Here comes Umushyikirano

This time of the year is when everyone's morale is high. The festive season is around the corner and everyone looks to the next few weeks as a moment of celebrating.
Arthur Asiimwe
Arthur Asiimwe

This time of the year is when everyone's morale is high. The festive season is around the corner and everyone looks to the next few weeks as a moment of celebrating.

Nonetheless, as the celebratory mood swings in, this time of the year presents us with one of the best political tools, truly Rwandan in nature and one that brings meaning to the way Rwandans approach democracy.

It’s a moment that is not necessarily music to the ears of many, most especially our leaders. As the National Dialogue comes, we are treated to what some have described as an overdose of accountability. Probably, as you read this, some official inside the parliamentary chambers might be fidgeting or sweating profusely, providing an answer to a pending issue.

And yet, this is the beauty of our annual national dialogue. It's a moment of scrutiny and accountability.  A time when the ordinary Rwandan takes the driver’s seat and puts his leaders on the spot light, giving credit where things are going well  and openly pointing out the weak side of government policies, programs or decisions.

A leader can cheat their obligations through-out the year. They can play mediocrity....presenting to higher authority manufactured statistics blended in beautiful power point presentations and probably with luck, escaping sanction throughout the year.

But when the national dialogue sets in, chances of escaping exposure become so slim.

The openness with which this national event takes place is what stands out and what makes it an initiative that brings a new meaning to how democracy is practiced and worth the attention of any serious political scientist.

Through the internet, Radio and TV this annual event is streamed live. By use of toll free phones, SMS platforms and social interactive networks like twitter and facebook, Rwandan from all walks of life, including those in the Diaspora are able to ask any question or make any comment on a subject of their interest.

Therefore, if political accountability is about being responsive or accountable to the people you lead and the general masses having the power to sanction in a situation when a leader has gone wrong, then what better way of nurturing this accountability than what umushyikirano presents us?

Some resenting voices have expressed discomfort over the level of openness and exposure with which this annual dialogue is held. In small groupings they murmur how some scenes are so embarrassing as they place officials in awkward situations that come with being put on the spot.

But they fail to understand that a government, confident of its vision and actions and acts in the interests of the common man, needs not hide behind any doors.  A responsive government, one driven by the desire to make a difference and one riding high on the values of transparency and accountability would certainly have no fear in parading itself before the public for scrutiny.

Umushyikirano is a democratic template that Rwanda has designed. And like many ‘made in Rwanda’ initiatives, it might read inapplicable in the real world but it has certainly worked here for the last nine years.

It contains the key tenets of what conventional democracy teaches us. It’s about being open with what we do---it’s about giving a voice to the ordinary person to judge the top leadership on issues of accountability in delivery of services or promises. 

It’s about going back to what was agreed during the last dialogue and together as a nation, evaluating whether the decisions were implemented or not.

And if democracy is about the power of the people by the people---- if it is about mass empowerment---- the national dialogue offers such a great platform?

Often a time, Rwanda is portrayed as an enemy of free speech and one whose leadership is afraid of opening up political space.  But who would be afraid of such freedoms and at the same time exposes themselves to public scrutiny like we see during umushyikirano?

Umushyikirano, Umwiherero , Imihigo, Gacaca are some of the few ‘Made in Rwanda’ initiatives that need to be clearly dissected and understood if one is to be able to make a proper judgment on issues of democracy in Rwanda. If you ignore these initiatives and simply go by what books teach us, then you certainly miss the bigger picture.

These initiatives are a Rwandan approach that could have a slight difference from conventional theories, but are largely thought over as an answer to building a strong and cohesive nation.

Yes, they are the very reasons for the peace and tranquility that this nation enjoys today.

On twitter@aasiimwe

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