The year 2011 might be a defining year for the African continent. The continent is closely following the unfolding political drama in North Africa, waiting to see if the trend of falling empires will trickle down to the South.
When it comes to old-timers who have sucked all political oxygen of their populace, the sub-Saharan section provides equally a rich menu!
Many of these leaders who have over-stayed their welcome are hoping that what is happening in North Africa is an issue of the Arab World alone. But what is certain is that these long-timers, south of the Sahara, are not dancing to the rhythms of the berry dancers from Cairo’s Tahrir square and Tunis in the near past.
As they anxiously wait to see which other North African nation is torched, their hearts are racing with time, grappling with what reforms to implement in anticipation of averting a likely situation of mass revolts in their own homelands.
Indeed, these incidents should provide lessons for the continent especially in a year when a third of the continent’s countries are going to polls.
This year alone, the continent holds its breath as 18 countries go to polls, hoping that the mess in Ivory Coast is not repeated elsewhere, even though some bad signs are already showing. Some old-timers are determined to stay put, irrespective of the outcome of the elections.
Nonetheless, to guard against the mess we have seen in Ivory Coast and partly what is on-going in North Africa, Rwanda’s experiment seems to offer the best solution. This is how.
To place social cohesion at the helm of Rwanda’s common good, the constitution offers three pillars that are bedrock of the governance system, shaped partly by the ugly past the RPF government inherited.
Within the three pillars of this supreme law, is one that calls for consensus-building on all issues of national interest. In other words, the feeling that everyone is fighting for the common good of his nation and therefore meriting formal engagements on issues of governance.
Rwanda has chosen this path as a way of creating harmony and collectively forging a common ground on which major issues that are of national interest are debated and endorsed.
Consensus building does not necessarily eliminate competitive politics like some critics have alluded to. Like President Paul Kagame once said, “Opposition does not necessarily mean enemy and hostile camps within a nation but varied perspectives and insights for forging a common purpose and future.”
In other words, the wisdom to understand that ideas from opposition, (which is constructive and means good) are not necessarily hostile but rather issues that can be incorporated with those of the ruling party to come up with better programs and plans.
Rwanda has taken a different direction from what conventional democracy teaches us. But increasingly, it’s the same route taken today by many countries, including the likes of United States.
The idea of bipartisanship---the idea of Republicans and Democrats coming together to agree of policies of common good, is what Rwanda crafted in her constitution almost eight years ago.
This is exactly what Africa needs to reflect upon.
The other salient pillar is the spirit of power sharing--- not a winner-takes-all-situation. Why should we wait to force it down the throats of leaders after the electioneering process has gone sour? A forced marriage is simply a bad marriage and the likes of Kenya and Zimbabwe offer good lessons.
Rwanda’s constitution clearly gives the guiding principle when it comes to the question of power-sharing. And to again quote President Kagame, power sharing “must foster inclusion of all political expressions in national debate and in execution of the country’s development agenda.”
That is why in Rwanda no single party may dominate the political scene --- all the top five most senior positions must be occupied by people from different political parties/affiliations or independents. In Cabinet, the winning party cannot nominate more than fifty percent of ministers.
Therefore, in today’s Africa, where election time is a moment of tension, violence, atrocities and disputed results, the answer to these complexities partly lies in what Rwanda crafted some eight years ago.
Encourage a habit of ruling parties sitting on the same table with other parties to forge a future for their wanachi. Power sharing should not be a last resort or an excuse for long serving despots to cling on power, but rather a principle that should be enshrined in the letter and spirit of the law.
Rwanda has tried it, and it is working. Probably, Rwanda should take a leadership role is promoting this new democratic discourse across the continent!