The people of Rwanda have spoken and voted overwhelmingly for Paul Kagame, the margin is massive but I wonder what this says about Rwanda and our nascent democracy. The first fact I would like to clear up is that this is the second democratic election since the Genocide 16 years ago.
In fact it was the second election since independence in 1962, never in the years from 1962-1994 did we have free multi-party elections. Whatever reservations some people have, they must give Rwandans and their government credit for having made this massive step.
Secondly, the large margin is also a reflection of the expectations being placed on the newly-elected government. The people will expect results from their vote; it will add some pressure on the government as they have a high burden of expectation placed on their shoulders.
It is a burden they are well capable of carrying but it will require even more effort. The large margin is a result of the peace dividend and economic development programs. RPF is credited with ending the Genocide, and have made massive strides in economic development.
The question of the weak opposition always comes up, Paul Kagame was asked about this by a foreign journalist and replied “why don’t you go and set it up?” Jendayi Frazier, the former Under-Secretary of State for Africa was unequivocal in stressing that outsiders will never bring internal change to Rwanda.
“It is up to Rwandans to decide what system they want, it is false to think that outsiders can effect change.” Then the news anchor gave the usual patronising statement
“Yes we can, after all we are paying for it!” That is why we need to get off aid as soon as possible. Some aid donors think they own us and that they can dictate to us over the will of Rwandans.
The margin is not important; the overall will of the Rwandans is what we should focus on. Rwandans have rejected the route to ethnic politics and chosen the route to unity and development. There is a myth that democracy is homogenous, it is not, it varies from country to country.
USA has a totally different system to Britain, or to Norway and India but the only commonality is that the will of the people is respected. When we devised our constitution, we made unity, equality and prevention of genocide the main objectives.
Our democracy is evolving and will no doubt change to suit the needs of Rwandans. There were 2 million first time voters, so in 7 years time there will be over 3 million youth coming of age by 2017. These new voters also have new aspirations and political views.
That is why Rwanda is a young democracy both literally and metaphorically. Instead of shouting and booing from outside, people should try to work with Rwandans to try and build a democracy that will last forever.
We cannot build it overnight but we are on the right path. Let us celebrate but remember the huge task that awaits us.
Rama Isibo is a social commentator