‘We may not all get jobs in Rwanda, but should a person not get a job, they should be confident that it is not because they come from a particular family, region or tribe.”
This was the message from Antoine Mugesera at a recent launch of his new book titled, Rwanda 1959-1962, la Révolution manquée. Its French edition can be accessed in major public libraries in Kigali.
As we get ready to elect our members of parliament next month, let us refresh our memories on what’s at stake.
But first a little story:
One day as I was speaking to Senator Laurent Nkusi, I started, ‘Prof, nk’intumwa ya rubanda…’ He stopped me: ‘Sigaho sha. Ndi intumwa y’Abanyarwanda sind’intumwa ya rubanda. Ushaka umugore, akakubera rubanda, wabana n’umuvandimwe akakubera rubanda. Rubanda n’abanyifuriza inabi, naho abanyarwanda tubanye neza…’
All which can succinctly be translated as: ‘I do not represent strangers, I represent Rwandans.’
Rwandan politics is a family affair – in the good sense; it is no ‘Zero Sum game’. There are no ‘us’ against ‘them’. We are all one, trying to work out our differences, finding solutions together, working hand in hand.
No wonder the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the ruling party, calls itself ‘Umuryango’: The family. It is a new form of politics, a new vision for a nation. ‘Imperative mandate’ is prohibited. As soon as party representatives are elected into parliament, they represent Rwandans all together. In passing laws, they do not vote on party lines. While there are party whips, they consult with each other across the aisle. Women representatives promote women and men’s rights; youth representatives speak for the elderly too; those with disability defend those with none. The Liberal Party advocates for universal free education and healthcare, while the Social Democrats clamour for the ‘ease of doing business and for private property.
Political competition in Rwanda is just a formula for how politicians access and exercise their role. A member of parliament, regardless of the flag he or she bears, is in the eyes of the public, and in their own conscience, a representative of all Rwandans
Article 65 defines the ‘Guiding principles of members of Parliament’ in these terms:
‘Every Member of Parliament represents the nation as a whole and not only those who elected or nominated him or her, or the political organization which seconded his or her candidacy during elections.
Why do citizens of the same country fight each other? People fight because of a skewed sharing of power and resources. In many political systems across the globe those who win elections monopolise power in their own hands and allocate it exclusively and arbitrarily to their cronies, while those who lose elections sit tight in the opposition and try as much as possible to undermine their rivals, as they wait for ‘their turn to eat’, as it were…
Article 62 enshrines the principle of Power Sharing as follows:
(2) The President of the Republic and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies cannot come from the same political organisation.
(3)…However, a political organisation holding the majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies cannot have more than fifty (50%) per cent of Cabinet members.
Overtime, if one or many groups keep losing to those in power, they feel disenfranchised and coalesce to launch assaults to conquer the power back from the hands of those who have monopolised it what Rwandan economist, Donald Kaberuka, calls the ‘coalition of losers’.
Those in power too, spend time dividing the opposition, including by entering into ‘negative alliances’; what the Kenya electorate calls: ‘The Tyranny of Numbers’, or poaching vocal members of the opposition, using appointments to positions or direct money handouts; In those countries, political bickering occupies most of the public discourse, dividing further the population. Masses are excited by populists, scapegoating and name-calling prevail during elections and risks of violence, deadly riots and rigging are high.
In other instances, most citizens snub elections and only a handful of people turn up to vote, resulting in leaders with no people’s mandate; They call all that: Democracy.
To avoid disenfranchising a segment of the population, in Rwanda there are no ‘winner takes all’. No party is allowed to monopolise power. While the ruling RPF won a total victory, it was alive to the dangers of monopolising power at the expense of other political formations. As a result no political formation is allowed to hold a majority in parliament and in cabinet. Each party needs allies to govern, and all registered political parties must operate within ‘The Forum of Political Organisations’, which, according to Article 59: of the constitution:
The National Consultative Forum of Political Organisations brings together political organisations for the purposes of political dialogue, and building consensus and national cohesion.
So what is the Rwandan political model?
Our model is captured in one sentence, enshrined in Article 10(6) of the Rwandan Constitution: Fundamental principles: A ‘constant quest for solutions through dialogue and consensus’
There you have it folks! In her new book, ‘Edge of Chaos’, Zambian prominent economist Dambisa Moyo suggests that there should be a test of political awareness for anyone to be allowed to vote.
Now, I don’t know if this qualifies as a complete lecture empowering you to vote; all you need to know is that when you go to vote for your Members of Parliament next month, remember that you will be voting for me, I for you, and all of us for our beloved nation: Rwanda!
The views expressed in this article are of the author.