Senators should be close to the people

The Second Senate commences its eight-year mandate today. 20 outgoing Senate, including its president and the two vice presidents will give way for ‘new blood’.Some of those exiting are available for redeployment elsewhere, however, a couple of others are expected to head straight into retirement, thanks to their advanced age.

The Second Senate commences its eight-year mandate today. 20 outgoing Senate, including its president and the two vice presidents will give way for ‘new blood’.

Some of those exiting are available for redeployment elsewhere, ,however, a couple of others are expected to head straight into retirement, thanks to their advanced age.

Indeed, about five outgoing senators are aged between 65 and 75, and should not hesitate to get off the stage. Four others fall somewhere between 60-65 years of age, and depending on their individual

qualities and health, may attract the attention of the appointing authority. The others – eleven – are, generally, deployable.

By and large, I got the feeling the Upper Chamber of Parliament was a bit aloof, and detached from the daily livelihoods of the people.

However, in truth, this was our first senate. And, theirs is a specific mandate, born out of the country’s unique and difficult history.

In addition, having been the first of its kind in the country, the outgoing senate spent a good amount of time trying to create the necessary institutional and operational framework before it could get down for serious business.

The First Senate rented office space since its inauguration in October, 2003 up till December, 2008, when it moved to the Parliamentary Buildings, after the construction of its wing. Most Senators, for long, had no support staff, which was, obviously, a major handicap.

Yet, with all its weaknesses, the Senate faired reasonably well, particularly with regard to its duties as stipulated in Articles 9 and 54 of the Constitution.

Throughout its eight-year, non-renewable term, the Senate conducted three major research projects; notably the prevalence of Genocide ideology in the country; political pluralism and power sharing; and social justice.

The research work and their respective recommendations helped provide an important self-critique of the country’s political and socio-economic formula, which have often attracted polarized analyses on the international scene.

The three reports – the last of which came out last week – constitute important assessment tools, both for the government and parliament.

A couple of periodic field tours by senatorial standing committees also provoked the honorable members to push the Executive to address certain issues that directly affected the public.

However, the outgoing Senate has had its own fair share of criticism, as much as the other wing of our parliament – the Chamber of Deputies.

In fact, many critics hardly draw a line between the two chambers,blasting them in equal measure, and treating them as one and the same.

In some cases, senators have introduced radical changes in documents that have already been approved by the Lower Chamber of Deputies,forcing both sides to set up ad hoc joint committees to reach a compromise.

But these details do not normally interest the public, what matters is the outcome.

One of the major accusations against the outgoing Senate was that it hardly holds the government accountable; leaving the impression that it’s not independent. On the surface, that’s a valid argument. I, sometimes, get the same feelings.

But a deeper scrutiny of the country’s political system shows that Rwanda’s politics is not about ‘them against us’. We don’t have unanimous opposition voices on one hand, and the actions of a ‘ruling’ party on the other. Here, both the ruling party and the opposition own the policies.

They work together across the political spectrum, whether in parliament, or government.

If the RPF initiates a policy, it will first seek to build consensus among the legitimate political parties, especially through the Consultative Forum for Political Parties, before such a policy sees the light of day.

Rwandan leaders call this approach to leadership consensual politics.

Considering this country’s history, Rwandans do not really need to labour explaining this choice, but, this being the unjust world it will always be, the country sometimes receives venomous criticism for choosing this, understandably cautious, path.

Yet the world is not short of similar political systems even in countries that are often regarded as democracy benchmarks, with a less violent history.

In the UK, for instance, the Conservatives and Lib Dems struck a deal to jointly run the country because no individual party could muster the minimum majority in last year’s poll.

And in the US, some of the most critical programmes have passed only after a bipartisan deal.

After decades of misrule and a genocide, Rwandans found themselves in a desperately critical situation, and, indeed, no one, but they, had the final say on which political system that suited their peculiar situation.

That said, however, the new Senate – which boasts experienced politicians such as former premier Bernard Makuza, former Ombudsman Tito Rutarema, and former vice speaker and minister Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo–ought to be seen to be closer to the people. They will be traveling on a road that has relatively been paved by their predecessors.


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