Rwanda’s Constitution – empowering citizens for last ten years

ON May 26, 2003, more than three million Rwandans, East to West, North to South of Rwanda turned out in force to vote in a referendum for a new Constitution. The result: a resounding yes. And ten years ago today – June 4, 2003 – the people’s Constitution became enshrined in law. 
Prof. Anastase Shyaka
Prof. Anastase Shyaka

ON May 26, 2003, more than three million Rwandans, East to West, North to South of Rwanda turned out in force to vote in a referendum for a new Constitution. The result: a resounding yes. And ten years ago today – June 4, 2003 – the people’s Constitution became enshrined in law. 

It was a landmark day for our country. After the genocide had taken more than a million sons and daughters of Rwanda, we as a people, stood up and together said: never again.

 

We established democratic institutions, which today form the bedrock of our development. We resolved to build a State governed by the rule of law; a nation which respects the rights of each and every one of its citizens; engages in dialogue at every level and promotes peace and unity. We determined that we would pursue durable economic and social progress. And together we have built the foundations for our future prosperity. In our democratic dispensation, and based on our past experiences, we have opted for inclusivity, consensus building and dialogue, and rejected confrontational and divisive politics.

 

At the heart of this was our security – that every child, woman and man is sacred, inviolable and that the state must do everything in its power to protect them. Just as important was our stability. We formed a government with three separate, independent branches – the legislative, executive and judiciary – and made them accountable to the people. We set fundamental principles and established a free and fair electoral system, which saw Rwandans across the country have their voices heard in 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010 and 2011. But far from vesting too much control in the centre, we also sought to empower local communities so that they can define their own destinies. 

 

This process of decentralization which is in its third phase of implementation has brought services closer to the citizens; our people have been duly empowered and we are continually consolidating gains. This system of participatory democracy and accountable governance has been fundamental to our nation building and socio-economic transformation. 

Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve eight per cent growth over the last ten years, or lift one million Rwandans out of poverty over the last six years. Nor would have our Home-Grown Solutions, including the Girinka Programme, Ubudehe, Gacaca, Mutuelles de Sante, Nine Years Basic Education, and many others, owned by our people to propel their living standards to higher levels. 

We should be proud of how far we have come, but we should never waver in our pursuit of progress. For its part, the government continues to build on the constitution to strengthen democracy and rule of law, and to ensure national cohesion and economic development. But in order to keep that momentum we need all Rwandans to stand together and ensure our mutual prosperity.

The writer is CEO, Rwanda Governance Board.

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