Rwanda is halfway into its third ever democratic local government elections. Needless to say, Rwandans are now accustomed to picking their own leaders, which largely explains their ever-growing enthusiasm whenever it comes to exercising this fundamental right.
And if recent experience is anything to go by, Rwandan electorate has increasingly understood that, with this right comes immense responsibility. It is a responsibility that requires them to rise above just casting the ballot or lining up behind a certain candidate to making wise and informed choices.
Indeed, the greatest challenge of any voter is to screen through the candidates and then vote for the individual with a rich, relevant and realistic manifesto. Only a voter with a sense of purpose and good judgment will differentiate election campaign rhetoric from a coherent, systematic campaign platform.
Nonetheless, it is important for voters to remember that, in 2006, many candidates promised a lot, and once they were elected, the majority of them could not afford to suppress their unquenchable ‘appetite’ for public resources. The rate at which local leaders were sacked or forced to resign over corruption in the past five years is shocking. For example, only seven out of 30 district mayors completed their 5-year term. With the exception of the former mayor of Burera District, Aimé Bosenibamwe, who was elevated to replace Boniface Rucagu as Governor of the Northern Province, the majority of the 25 others, proved corrupt or simply incompetent. That 80 percent of the district mayors elected in 2006 failed to measure up to the expectations – and ultimately left their positions in disgrace, some ending up in courts – is telling. It was the case with many advisory councils – from the district to lower administrative levels.
The high turnover clearly brought into question the judgment of voters in the 2006 elections. We were duped and it’s an experience that every Rwandan voter should strive not to relive.
Some pundits have largely attributed the high turnover of the second batch of democratically elected local leaders to low levels of education, particularly members of the advisory councils, whose role is to oversee the activities of the executive committees.
“The majority of them (members of district advisory councils) were only Senior Six graduates. This led the Executive Committee (Mayor and deputy mayors) to overrule and to manipulate them in most cases,” Charles Munyaneza, the Executive Secretary of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) told this column recently. “Nonetheless, most of the aspirants, this time round, have higher education background.” Sounds right, at least to some extent.
However, the voters should avoid the temptation to pick leaders based on their level of education. It is true that having district councils with university degrees has its own advantage, but voters must beware of voting exclusively elite councils. They need to vote for people of proven integrity, people who will put the needs of the electorate high on their agenda. They should not fear to trust people with a modest educational background – as long as they meet minimum requirements – provided they have proven accountable and reliable.
If voters make the right decisions in the ongoing elections, they will have done justice to their country, themselves and future generations, as it may prove helpful in the country’s campaign against corruption.
According to the Ombudsman’s Office, corruption is more visible at the grassroots than at higher levels, a situation that could largely be blamed on poor judgments on the part of the voters.
The author is a training editor with The New Times and 1st VP of Rwanda Journalists Association