As we approach the National elections-and in light of recent regional elections- and all the fanfare that entails, it is worthwhile to reflect on all the things an election means for a Country.
For starters, this election like most elections is a time to take stock of how far the Country has come. Our day to day interests and challenges coalesces during this period and gives us the chance to carry out a review.
As a nationwide assessment of the political, social and economic state we are in. In this way, it also provides an interesting window into the zeitgeist.
Elections bring so much baggage with them and crystallize so many issues of varying importance that historians looking back at each of them will clearly see all the realities and concerns of a Country, as if frozen in time. It is a valuable historical snapshot and Rwanda’s situation will be no different.
And the actual process of campaigning and voting also reveals a lot about any given Country. In the United States for example, elections are a form of elevated theatre.
Campaigning in effect starts years in advance, is frequently very aggressive and is awash with money and a strange kind of media-driven glamour. The entire process is very in-your-face and quite thoroughly choreographed much of the way.
In Rwanda- as with other African Countries which have peaceful elections- it is a much more mundane affair- equally as profound and important but staged completely differently.
There is absence of pomp and glamour and the acts of voting and campaigning are stripped almost to their bare essentials. It becomes a frugal and yet more intimate affair than the often artificial bombast of other elections.
This makes sense- voting for a leader is a serious business and doesn’t sit well with ethos of entertainment that drive many elections in the developed world.
And those who were in Rwanda to witness the previous elections in 2003 will bear witness to another essential element of the exercise: it is a very effective means of creating unity. Furthermore, the goodwill, camaraderie and euphoria are welcome antidotes to the mundane realities of everyday life.
There is a bit of a paradox here of course- people might support different parties but still feel a strong sense of unity and bonhomie.
But those who have even a mild interest in the World Cup will know this paradox doesn’t stand in the way of reality. Disagreement is a way of life, but as long as a greater principle is upheld then dignified behavior becomes possible.
Of course for plenty of Countries, elections tend to bring out the best rather than the worst in them. We see that on the news day after day. But for those Countries which can control their worst impulses, it can be one of the most joyful and profound experiences.
So as election time comes around, I see it as a reaffirmation of who we are as a people and a monumental chance to reflect on what we have achieved and intend to achieve.
It is also a chance to do something we shouldn’t take for granted- electing a President to lead the Country for the next seven years.
Minega Isibo is a lawyer