As Rwanda today joins the rest of the world in marking the International Day of Democracy, stakeholders in advancing democracy in the country say that a lot has been achieved in building pro-people and development focused governance approach and pledge to do more to consolidate the achievements.
With this year’s theme for observing the day being “Democracy under Strain: Solutions for a Changing World”, the United Nations has designated today as an opportunity to look for ways to strengthen democracy and seek answers to the systemic challenges it faces.
The UN said that the current task at hand in strengthening democracy includes tackling economic and political inequalities, making democracies more inclusive by bringing the young and marginalised into the political system, and making democracies more innovative and responsive to emerging challenges such as migration and climate change.
“Democracy is showing greater strain than at any time in decades. That is why this International Day should make us look for ways to invigorate democracy and seek answers for the systemic challenges it faces,” said UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, in a message to observe the day.
With this year being the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Day of Democracy is also an opportunity to highlight the values of freedom and respect for human rights as essential elements of democracy.
The UN has highlighted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”, has inspired constitution-making around the world and contributed to global acceptance of democratic values and principles.
“Democracy, in turn, provides the natural environment for the protection and effective realisation of human rights,” the UN says in a message for today’s International Day of Democracy.
The world’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development addresses democracy in Sustainable Development Goal 16, recognising the indivisible links between peaceful societies and effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions.
As Rwanda today joins the world in marking the International Day of Democracy, different stakeholders in advancing democracy in the country have told The New Times that a lot has been achieved in building both democratic institutions and culture in the country since the end of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
They especially celebrate the country’s established pro-people and development focused governance approach that is based on consensual democracy where Rwandans strive to solve problems together instead of getting lost in confrontational struggles for power, and rejoice in the fact that Rwandans have consistently held peaceful elections and kept their country stable.
They also celebrate a system of governance that has succeeded in including all members of society, whether it’s people from different political parties, both women and men, and the youth.
“Rwandans should be proud of the kind of leadership that they have been electing right from the grassroots level up to the Head of State,” said Charles Munyaneza, the Executive Secretary of the National Electoral Commission (NEC).
Going forward, Munyaneza said that NEC wants to strengthen Rwanda’s democracy by continuing to reform electoral laws, work with the media to boost civic education on elections, and train thousands of volunteers who facilitate elections.
As for Prof Anastase Shyaka, the Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), Rwanda has a lot to celebrate on the occasion of the International Day of Democracy but the country’s home-grown consensual democracy model stands out as being at the centre of the country’s current peace and stability.
“We celebrate the consolidation of our consensual democracy. We see the benefits of consensus growing every day,” he said in an interview.
Shyaka said that the country’s democratic maturity has expanded as Rwandans have managed to hold many peaceful elections, worked to include all members of society in the governance system, and kept their country safe by prioritising dialogue with each other instead of fighting.
“Rwanda is on the right path of democracy and is on the rise,” he said in an interview.
He said that RGB wants to continue working to build synergies among different actors and stakeholders geared towards strengthening accountable and democratic governance in Rwanda.
The executive secretary of the National Consultative Forum of Political Organisations (NFPO) in Rwanda, Oswald Burasanzwe, also commended Rwanda’s democratic achievements, explaining that Rwandans today understand that they have a role to play in the life of their country. He has lauded the country’s democracy for being pro-people and inclusive.
“It is inclusive democracy and it has helped our country develop because it doesn’t leave anyone behind,” he said in an interview.
He said that the forum wants to strengthen achievements in the country’s democratic process so far by training women and the youth who are members of political parties so they can be good leaders in the future.
The country’s democratic process since the end of the genocide is also closely monitored by the local media and the latter has tremendously contributed in building post-genocide Rwanda.
The Executive Secretary of Rwanda’s Media High Council (MHC), Peacemaker Mbungiramihigo, has also commended the country’s model of consensual democracy whereby Rwandans through their leaders come up with a common understanding of how to manage their country.
Mbungiramihigo said that the MHC wants to play its role in strengthening democracy by continuing to provide a platform where different stakeholders discuss about the level of media development in Rwanda, build capacities for journalists and media managers, and promote citizens’ access to information.
The United Nations, through UNDP Rwanda’s programme of Deepening Democracy through Strengthening Citizen Participation and Accountable Governance (DDAG 2013-2018), has been supporting Rwanda’s democratic process by promoting inclusive citizen participation and strengthening institutions of accountability in the country.
UNDP Country Director, Stephen Rodriques, said that Rwanda has a lot to celebrate and has made considerable strides towards strengthening its governance and democratic processes.
He noted that the achievements include attaining security and stability, consistently holding peaceful elections, promoting accountability and transparency, and promoting women participation among other achievements.
“We are here to support Rwanda to achieve its national priorities as outlined in the National Strategy for Transformation,” he said about UNDP’s interventions in supporting Rwanda’s governance systems.
UNDP Rwanda’s work in the area of governance in Rwanda is also guided by the UN’s Charter and is in line with ensuring the implementation of international commitments and treaties that enhance human rights, democratic principles and values.
Its DDAG programme has been implemented by partnering with Rwanda’s key institutions that work to strengthen democracy and governance such as the National Parliament, the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), the Media High Council (MHC), the National Electoral Commission, and the National Consultative Forum for Political Organisations.
The programme focuses on achieving various outputs one of which is to ensure that national and local institutions have the capacity to generate and utilise disaggregated data to make better decisions, and to design evidence-based legislation, policies and programmes in a participatory manner.
It also seeks to ensure that central and decentralised entities involve people and communities in development processes (giving citizens a voice), while strengthening the capacity of national oversight institutions to promote accountability and transparency at all levels of government.
This part of the programme targets in particular, the role of citizens, the media and CSOs in holding public (and private) institutions accountable.
In the next DDAG programme cycle 2018-2023, UNDP will continue to further support initiatives to enhance the inclusion of the youth, women and vulnerable groups in electoral processes, including people living with disabilities.
It will also seek to further strengthen the media sector, focusing on the code of ethics, media financial sustainability, and professionalism in journalism.
The programme will help develop a local government capacity building strategy aimed at empowering districts to ensure community-driven development focussed on achieving the SDGs and improving conditions in the poorest districts.
It will also continue to focus on improving service delivery to the public, using tools such as the Citizens Report Card, and other evidence-based tools to inform policy-making around public service delivery.
Finally, it will continue to promote home grown solutions and south-south cooperation with other countries, drawing on Rwanda’s rich history of governance innovations.
Gender equality mainstreaming in the media sector and in electoral processes as well as political empowerment of women will also constitute key areas of focus to contribute to national efforts towards building a gender inequality free governance system in Rwanda.