I cannot remember the last time an election season passed without me noticing it. There is a popular Swahili saying that states kutembea kwingi ni kuona mengi which loosely translates to ‘the more you travel the more you get to see and learn different things.’
Having lived in Kenya and Uganda whose politics are almost similar, it was not difficult to notice the difference between elections in those two countries and Rwanda’s recent parliamentary election. To begin with, I realised that campaigns in Rwanda are done on party basis and not individual basis. As such, I did not notice the aggressiveness that comes with having to convince electorates to vote for a particular person, and can conclude that it is easier and better to task a party to do this.
Not surprising though, the voter turnout was low compared to the number that took part in presidential polls, with some treating it as a public holiday and staying at home. This is probably expected because parliamentary elections don’t tend to elicit the high emotions and tensions associated with presidential elections.
The other thing I noticed is how organised and orderly the event was carried out. Most notable is the fact that there was a good number of volunteers. With the monetization of politics and everything else, it is not easy to find young and energetic people willing to volunteer for a cause. From my experience, when people hear about political campaigns, they immediately start planning how to make money off the process. I, therefore, found it commendable that Rwanda has young people that worked for the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for free. I’m all for paying people for work done but you can agree with me that one must have a high sense of patriotism and love for their country to do it for free.
Also notable was the fact that on Election Day, polling stations outdid themselves with decorations, you would think there was a prize to be won; drapings in the colours of the flag, peace baskets, bamboo sticks and lights were used to decorate polling stations. I had not seen that before since in Kenya and Uganda only the National Tallying Centre is decorated. On the same note, a day before the election, a guy from the neighborhood had approached me for a small contribution towards the exercise. I asked him whether that should not be a responsibility of the NEC and he told me it largely was but there are things like decorations that are done by the community. I was in awe! That sense of ownership is what many African countries going into elections are currently lacking. With negative attitudes and lack of ownership as the basis, there’s no doubt that the credibility of the process will be questioned, tempers will flare and there will be a lot of mistrust.
Considering what elections have done to Kenya, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Uganda and many other countries, maybe it is about time someone sat down to check what some countries on the continent are doing wrong that others are getting right. If voting for individuals is what fuels opposition and tribalism, then maybe we should change the selection formula.
All said and done, election season in Rwanda is now gone and besides several political parties that got seats through a coalition headed by the ruling party RPF, for the first time, two opposition parties will be represented in the house. We wait to see what this new development will do to our politics. At the end of the day whoever wins, Rwanda wins the more.
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