Dynamics of democracy and decentralisation in Rwanda: One size can’t fit all

Africa has been having great problems for quite long, to accommodate democracy as perceived by the west. This leads us to a number of questions. For example, we are left to contemplate whether the Western Style Democracy can Work in Africa.
Minister Musoni Protais at the helm of decentralisation policy in Rwanda.
Minister Musoni Protais at the helm of decentralisation policy in Rwanda.

Africa has been having great problems for quite long, to accommodate democracy as perceived by the west. This leads us to a number of questions. For example, we are left to contemplate whether the Western Style Democracy can Work in Africa.

Africa has been struggling to adapt and adopt the western style of democracy that does not real fit its needs holistically. It is thus wrong, to rely on the conservative definition of the word democracy as given by ancient scholars.

We can only agree on some basics like the fact that in democracies, it is the people who hold sovereign power over legislator and government.

And it is true of democracy too, that although nuances apply to the world’s various democracies, certain principles and practices distinguish democratic government from other forms of government.

Democratic societies should be committed to the values of tolerance, cooperation, and compromise. Democracies too, must recognize that reaching consensus requires compromise and that; it may not always be attainable.

These are all general principles of democracy that should be universally acceptable. But unfortunately we continue to witness African countries in conflicts and violence in the name of building democracies.

Look at examples in sub- Saharan African countries like Zimbabwe, Kenya and many others. The biggest problems lie in properly conceptualising democracy in the reality of Africa’s development.

This has been so paradoxical to the extent that scholars are still pondering up to now, what to do next, to achieve democracies that address the needs of Africa.

Numerous questions thus go unanswered: “Is Africa underdeveloped because it is primarily undemocratic? Or is Africa undemocratic because it is primarily underdeveloped? Which is cause and which is effect”, Ali A. Mazrui. The chicken and egg equation remains unsolved and it is actually the undoing of most African societies.

Africa does not need leaders who can give nice and sweet speeches to attract large crowds during election campaigns and neither does it need leadership that is full of unrealistic promises.

Africa and more particularly the sub-Saharan Africa need leadership that can steer it towards complete poverty alleviation and economic development. It does not have time and space for unnecessary classic democratic and rhetoric exercises.

Africans and their leadership thus must be able to know what they want and avoid dancing according to the tune of our former colonisers. It is high time thus; that a kind of democracy that embraces decentralisation above all, is put in place so that a workable formula comes out.

Decentralisation strengthens democracy

Decentralisation is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon that may have both positive and negative effects.

However, problems that usually occur in the implementation of decentralisation policies are not flaws inherent in decentralisation.

Rather, they are a result of poor design of decentralisation policies, procedural weaknesses, and a lack of pragmatic implementation strategies.

Nonetheless, a well planned/designed decentralisation process that is backed with compliant policies, gives positive results in terms of democratic governance and the general economic development of a nation.

It is through decentralisation again, that the people’s involvement in society management is enhanced. People are given rights to; elect their leaders, govern their affairs, decide on which development projects get priorities, exercise all that is entailed in any democracy, etcetera.

This is what Rwanda for example, is enjoying today; a system of good democratic governance, which is based on decentralisation.

There is no doubt therefore that  Rwanda has managed to define governance and the issue of poverty in its proper context: “The Government of Rwanda  defines good governance as; the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority to manage the nation’s affairs and the complex mechanisms, processes, relationships and institutions as well as leadership behaviour through which citizens’ groups articulate their interests, exercise their rights and obligations and meditate their differences…promoting the good culture of Good Governance towards the fight against poverty, MINALOC 2008.

Which is why, Rwanda has hit high on the global scene, in good governance. It has managed to put in places a decentralisation process, backed by good government polices that do not stand by its way.

“The National Decentralisation Policy is based on the Government of Rwanda’s commitment to empower its people to determine their own future. The policy also has its foundations in the fundamental laws of the country as well as in the political and administrative reforms the government has already implemented”, MINALOC report 2008.

The value of participatory democracy for instance, using Rwanda’s decentralization and local governance structures has been realised.

Participatory democracy is a method of local or national political organization which enables people at the grassroots to contribute to decision making in matters relating to their personal lives.

It serves better than representative democracy, whereby citizens simply vote for representatives to think and decide for them at whatever level.

It is in fact interesting to see how decentralization in Rwanda has been promoted rapidly, encompassing changes in laws, administration and fiscal management.

And therefore, since decentralisation facilitates democracy, African countries should not be bothered by other forms of governance as they have proved to be futile as far as addressing African standing issues is concerned.

Contact: mugitoni@ yahoo.com

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