The recent presidential election revealed a lot about Rwandans.
This was manifested in two ways; through the voters’ participation in the election, and the poll result itself. A win for the incumbent president Paul Kagame was to be seen as a vote of confidence in his leadership, while a defeat would have vindicated the critics who argued that the ordinary Rwandans were not as happy as the government suggested.
Similarly, if voters stayed away on the Election Day, it meant that they were not as enthusiastic as the campaigns suggested, and that, they were actually resigned to the fate of their country.
The boycott could have been interpreted as a form of disapproval of the incumbent administration, and a lack of real alternative to Kagame among the other three contenders. Such a scenario, although not unusual in many other countries, would have spelled doom for Rwanda, at least in the eyes of Kigali critics.
Detractors anticipated violence to erupt on the polling day, after the campaigns ‘miraculously’ ended without a single incident. The usual western perception of an African poll aside, some pundits pointed to the fact that the poll was coming hot on the heels of a few grenade attacks in the capital Kigali, usually one of the safest cities in the world.
And so when the polling centres opened, to many observers, this was not simply another election. Much was at stake here; it was a make or break affair. In the end, Rwandans indeed proved in many ways that this was not just another election. No, to Rwandans, it was not just another formality. It was a presidential poll.
The voter turnout of more than 97 percent is obviously remarkable in any election, anywhere. Many countries will be lucky to register a 50 percent turnout.
In Rwanda, though, the turnout was not the only highlight of the Election Day. People voted so early that in some polling stations in the Western Province, all the registered voters had cast their ballots within one hour of the opening of the voting exercise. Correspondents reported of enthusiastic people who were already in neat lines as early as 4p.m at yet-to-be-opened polling stations, two hours ahead of the polling time.
By 10a.m, election officials in Rutsiro District, which registered a turnout of 98.30 percent, were said to have already finalized with the voting process and just seated outside their polling stations waiting for the official counting hour (3p.m). Across the country, by midday, majority of polling stations had already registered 100 percent turnout.
A close look at the turnout across the country and in the Diaspora shows that Rwandans were firmly united in the resolve to play their rightful role in shaping their country’s destiny. Before embarking on anything else, they understood very well the importance of responding to the national call. To them, it was a matter of ‘Country First’.
Across the nation, from the highest turnout of 99.14 percent in the Eastern Province to the least turnout of 95.08 percent in Kigali City, Rwandans left no doubt as to what their priorities were. Overall, that 5,049,302 out of 5,178,492 registered voters, representing an astounding 97.51 percent, cast the ballot, is phenomenal, to say the least.
Besides the turnout, there was the final verdict itself. Rwandans overwhelmingly voted for Paul Kagame with 93.08% of the vote. In all fairness, it was crystal-clear from the start that Rwandans were determined to reward their man with another resounding mandate after he led them to almost unimaginable achievements over the past seven years.
Not only did they turn-up to vote in large numbers; not only did they entrust Kagame with the next seven years; they also voted so peacefully that no single incident was recorded throughout the process.
The polling centres were all distinctly lively with election-promotion music blazing from huge speakers at every site. The polling booths were also orderly and decorated in national colours, and banana trees, a symbol of a wedding ceremony in the Rwandan tradition.
As all this happened, one would not help but get the sense that this is a people, who were taking the bull by its horns to make it happen.
But was all this a surprise? Well, at least not in the eyes of Rwandans themselves, and the researchers of a recent survey of Gallup, a reputable international polling organization, which found out that 62 percent of Rwandans were optimistic about the future.
James Munyaneza is an Editor with The New Times