‘Ariko Tate, kuki watoye Kagame?’ I once asked my late grand mother: (why did you vote for Kagame grand ma?); ‘Erega n’umwega mwene wacu’ – she answered me: (He is a ‘Mwega’ like me) – the ‘Abega’ are a sub-clan, in Rwandan society.
I was tempted to highlight to my Grandmother that our president was also the commander-in-chief of our armed forces, that he was the head of Cabinet, the custodian of Rwandan unity and stability; all functions that have nothing to do with being ‘Umwega’. But then I loved my grand mother so much; I didn’t want to burden her with my usual intrigues. In the end I agreed with her that being Umwega was good enough, apparently…
As I left her though, I kept wondering if my grand mother should vote; if she should be allowed to choose our president. In my conversations with her, she would tell me about the season, the rain and its effect on her beans’ garden, the lovely neighbors who’d just moved across the street, the new priest at her parish. She would tell me about our history, give me priceless life advice on which type of girl I should marry; she was very wise, she just wasn’t political.
I believe she detained sufficient information and experience to elect her immediate local leaders. She lived with them and appreciated their service delivery. However, I am convinced that my grand mother did not have the competence to vote for our head of state. She may have the right yes, as a citizen with rights equal to anyone’s, I am just not sure she had the ‘civic competence’.
This is a suggestion I put to our minister of Justice the other day, while we were discussing the changes in our new constitution. I told him, Sir, our incipient democracies cannot afford direct universal suffrage. ‘The system has been firm and smooth so far Gatete; if it is not broken, don’t fix it. In any event, when Rwandans want it, they will change it…’ – He told me.
At this juncture I want to pose and tell you this: every political structure that we inherit from colonial powers; every single one of them, was devised by design to maintain us in perpetual conflict and alienation.
Has that registered? Good. Now lets proceed:
Only in Africa do we have the spectacular: ‘One man, one vote’ system, almost exclusively. Considering that democracy doesn’t come from here, that is trying to be ‘more Catholic than the pope’, I am afraid…
Accordingly football players, comedians, demagogues and washed-up politicians all aspire for the top job, while those already in power seldom relinquish their seats peacefully. Besides, tensions are high during electoral times and people fear violence before, during and after elections. Amidst all that, there is no guarantee of any change in people’s lives, regardless of electoral outcomes. It is such a mess, to the point that people have started wondering why we have to spend all that money, risk our lives only to get more of the same; like the saying goes; they all ‘Campaign in poetry, only to govern in prose’ – if we are lucky…
Most stable democracies in the world do not use Universal, direct suffrage Electoral systems. Indeed in Germany, Hitler – the most popular politician of modern times, was routinely elected with overwhelming margins. After the Second World War, they dropped the system of ‘one-man one vote’.
Marine Le Pen keeps complaining that her popularity isn’t reflected in the French parliament. What she isn’t told is hers isn’t popularity but populism, and parliament validates ideals that are popular not populist.
Today’s politics has really lost its meaning and purpose. It has all become demagoguery and bigotry. If you look at politicians the world over, they are talking about the same thing. In America, Europe, Australia, Africa, this Region, etc. The rare puritans among them, Bernie Sanders, Jean-Luc Melanchon, Magufuli, etc., come across as eccentrics.
The prevailing rhetoric is about the Mexicans, the Blacks, the Arabs, the Migrants, the Whites, the Tutsi, the Hutus, the Kikuyus, the Luos, the Kalenjines, the Christians and the Muslims.
For instance in Kenya, citizens would like to move on from tribes. People in Nairobi are busy transacting money, goods and services, but politicians know that their survival depends on tribalism. Since none of them invented the vibrant economic environment that Kenyans enjoys today, both Kenyatta and Odinga have nothing else to offer except their last names; just like Donald Trump would be nothing without his peculiar hairstyle, pale skin color and father’s money. It is the only political capital they all detain.
Allow me to skip Nkurunziza and Kabila to keep this debate to an acceptable intellectual standard – Also, I spoke about them in my last blog…
Incidentally, Uganda is the only place I know of, where elections aren’t ethicized. But then again, the campaign ideas or the electoral results don’t matter. In the end, people are given money to vote, and the results always favor Museveni.
