Monday, August 9, 2010

Election Day in Rwanda: "Ni Wowe"

The Republic of Rwanda is a constitutional democracy well recognized as the most progressive and “cleanest” government in Africa, with zero tolerance of corruption. Today the citizens of Rwanda go to the polls to choose among four presidential candidates. Paul Kagame is expected to be reelected by a popular landslide to a second (and last) constitutional term as President. 

President Kagame has campaigned on a platform that included (among other things):

1. Many things thought to be “impossible” have been accomplished. The genocide totally destroyed Rwanda's economy, infrastructure, justice system, hospitals, schools, and all other civil institutions. They have all have been rebuilt to standards far superior to the pre-genocide era. But much work remains to achieve Rwanda's well-articulated "Vision 2020" by the year 2020. 

2. The standard of living in Rwanda has been dramatically raised with universal education, access to healthcare, a government of “inclusion”, a doubling of per capita income, spectacular growth in economic development, foreign investment, and tourism,... but we are not yet satisfied,... we cannot rest upon these achievements when we can still do much more.

3. Rwanda has some critics in the West (as well as many passionate supporters). Let the critics come here to Rwanda and see the work and achievements of this government. Proof of the legitimacy and effectiveness of current “good governance” is found, and shall be found, not in rhetoric, but rather its achievements.

4. Rwandans must not look outside Rwanda for affirmation or for others to determine our destiny. Rwandans must bear the great responsibility of self-determination.

Those who come from a Western liberal tradition are suspicious of President Kagame's expected landslide victory over the other three candidates. I respected their “concerns”,... until I spent much time as an observer on the campaign trail, where I saw hundreds of thousands of dedicated supporters from all stations in life gather to cheer and support their incredibly popular candidate. Many walked for many hours. At one rural campaign stop (NOT in Kigali), I observed over 200,000 supporters. (Have you ever seen 200,000 people at gathering?)

If you want to learn and see more, go to:  for a comprehensive update of President Kagame’s campaign in all the 30 Districts of the country.  for general information about President Kagame.

As I followed the campaign, I reflected upon these questions:

Is it not a bit arrogant for Americans to think that ALL democracy looks alike,... exactly like American democracy? Is it not good and necessary for each culture to interpret and contextualize democracy for itself? Is that not the essence of democracy?

America spends two years and hundreds of millions of dollars leading up to its presidential election. In Rwanda, the candidates are allowed to campaign for precisely three weeks, during which they make multiple campaign appearances each day to “get their message out”,... and then the people decide. Which makes more sense?

In America, candidates stir fear, hatred, and divisiveness, often based upon race, religion, sexual orientation, and other such emotional, volatile "hot buttons". We call it “free speech”. In Rwanda they call it repugnant and criminal, the kind of crime against society that killed 1 million people in 100 days in 1994.

In America, the candidates campaign on stained blue dresses, missing Coast Guard records, a daughter's sexual orientation, and the candidates' electricity bill for his house or the cost of his recent haircut. Again, we call it free speech. In Rwanda, negative campaigning is not permitted. They call it common sense and a of matter dignity.

In America, we boast of the highest standards in our judicial process and investigative journalism,...  but we allow Western critics of Rwanda to go unchallenged as they indulge suspicions driven by ideological bias to reach unsubstantiated conclusions, which are soon referenced as "fact". Many American politicians would respond to the pressure of such critics and change course to appease their detractors. President Kagame simply ignores shallow criticism and remains focused on the future of Rwanda, a future to be determined by Rwandans, not a few Western critics. What is "good leadership"?

There is so much more to be considered, but no more time,... except to urge you to pray for Rwanda, its people, its leaders,... and to urge you to be cautious, reflective and fair as you scrutinize the arguments of critics who represent a small but vocal minority.
The overwhelming popular support for Kagame has been built upon his effective, corruption-free “good governance” and the popular belief that he would have gladly laid down his life in his effort to liberate Rwanda and end the genocide

I am proud to vote. Ink on my finger. Did you vote?