitions Commission in FERWAFA.

Initially, it had been hoped that ‘Rwanda Football Coalition for Change’, which Mwanafunzi is representing, would bring Raoul Gisanura, a former FERWAFA vice president under Gen. Jean Bosco Kazura, as their flag bearer.

Actually, until Saturday morning, the deadline day to submit bids by the aspiring candidates, people expected Gisanura to be the man to challenge his childhood friend Nzamwita for the top job but everyone one was surprised when the former arrived at FERWAFA carrying Mwanafunzi’s documents.

Asked why he changed his mind about being the flag bearer for the ‘Rwanda Football Coalition for Change’, Gisanura said, “I was the preferred candidate until today (Saturday) but we decided to surprise them with another name. I will remain to work in the background.”

The biggest fear though is, despite having a strong will to bring to changes in the way Rwandan football is managed at the top, ‘Rwanda Football Coalition for Change’ and their proponents have a daunting task to depose an incumbent, who for four years had done virtually little other than entrenching his stay in power for as long as he wishes, like all dictators do.