It’s election season in many parts of East Africa. You can tell from newspaper stories and radio talk shows. All they talk about are who is vying for which seat, who is plotting against whom, violent mobs disrupting a rally of one or other politician and getting an even stronger violent response.
It does not matter that elections are one or even two years away. The media and politicians help keep the countries in a permanent election mode.
Not so here in Rwanda. The presidential election is only a month away, but there is no evidence that it is even planned. Well, in the mind of experts on African politics. According to these experts, the country is unusually calm for a place where an election is only a short while away. Therefore something must be wrong.
Having arrived at a conclusion, they must now find what led to it. We have it, they shout gleefully in malicious joy. There is no freedom. People are not permitted to express extravagance. They cannot break tree branches and march through the streets yelling abuse and obscenities, and threatening people going about their lawful businesses.
That’s it, they smack their lips as they reach for their laptops to file the clever conclusion to their editors and executive directors.
For evidence to support this profound discovery, they point to what happens elsewhere. For instance, last week saw the nomination of presidential candidates. But it was not done in the usual fashion.
You see, in other countries where electoral politics is more developed, nomination of candidates is a big, noisy and messy affair. It is a big event. People are bussed into the capital city from all over the country. All the city idlers are decently clothed for the day and ferried on mini-buses to the city centre.
The city’s motor cycles, bicycles and cars are hired as ceremonial escorts for the individual going to present his papers to the electoral commission.
The crowd, numbering in the thousands, are armed with tree branches broken off the trees lining the main avenues,.
They carry tins of all shapes on which they bang with sticks, stones and metal rods to produce very unsettling noise. Others wield clubs which they brandish menacingly at curious onlookers.
Drivers of cars and riders of motorcycles hired to add noise and colour to the occasion honk their horns. The whole mass of rowdy humans then snake their way along the city’s main thoroughfare to the headqurters of the electoral commission.
They sing taunts and insults to their candidate’s rivals. They do not spare the onlookers at whom they hurl vulgar insults and obscenities.
From a distance the noisy procession appears like a street carnival. Close to it, it looks like many bands of savages loosed on the city dwellers.
Where there are candidates in double digits, this is repeated until every one has had his procession. The city comes to a stndstill for the duration of the nominations, which could run into several days. It is an occasion for all manner of excesses.
The atmosphere of freedom gets better if a few skulls are cracked, some ribs and limbs are broken and several deaths occur. It is even more exciting if these manifestations of democratic licence carry on to election day and beyond.
Sadly, these things were missing in Kigali last week.The nominees went to the electoral commission offices, prestented their papers, addressed the media and went back to work.
The people hardly noticed that some very important events were taking place in their midst. Many of them only learnt about it when they tuned in to their radios or watched the evening’s TV news. There was no colour, no noise, no excesses. Only a very orderly, business-like event took place.
The experts are not only good at analysing situations, they are also adept at finding solutions and generously recommending them to clients who did not hire them in the first place.
And so in their bid to provide the excitement-starved Rwandans with a rich fare of pleasure, they persuade some criminals, clowns and cranks to get into the ring and spice up the locals’ lives.
Rwandans did not find the circus to their taste and politely declined the entertainment offered by the experts-cum-benefactors.
Generous people and mischief makers are difficult to shake off. Reject one thing and they come up with another. Our friends seem determined to make us behave to type. They invent every sort of . crime and link it to Rwanda.
This surely will get them out of their complacency, make them angry and violent, and express their freedom, they say to themselves.
Rwandans still refuse to play ball. They have indicated to the uninvited experts that they have more urgent and important things to do than spend time on useless street processions or quarrels that have nothing to do with them, or other frivolous things.
The freedom they want is that which gives them the opportunity to raise their quality of life. And that they have.