Rwanda is not a normal country; if it were a person then it would be a young child who has suffered the worst kind of sexual and violent child abuse. Then somebody comes along and tells her, “Hey, that abuse happened 16 years ago. Get over it and stop feeling sorry for yourself, stop using your child abuse as an excuse.”
Then a woman comes along saying that the victim wasn’t abused or that the victim asked for the troubles. And, that the victim reacted violently to its abuser so the victim should also be charged. That is the scenario of Rwanda, and yet a few detractors realised the history and context of Rwandan politics.
When it comes to Rwanda and Africa in general, westerners feel a need to try and interfere and lecture people on the best system to take. It is often a very superficial view; they look for the signs of democracy and not whether the system is inherently democratic.
Just as the saying that “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck.” So the signs – vibrant opposition (whatever that means) and free press become the signs of democracy and the question of THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE is never asked. When the victory of Paul Kagame was announced, cynics said “Yes it was the will of the people, but...” There is nothing to add after that, the will of the people is the end and the means of democracy.
During the campaign it was obvious that the RPF had superior human and financial resources compared to the other participating parties. It had activists in every single village, sector, and district of every province. I witnessed them fundraise over $300,000 a night from youth volunteers alone.
Then the human capital they had was immense; thousands of young professionals took time off work to help organise, mobilise, and disseminate the message of the RPF. At rallies, numbers hardly ever seen in any country, around 200,000 in Gicumbi (former Byumba), the RPF really put on a show like a free concert with trendy musicians, dancers, even comedians and other performers.
The villagers were really entertained, and at the end was a uniting, empowering and hopeful message that left them optimistic.
The opposition was learning the trade; most parties were branching out on their own for the first time. Although parties like PSD and PL are nearly 20 years old, they are yet to find a firm foothold among the masses. Ideology, as we know it, died in 1989 when the Berlin wall fell down, now ideology is a means to an end and not the end itself.
If you look at America, there is little to differentiate the two main parties ideologically, the Democrats and Republicans are both in the centre of the political spectrum. However, where they differ is on “hot button” issues such as gun control, immigration, abortion, gay rights, and the like. In the past these “hot button” issues revolved around one issue, in the case of Rwanda – ethnicity. That is why Victoire Ingabire tried the shortcut to power by appealing to tribal sentiment, thankfully her ploy was stopped.
Paul Kagame won a resounding mandate and it was unifying for Rwanda as a nation, I would even call it a referendum on 16 years of RPF rule because people knew that the plans and system were starting to bear results.
Time will tell whether the RPF will win 93% again, perhaps the other parties will catch up and take a larger slice of the vote. They still need to find those “hot button” issues that do not divide Rwandans along ethnic lines but separate Rwandans amicably on matters of principle.
When it comes to the integration into the EAC, you can find members of the same family disagreeing, the father can see Rwanda losing its sovereign identity by integrating but the son sees the economic benefits of integration outweighing loss of national identity.
Either way, Rwandans will decide for themselves the path they want to take; democracy will never be parachuted down on Rwanda. Democracy is growing from the grassroots; on every level matters are decided by local people. My houseboy is also the chief of security in the neighbourhood, he can order me around when he is in his other capacity and I have to listen.
Democracy needs voting; then it needs accountability to hold the elected politicians to their word. Democracy is not just elections; it is a way of life. In UK, I saw MPs doing what they liked because only fellow MPs can challenge their conduct. In Rwanda we are defining our own democracy and will not be dictated to as to how to conduct it.
Rama Isibo is a commentator based in Kigali