It is once again election time in Rwanda. In less than a month Rwandans go to the polls to elect members of parliament. As is usual in this country, there is no visible excitement and come polling day, people will go to vote and then go about their businesses as usual.
There are probably two reasons for this lack of excitement.
One, polls have become regular, expected occurrences. There is nothing out of the ordinary. In a sense they are on the way to becoming a way of life – which is what democracy ultimately is.
Two, it is the Rwandan way. Our friends in the East African Community complain that Rwandans are not easily excitable – unlike other East Africans who express agreement or disagreement in equally strong and extravagant form, sometimes violently. I suppose it has to do with our preference for consensus and compromise, certainly in the current political set up. But also as usual, some people think there is something missing in the politics – some noise, colour, confrontation and preferably a few cracked skulls and even deaths – are lacking. You see, you cannot have credible elections in Africa without these elements. They must be there to add spice to the drab and uneventful lives of ordinary citizens starved of any other form of excitement.
And if you strive for consensus, like in Rwanda, then you must have muzzled some people and denied them the opportunity to express their opinion and emotions with violence. Yet consensus by definition is arrived at after discussion of divergent, even dissenting views. But that, according to etiquette, as handed down by the guardians of political graces, is bad manners.
So our friends (well, a strange sort, who are determined to save us from ourselves and who apparently cannot live or imagine life without Rwanda) are generous enough to add spice, colour and thrills to our dull elections.
And so, predictably, at election time rights groups and their associates in the foreign media will allege the disappearance or abduction of an equally predictable little known person, inevitably outside Rwanda. As expected, Rwanda is responsible for the supposed disappearance in foreign countries that have some of the world’s best trained and equipped police forces.
The latest alleged disappearance is of one Innocent Kalisa who is said to have vanished in Uganda. I think it is an insult to the integrity and competence of the Uganda police force to suggest that a person was abducted and vanished without trace in their country and they know nothing about it.
If it is not this, then Rwandan security services are some of the most efficient in the world and deserve kudos.
At this time, too, there will be accusations that the government has taken over civil society organisations so as to stifle independent voices. The most recent such accusation by Human Rights Watch is the supposed take-over of the leadership of the Rwandan League for the Protection and Defence of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR). Evidence, however, shows that the ousted leadership was thrown out by the members of the organisation because they had failed the accountability test. Their foreign funders had, in fact, raised the alarm over misuse of funds.
When does putting a wrong situation right become a crime? Only at election time in Africa, and only by people with a twisted sense of values.
Again at election time we see the elevation of little-known political parties to the status of the principal opposition. The recently registered Green Party has been baptised the main political opposition party. Yet its membership does not exceed a few hundred people in Kigali. Before that it was FDU-Inkingi that was the leading opposition party, and PS Imberakuri before that.
These parties have something in common. Their alleged strength and relevance exist in the minds of their promoters and in the pages of the media that report them. Also, their promoters cannot make up their mind about which of them is the strongest opposition.
It is strange that with all these political parties jostling for the right to be called the main opposition and touted as such by foreign cheerleaders, we still hear contradictory accusations that the all-powerful RPF has taken up all the political space and is killing them and that is bad for democracy. The RPF is certainly strong and dominant. Anything wrong with that?
Mwalimu Julius Nyerere used to have an answer for that when asked why his Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) was the only political party in Tanzania. He always said that he did not ban other parties, but they were too weak and simply withered away.
President Paul Kagame has a similar answer. He says that it is his job to make the RPF strong, but not his business to create or build an opposition party.
In any case the existence of dominant political organisations seems to be the norm worldwide. In the United States of America, for instance, the Democratic and Republican parties occupy all the space, leaving hardly any room for smaller parties. No one sees anything wrong with that – certainly not Human Rights Watch, which is, for all intents and purposes, part of the American Establishment.
It is in the nature of politics that parties contending for power tend to weaken each other. We see that daily in the quarrels (most of them selfish and unprincipled) between the two major parties in the United States. It is the rule there, why should it be the exception elsewhere?
Back here in Rwanda, one can safely bet that, before September 16, we shall have seen more generous, if outlandish attributions to the Government of Rwanda aimed at correcting its bad manners and making our elections more exciting. It is all so predictable.
However, I cannot bet on whether Rwandans will not show more bad manners by rejecting the unnecessary offer.