Democracy and good governance

We need good governance at all levels. In a sense, the struggle for good governance is the story of mankind. Unlike animals like apes and chimpanzees, our social structures are only partly hard-wired in our DNA.

We need good governance at all levels. In a sense, the struggle for good governance is the story of mankind. Unlike animals like apes and chimpanzees, our social structures are only partly hard-wired in our DNA.

We are a species that can organise ourselves in almost limitless ways depending on our history and the challenges we face. We do this through culture and institutions. The human beings living today are not much different genetically from the human beings who lived, let us say, two thousand years ago.

But our social organisations have become much more complex. In two thousand years time, provided we have not destroyed ourselves, we will have developed vastly different social systems to colonize space. 
Against the sweep of history, democracy represented a major advance in human organisation.

It has never been the only way to organise human society. Even in Greece where it first flowered, it was a fragile innovation which did not last.

Conditions only became ripe many centuries later in Western Europe for democracy to strike deep root and spread.It was principally a struggle within Western society but its effects quickly influenced the rest of the world.
Democracy is therefore a broad current in human history.

It takes different forms, often in competition with one another. It is a means to achieve better governance, never an end in itself. What is important is to put human beings living in communities at the heart of everything we try to do. The word ‘demos’ referring to people has as its specific context people living in community.

We associate counting votes with democracy but there are so many ways to structure a voting system which can lead to very different outcomes. The key is good governance. Democracy should always be structured to facilitate good governance, never to make it harder.

Here, I am making a case for a pragmatic view of democracy instead of an ideological view. 
Rwanda’s democracy is a work in progress. We inherited laws and institutions from the colonial masters which we have adapted to our own circumstances.

Being a country with few natural resources, except our people, we have to be pragmatic. We can only make a decent living if we provide a service to others and if the neighbourhood where we live in is in peace. We are not dealing with abstractions.

Broadly speaking, Rwanda democracy serves two objectives.First, the rule of law. Good governance requires the rule of law. Without proper laws defining the limits of freedom, there can be no freedom. Without good laws protecting property rights, investments will not be made and long term development will be affected.

Having good laws on the statute books is not enough. Laws must be implemented and enforced fairly and consistently in a transparent way.
There must therefore be some separation of powers and an independent judiciary.

Corruption is always a problem that has to be combated. 
Second, a balance must be struck between the short and the long terms, and between the interest of the individual and the interest of the community.

Electoral politics put pressure on governments to respond quickly to the needs of voters. All this is good but the problem with electoral politics is that the time horizon of political leaders shortens and pandering to the demands of special interest groups may be unavoidable. Larger and longer term considerations are often set aside as politicians concentrate on winning the next elections.

There is always a strong temptation to be populist, to borrow from the future, because the future has no votes, instead of investing in it.
By taking a pragmatic approach, Rwanda’s democratic system tries to meet these two objectives of ensuring the rule of law; striking a balance between the short term and the long term, and between the individual and the community.

However, as the global environment changes, as technology changes, our system has to evolve in tandem.

liban.mugabo@gmail.com

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