In Rwanda, running against president Kagame is a waste of time. I am told some European country once gave millions of Euros to Fausting Twagiramungu -our historical contender- to run against Kagame. The man was clever enough to know it was best to save most of it for a rainy day, especially since there were no invoices to produce…
Indeed, no politician would challenge president Kagame on social, economic, cultural, religious and now, as it turns out, even football credentials. Their only fighting chance is to come up with ethnic rhetoric, or say Kagame is a dictator. Well, he is a dictator precisely because he prevents them from doing the ethnic rhetoric, which would be a threat to his policies; it’s a vicious circle…
It is punishable by prison term to deny the genocide or bring ethnic politics to Rwanda. But this hasn’t stopped demagogues from trying it. One thousand people died – post elections in Kenya, due to ethnic politics, but that hasn’t stopped Odinga from fiddling with it even today. Why? Because that is the only story they have to tell…
And you cant blame them; the whole political world is out of ideas. Bernie Sanders’ (Presidential candidate from USA) human equality ideals come across as maverick while they were held by the Philosophes des Lumieres, nearly four centuries ago. President Kagame’s human dignity #Agaciro’s policy, seen as too avant-garde, draws its roots in millennia-long African cultures such as the Gada in ethiopia and the Terranga in west Africa (both people were never enslaved); within the Ubuntu concept across southern and Central Africa, etc.- but more recently by PanAfrican revolutions for independence. That people are unaware of them just shows you how far we have drifted and how long a way we have to go.
So. Current democracies clearly don’t work. The rapacious politicians we have today are small minds, sadly. Sneaky as they are, they understand that societies aren’t that enlightened either; that the suffering and fears in the world today is a good political device they can exploit to reach power.
Demagogues have always existed in the past. Trumps and Ingabires will always be there, and they will always have followers. They can only thrive in populist ‘one man one vote’ systems. But the best way to silence them is to create systems that sift and sort the scums and imposters from the true visionary leaders
Otherwise demagogues will continue to pollute and saturate the spaces so much that the rare refreshing ideas are not heard. They highjack crucial space for discussing the advancement of mankind.
We need to make sure their noise does not disturb us while we think, as the mandarin saying goes: ‘we should not allow others to snore next to our beds’. We have to guard that their toxic rhetoric remains peripheral and does not penetrate the core of society. They have to face people who have indeed the capacity to call out the bigotry and say, hey Trump you are out of line, hey Ingabire you can’t say that.
The Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsis, the Holocaust, the Apartheid, Xenophobia and racism, all those societal ills only occurred because the vice had penetrated in the spinal cord of power, like a virus.
I could go on with unstructured anecdotes all day – as I am right now, but let me end with one suggestion. Let’s use political grades. As the bible says: ‘those who know more [should] be asked more’. To ensure that a deranged person like Donald Trump never lays his fingers on those atomic codes, or Ingabire on the keys to Urugwiro Village.
We have to put that decision in the hands of people who are sensible, competent and free from manipulation. So, local farmers elect local farmers’ representatives; district representatives elect provincial representatives, etc., then parliaments elect one among them as president, after the individual’s moral irreproachability and track-record have been vetted by an independent supreme court.
There is nothing novel or revolutionary about this electoral format. It is being used in Germany, Israel, England, etc., and accordingly, they haven’t experienced any post-electoral violence or demagogues threatening to take power, because their electoral processes are sealed that way. (Note: I left out South Africa, because it is the exception that confirms the rule)
In Rwanda we have set rather draconian laws against divisionism. And we spend a lot of resources ensuring that no ‘genocide ideology’ slips through the cracks. In an indirect suffrage, Trumps and Ingabire would have no chance; then, maybe our government would ease-up on some of their demagoguery.
If societies hold this type of debates in times of peace, they tend do it dispassionately and come up with reasoned, healthy, aspirational solutions, free from insularity, fear and hate. So I thought this was as good time as any to bring it up, amidst local elections.
 South Africa is an exception; the party with majority votes in parliament, elects the president.