The New Times (Kigali)
23 September 2008
Posted to the web 23 September 2008
A new baby is born to Africa! Africa has seen a peaceful election. It is a new political culture for leaders to let the people decide who should lead them in a healthy competition.
Many people out there will bear with me that for decades election-related violence has been part of the elections on the continent. Many political analysts have argued that the situation is a manifestation of grave injustices.
Intrigue, influence peddling, murder, ruse and conspiracy are identified with elections in Africa. Since we have lived with them throughout the post-independent era, they are not more newsworthy than what we have not tested for all that period - peaceful elections.
To many journalists, violence, no matter how long they have lived with or seen it, it still makes appealing headlines to them as well as the readers and the phenomenon, undeniably, cannot compete with other stories for space.
News is change. Nearly all African countries have experienced violence during elections that has always led to loss of lives and property and displacement of thousands.
With fresh memories of the Kenyan and Zimbabwean election crisis, Rwanda's peaceful election has stunned Africa. In my opinion, we should not look at who won and who lost.
But, the impact of this election to society and to the evolution of democracy on the continent is crucial. The other million-dollar question is what are the pre-conditions for a peaceful election?
The transition from the violence-oriented elections to one that is peaceful is a big change on the continent that deserves to be celebrated by democrats the world over. For sure, the development has no precedence. This is a 'new born baby' to Africa.
A big lesson to other African states
Fourteen years ago, Rwanda was perhaps the worst country in Africa basing on the toll of injustice that had engulfed the small and most vulnerable country. The genocide regimes embraced impunity, discrimination based on region, ethnicity and sex.
The dictatorial regime capitalized on people's ignorance [which they promoted] and ethnicity to cling to power. Needless to mention, that all was possible with the help of some western countries.
It is against this background that the post-genocide leaders found it unquestionable and made it a priority to put in place institutions that promote good governance at a sustainable basis.
For the first time the country was to have the people's constitution that was promulgated June 2003. Freedom of expression, political pluralism, separation of powers, and independence of justice are among the key pillars of democracy that are entrenched in this constitution.
Creation of an all inclusive and highly autonomous election body - National Electoral Commission (NEC) is another milestone in the evolution of democracy in Rwanda. All political parties are represented on this body.
Its composition and uncompromised legal procedures have, over time, made a big majority of Rwandans trust the election body. And, though there may be differences in view points, Rwandans on principle agree.
The common goal enveloped in Vision 2020 bind them together. This was evidenced by the coalition of six parties.
Elsewhere on the continent, presidents of the ruling parties campaign alongside their party faithfuls either to peddle their influence or intimidate the voters.
It was different for President Paul Kagame. He was among the African heads of state who attended the burial of the fallen president of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa and addressed the second meeting of the second session of the East African Legislative Assembly.
You can choose to say that the election period never interfered with the official duties of the president and the reverse is true. Where there is rule of law and good governance, influence peddling is not called for.
That RPF-led coalition won by 78 % has not come as a surprise to particularly those who adore the person of Kagame and follow the steadfast progress in the country.
The women, formally marginalized, with the 56%, will dominate the parliament, becoming the first women-dominated parliament in the world.
Rwanda has not only set a precedence for African states but it has also demystified the belief that competitive politics is where people shed blood or property looted.
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