Fostering Sustainable Democracy for Rwandans

Rwanda has achieved tremendous economic- social progress under the guardianship of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). Steven Buckingham, a British teacher/ journalist who first came to Rwanda in 1995, and returned to stay in 1997 witnessed the transformation from the post-genocide ashes that Rwanda was to a stable, secure and progressive state, and described the change as a  miracle.

Rwanda has achieved tremendous economic- social progress under the guardianship of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). Steven Buckingham, a British teacher/ journalist who first came to Rwanda in 1995, and returned to stay in 1997 witnessed the transformation from the post-genocide ashes that Rwanda was to a stable, secure and progressive state, and described the change as a  miracle.

“The miracle came from the faith, the resilience, and determination of the Rwandese people themselves and their leaders to say ‘No – Never again!” he wrote in 2008. 

Under the leadership of President Kagame, who is also the chairman of RPF,  Rwanda has consequently earned local and international recognition and admiration. Rwanda’s admission to the East African Community and the Commonwealth (both organizations previously a preserve of countries with colonial ties to Great Britain) affirms the claim to recognition and acceptance.

That .coupled with visits by world leaders like two US president, British Prime Minister,  British opposition leaders and` the French President among other dignitaries,  attest to the fact that Rwanda is a model of  good governance Democracy provides the framework on which good governance is based and judged.

Ordinarily democracy entails universal suffrage, competition for offices, freedom of speech and the rule of law. Since 1994, when RPF formed a Government of National Unity, in coalition with other political parties, principles of democracy which had been trampled by previous governments have been upheld and promoted. 

The democratization has been premised on the creation of institutions that guarantee the rule of law, which is a key feature of democracy. Foremost in the process of entrenching the rule of law where was the constitutional project which resulted into a pro -people constitution based on popular consent.

It came into existence after extensive consultation and a referendum in 2003. The Rwanda constitution is a legitimate set of laws` respected by Rwandan, that enforces the core values of democracy notably, equity, fairness and justice.

The National Election Commission (NEC) another key institution in the process of democratization was established in 2000 with the responsibility of promoting democracy by conducting free and fair elections.

Unlike in the past where elections were conducted by the Ministry Local Government, NEC is an independent electoral commission that organizes representative elections from grassroots level to presidential elections, conducts civic education and manages voter registers. 

The commission successfully conducted civic elections from Akagari (Cell) Level to district level in 2002, followed by the  constitutional referendum, parliamentary elections presidential elections in 2003, and parliamentary elections in September 2008 that were described by Rwanda Civil Society as “ free, democratic and transparent”. Evidently the role of the commission in the democratization process has been lauded by local and foreign observers.

The media and civil society are other vital institutions in democratic practice. Before 1994, the media in Rwanda was predominantly state controlled public media, but with the liberalization of airwavws 17 private radios broadcast daily.

The surge in print media has been phenomenal with 60 independent registered newspapers. Despite the often  some  internal weakness evident in our media houses ( scarcity of competent  staff and other resources)  the local media plays its  traditional role of informing, entertaining and educating people in a conducive environment.

The media in Rwanda has initiated constructive debate and engages in the fight against corruption, one of the predators of democracy, good governance.

The government in bid to build a strong media has established institutions like Media High Council, the School of Journalism among other efforts.

The President’s monthly press conferences have benefited the media fraternity not only as a credible source of information but also a forum for journalists to democratically engage the executive on national issues including media concerns.

As a result of views about media performance expressed during the press conferences, access to information from public officials has been streamlined and a bill to make it illegal to conceal information is in the pipeline.

Dialogue has become a common democratic practice in public life, where leaders meet people and discuss issues relevant to their lives and mutually suggest solutions. Some leaders have been openly put to task to explain their deeds.

The National dialogue is another such forum where national leaders from diverse sectors converge to review achievements, setbacks and collectively chart out a strategy for the future.

These practices aim at fostering a democratic, free and just society where the citizens participate in national life and guarantee equal treatment. Citizens elect councils at all levels which accountable to the electorate and major decisions are taken in consultation with the people.

Indeed there are numerous practices tailored to Rwanda reality, culture and history that fit the` name “democracy the Rwanda style”, without undermining the universal tenets of democracy.

For instance although a multi-party system is practiced, there is a constitutional mechanism that requires sharing of power among different political interests. Thus the winning party members can’t exceed 50% in the cabinet and parliament.

The President, the Prime Minister and speaker of National Assembly must come from different parties. Women have been allotted 30% in parliament and other public offices, while some seats are reserved for the disabled and the youth.

These are undisputable democratic practices that demonstrate the dictum “Government of the people, for the people by the people”, which our leaders should uphold for the common good of fellow Rwandans.

The author is a Literature and Communication Studies teacher at Kigali Institute of Education. 

 

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