The New Times (Kigali)
14 September 2008
Posted to the web 15 September 2008
During the last general elections in 2003 a member of the so-called Core Team of the European Union Observers stunned the world when she collapsed in the town of Ruhengeri during the counting of the ballots, as it downed on her that her preferred candidate in the Presidential elections, Mr. Faustin Twagiramungu was losing.
This was the most public display of emotional biases for any elections observer anywhere. Much as the incident constituted a disgrace to the European Union Observer team, it never came as a surprise to the majority of the Rwandan people, given the history of this country and the composition of the observer teams at that time.
To come to a point where a foreign observer passes out just because some local candidate she had all along been rooting for is losing, demonstrates not only the very high level of bias that some of the EU observers labour, but also to what extent they are prepared to go to see their "candidate / parties" win the local elections.
The question, therefore, is how objective would a report compiled and submitted by an individual Core Team Observer with such an explosive baggage of pre-determined positions be? Indeed when the 2003 EU observers mission report on the general elections was released it reflected some of the biases as demonstrated in the Ruhengeri incident, and few Rwandans were surprised.
The report was dead on arrival as the Core Team Observer in Ruhengeri shot it down when she collapsed in the face of defeat of the candidate of her choice. Election observers, anywhere, are supposed to be neutral and independent.
The moment their neutrality and objectivity is clouded by some pre-conceived baggage then what you end up with are partisans intent on promoting some agenda which in the end distorts the whole picture, masquerading as neutral observers.
An observer driven by the kind of biases and emotions as demonstrated in the 2003 elections, does not only wind up distorting the true reflection of the electoral exercise, but also lacks the integrity and independence to point out possible genuine short comings that may need to be looked into and addressed.
In 2003, the European Union withheld funds earlier promised to the Electoral Commission of Rwanda on the basis of allegations of lack of a level playing field for all parties to freely participate.
Nonetheless, the elections were held, with the Government of Rwanda meeting the expenses for the entire exercise. While they held on to their money, the Europeans could not resist the temptations to monitor the 2003 general elections.
Given their withdrawal of the financing they had promised, you would have concluded they had lost interest in the whole thing. No, that was not the case, as their observers descended on Rwanda big time.
In spite of the tainted and clearly biased report released by the European Union, the rest of the world, including the United States, Canada and African Observers declared the elections free and fair.
During the last five years Rwanda has been remarkably transformed and even detractors of the government admit that the achievements registered after the 2003 elections are simply mind boggling.
After observing the good governance, economic development and democratic dispensation that has characterized the country during this period, the European Union was more than willing this time round to contribute to the financing of the 2008 Parliamentary elections.
The union's representative in Kigali, while announcing his organization's readiness to fund the elections declared as much.
As in 2003, a whole range of organizations have dispatched elections monitors, and like five years ago, reports from the Rwandan public as well as sources from within the EU mission clearly indicate that a small clique from the "Core Team" is not here to monitor the elections per se, but rather to re-enforce certain positions and views they already had before they arrived here.
There are reports of individual observers from within this group going around the country accosting unsuspecting Rwandans, interrogating them about such irrelevant issues as the ethnic composition and origins of the of the inhabitants of the Umutara region in the Eastern Province, questioning some illiterate peasants as to why MDR is not participating in the Parliamentary elections and many more questions along these lines.
Going by the kind of questions members of the "Core Team" have been putting to the Rwandan people, most of which are simply outrageous and clearly out of their mandate, you would be forgiven if you came to the conclusion that some of these "monitors" went through orientation sessions with some Rwandans of a certain political persuasion resident in Brussels.
While President Paul Kagame has appeared on a local FM radio station twice in a record period of two weeks, fielding live questions from all over the world, including issues related the Parliamentary elections, with Rwandan listeners raising a whole range of pertinent issues, without a single listener complaining about any form of harassment related to the electoral campaign, the EU Core Team on its part has been going around telling whoever cares to listen that the Rwandan people can't express their views because the government has intimidated them.
During the Saturday 14th, 2008 episode of the BBC's Kinyarwanda programme "Imvo n'Imvano" which featured political leaders from the parties contesting the elections, they all pretty much agreed that the playing field is level and that whatever petty inconveniences might arise can neither be attributed to the Government nor the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).
Additionally, these political leaders (who did not include RPF) expressed their satisfaction with the way public media outlets have ensured equal access to all competing political parties in the country. The Core Team of the European Union Observers on the other hand has come to the conclusion that there is lack of freedom of expression in this country.
However, if reports that the leaders of the European Union Observer mission group don't approve of this biased and unprofessional conduct are true, then the European monitoring team will in the end redeem itself.
Indeed given the public pronouncements and statements in the media by the Chief Observer, the European Union Observer Team as whole, is in the end likely to rise above the petty biases and emotions that have been the hallmark of the so-called team of experts otherwise known as the Core Team.
Of course declarations by the Chairman of the EU Parliamentary team of Observers, before his departure from Brussels, that he was coming to Rwanda to prove that the country is under a dictatorship, worse than Putin of Russia, cannot be taken lightly.
These are certain aspects of the history of this country which simply don't repeat themselves and Europeans collapsing on polling stations should be one of them.
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