Today, the international community celebrates the “International Day of Democracy, 2013”, with the theme “Strengthening Voices for Democracy”.
Celebrations to mark this day have been held annually around the world since 2007, when the United Nations General Assembly resolved (under resolution A/62/7 (2007) to observe September 15th every year as the International Day of Democracy.
The purpose of commemorating this day is to raise public awareness about, as well as promote and uphold, the principles of democracy. While there is no standard model of democracy, there are common features and norms that underpin all vibrant and thriving democracies.
These features revolve around giving people a voice and a choice in the way they are governed, the policy choices that shape their future, ensuring of personal and national security, adherence to basic human rights, and their full participation in all aspects of life, thereby ensuring accountability and peaceful change of power.
The theme for this year aims to raise the importance of people’s voices, both expressed directly and through their elected representatives in the governance of their countries.
The post-2015 development agenda consultations, indeed affirm the centrality of empowerment and participation in tackling growing inequalities, promoting social inclusion and preventing conflicts. Over the last decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of countries that can be counted as following such core democratic principles.
This is in part attributable to a vibrant civil society which has used increased access to information, made possible by rapid advances in technology, to demand for regular elections and more open government processes.
Rwanda has made significant strides towards putting in place the relevant legal framework to provide for the involvement of the citizens in the governance of their country. The right for Rwandans to participate in governance is enshrined in Article 45 of the Constitution (2003); and so is the freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of information.
These constitutional provisions are further operationalised in various Acts of Parliament, rules and procedures of government through, for instance, the Imihigo performance contracts and the Joint Action Development Forums (JADF).
Additionally, phenomenal progress has been made in ensuringaccountability of leaders, the restoration of security of persons and property, separation of powers, gender parity in leadership, respect for human rights and control of corruption; all of which have led to significant improvements in the country’s quality of democracy, and by extension in the enabling environment for sustainable development.
While a lot of progress has been made, the results of the Rwanda Governance Scorecard (2012) show that, more needs to be done to promote empowerment and civic participation in governance. Access to public information, civil society participation in policy making, and vibrancy of non-state actors in policy formulation are areas where more progress needs to be made.
Additionally, the ability of CSOs to participate in holding state and private corporations accountable also remains a challenge. Citizen participation in local government development processes, especially at the conception and planning stages of development projects is another area that requires improvement, according to the above cited perception survey 2012.
Celebrations this year to mark the International Day of Democracy in Rwanda are being done at an auspicious moment, that is, on the eve of parliamentary elections.To commemorate this day, UNDP, the Rwanda Governance Board and the National Election Commission have organised a “democracy caravan” that will move around the City of Kigali to encourage citizens to turn out in large numbers to vote.
Participation in elections is not only a civic duty, but more importantly an opportunity for citizens to choose leaders that will work to ensure that their needs are met and fundamental freedoms protected. I wish to re-assure the Government and People of Rwanda of the continued support of the United Nations and UNDP, in particular, in conjunction with the other development partners, for building on the foundations already laid for an inclusive and effective democratic governance system that can deliver sustainable solutions to the challenges of poverty and inequality as well as durable stability.
In that regard, the One UN Rwanda is already supporting national partners to implement two major programmes: “Deepening Democracy through Strengthening Citizen Participation and Accountable Governance”, and “Strengthening CSOs for Responsive and Accountable Governance.”
The writer is the One UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative.