‘The general will of the people should be the ruling force in society’
As president-elect Paul Kagame takes the oath of office today, optimism is high among Rwandans, according to a mini-survey done by The New Times.
Those surveyed believe the recent election was one of the best organized and attended presidential polls for many years in the region and continent.
Those interviewed said the country was headed in the right direction on human rights and democracy – values for which the government has been accused by the international media and human rights groups of suppressing.
What is a successful election?
Dr. Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, the Dean of the Faculty of Law at the National University of Rwanda, says for any election process to be successful, it must be guided by the principles of inclusiveness, participation, transparency and openness, respect of human rights and legitimacy.
“It is no longer in dispute that the (recent) election process in Rwanda was guided by the above principles. These elections have gone a long way to prove that Rwandans are very much legally-oriented and politically mature,” says Ugirashebuja.
For an election to be successful, he says, the rule of law must prevail. According to Ugirashebuja, the legal orientation was symbolized by reverent allegiance to organizing and conducting the elections according to law.
“The whole election process has set a benchmark and precedence for Rwanda and the rest of the world on how to hold a peaceful and legitimate election,” says the youthful Faculty Dean.
“The process has proved that Rwanda is guided by the noble principles of the rule of law, respect of human rights and good governance,” he adds.
Human rights, democracy
For John Mulisa, a practicing lawyer based in Huye District, the concept of human rights needs to be redefined because some people who claim to be standing for human rights in one way or another have violated the principle themselves.
“One of the fathers of human rights Jean Jacques Rousseau said that ‘the general will of the people should be the ruling force in society.’
Look at the massive RPF campaign rallies, why can’t this be considered as the general will of the people? Why should certain organizations have a problem with that?” Mulisa, asks. President-elect Paul Kagame’s rallies attracted thousands of supporters, who numbered as many as 150,000 in some districts.
The so-called human rights activists should obey the principles of what they claim to stand for,” he insisted.
Reading into the different campaign rallies of the various candidates, it is clear that the crowd sizes were a reflection of the confidence the people had in the candidates to deliver on their promises.
“There were massive turnouts at RPF-Inkontanyi rallies and one does not need to have the brains of a nuclear scientist to decipher that the reason people voluntarily turned-up en masse was because the party had delivered on its previous campaign promises,” said Mulisa. “To them, a vote for the RPF was a vote for the continuation of the success story.”
Mulisa dismisses the claim some opposition political parties were denied a chance to participate in the elections, therefore, an infringement on the freedom of association.
“Political parties are not above the Law; they need to follow the rules of the game because Rwanda is not a jungle where anyone will come to hunt. Political parties seeking registration should pay attention to the uniqueness of the Rwandan society, this sensitivity is important,” he said.
In a statement it released following the August 9 poll, the National Commission for Human Rights said in part, “The commission noted in general there was full respect of the rights of candidates, their supporters, and the people who attended the campaign rallies.
It added: “The contesting candidates campaigned properly and respected each other and used no offensive speech, all candidates enjoyed equal access to State Media.”
Several international and local observer missions including the Commonwealth, East Africa Community and the Rwanda civil society teams, all described the election as free and fair, noting that there were no cases of intimidation.
There is no doubt that Rwandans have taken giant steps in the democratic process if the recently concluded elections are anything to go by. The role of the citizenry in national issues has taken centre-stage. From electing a village head to the President of the Republic, democracy is gradually becoming an integral part of the Rwandan culture, the analysts say.
“Rwandans have been given enough civic education and now consider it as their duty to participate in national politics. What we saw in the last elections is political maturity, voters voted for policies,” says Dr Bon Fils Safari, the director of Academic Quality at the National University of Rwanda.
If there is a place from where to test this political maturity it is at the National University, a melting pot of top academics in the country.
“The situation was very calm, students and staff from different political parties observed a peaceful campaign period, one would be hard-pressed to name any country in the continent which has had such a trouble-free electoral process,” Safari added.
Jean Baptiste Ndahumba, a former Gacaca Court president in Ngoma Sector, Huye District, said: “People were not willing to be derailed and plunged back into the terrible past whose scars are still fresh; all indications suggested they would vote for peace and continuity.”
Ndahumba said that the excitement that characterized the polling day was a replica of the excitement that was there throughout the campaign period. “It was like a big party; polling rooms were well decorated, voters were welcomed at polling centres with a lot of courtesy, which for me is democracy; it is political maturity at its highest,” he said.
The Rwandan ‘model’ of democracy has attracted friends and foes alike, but for
Ndahumba, what matters is if the people believe in that model and if they know what they want.
“What matters is to know our interests as Rwandans; we shall not be deviated, it doesn’t matter if others are doing it differently, we will do what works for us,” said the respected former Gacaca court head and opinion leader in the district.
For Emmanuel Kavuma, an opinion leader in the district, Rwanda is a sovereign country whose citizens have the right to determine what is best for them.
He said that Rwandans should not be derailed by the perceptions from the international community who have “time and time again changed like weather.’
“Today they praise what we are doing, and then turn around and mudsling us. This is an irony that I have failed to understand,” said Kavuma
“The international community does not decide our leaders, it is the citizens who decide basing on what the leaders have delivered and promise to deliver; we shall not be held hostage by the random criticism from these groups,” he added.
Yvonne Mutakwasuku, the Mayor of Muhanga District, said the people prepared for the recent election as if it was a wedding ceremony. “As a female leader, I believe that campaigns and elections of leaders in Rwanda were done within the domains of the Rwandan culture of peace and harmony.”
“The elections were like a wedding day, people were smartly dressed and you could see the excitement to exercise their democratic right in their eyes. The decor, the music at polling stations... It was awesome,” she added.
Ndibwami Rugambwa, a prosecutor in Muhanga District, described democracy as a way of choosing leaders, “and as a legal person, I believe Rwandans exercise and get deeply involved in the decision-making processes of the country.”
“Those who claim that there is no democracy in Rwanda have certain ways in which they would like Rwandans to be formed, led and they want to think for Rwandans. They want to see war and conflict in Rwanda, as it is seen in other African countries but the fact is Rwandans have chosen a way of peace, unity and justice and will not be derailed,” he said.
Additional reporting by Daniel Sabiiti