Today, campaigns for the presidential election to be held on 9 August begin. The four candidates will present themselves, and more importantly, their programmes for the country to the people.
They will do it in a matter of fact way. For instance, they will tell us that we have moved from point X and will reach pointY in the next seven years – well, that sort of thing, provide a sort of roadmap.
Now, this is unusual. Election campaigns in most countries are a form of theatre in which politicians are actors strutting on stage and reciting rehearsed messages as they crave for stardom. Most of them end up as clowns or villains.
A few become stars. The fare we get from the politician actors is usually of two types. One, it is bad comedy that fails to inspire laughter but rather invites derision.
Two, it is raw tragedy from which all forms of decorum have been removed. Political theatre of this sort shares one element with good drama, however: it demands the suspension of disbelief.
Not so in Rwanda, though. Here election campaigns are like shareholders meetings at which the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) presents the company’s accounts, balance sheet and dividends. President Paul Kagame will be presenting his balance sheet to the shareholders in the Rwandan enterprise. From all indications it is one of profit.
And so when they receive the report and count their dividends and find them to be hefty, what is there to stop them from reelecting the CEO to another term especially when there are projections of even greater dividends?
Here, there are no frills, no exaggerations, no lies. Only facts. Those who expect high-flown rhetoric will be disappointed, I am afraid. Those who like to be lifted on an emotional high and ride on the extravagance of promises in the clouds will walk away crestfallen. Luckily, those are not Rwandans.
Now, do not get me wrong. Rwandans love eloquent speech. They are masters of rhetoric, and Kinyarwanda is a marvellously rich language. But the time of fine words for their sake has its place – when people are relaxing after a hard day’s work or at some relaxed social event. In the meantime it is work.
I do not know what the other candidates will say at the campaign rallies, what accounts they will present and what dividends they will promise. They will probably say they will build on what President Paul Kagame has done, or something to that effect. But I have an idea about what the president is likely to say.
He will probably say that seven years ago he promised Rwandans that all children will be educated up to lower secondary level. There will be loud cheers, “Muzehe wacu”. He will pause until the cheers subside and then add that he has made good on that promise. More cheers and songs about Rwandans turning their country into paradise.
Did I say that there is no excitement in Rwandan election campaigns? Of course there is. Only it is cheering fulfilled promises and not applauding empty promises. You will not see wild emotions. But you will see excitement at the achievements made in which they played their rightful role and at the prospect of further achievements because they know it is within their means.
After the applause, ululations and cheers have died down, the president will say that the country’s children will go one step further and all of them will be educated up to high school level. Seven years hence all children will have a high school diploma. Everyone knows that this, coming from their muzehe, is already in sight.
He will then go on about raising individuals’ and families’ incomes, increasing investment, building more infrastructure, more health centres and many others. No one will doubt him. He has a track record of delivering on his pledges.
That is how campaigns here work. Candidates set goals that they must reach. Once they are in government, they work to translate the goals into action. The people who listened to those promises will hold their leaders to account.
Do not imagine for a moment that election campaigns are a dull affair. There are thrills as well. There will be music, and dance and song – to set th mood and atmosphere for serious business and work. Rwandans love song and dance.
They often sing as they work in the fields, on construction sites and other places, the rhythm of song and work blending to make light of their labour.
Today the presentation of accounts begins (for those who have them). For the next twenty days, shareholders of the Rwandan enterprise will carefully examine them. They will not be swayed by discordant noises they hear from outside their borders. They will not be affected by wild claims of people filled with so much ill will that they cannot see the good in others. They will look at the figures and fine print and vote for the chief executive who will continue to make their enterprise profitable.
On August 10, there will be real partying. Music will play. People will dance. You will see real excitement – of achievement, of having made the right choice.