Home Rwanda Decides 2024 Democracy Means Choosing What’s Right For You, Kagame Tells Supporters On Campaign

Democracy Means Choosing What’s Right For You, Kagame Tells Supporters On Campaign

by Vincent Gasana
11:19 am

  The campaigning period for the Rwanda Presidential and parliamentary elections, kicked off on Saturday 22nd June, and will end on July 13 just before election day, on July 14 for diaspora and then 15th July in the country. As in any other country, how Rwanda approaches this exercise in democracy, says much about the nation and its politics.

Eleven political parties are taking part in these elections, in one way or another, but only three candidates, Paul Kagame, for the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), Frank Habineza, of the Democratic Green Party (DGPR) of Rwanda, and the independent candidate, Phillippe Mpayimana, are standing for the presidency.

In a system specifically designed to foster national unity, the other nine parties, are giving their support to the RPF’s candidate for the presidency, but running their own candidates for the parliamentary elections.

When, as expected the RPF and its candidate wins with a thumping majority, those nine parties will be part of a government of national unity. That is how it has been for the last thirty years, and what the electorate has come to know and factor into consideration, as they cast their vote.

As the campaigns started, all eyes were inevitably on the RPF. The party’s advantages are clear and unassailable. It occupies an historical position at the heart of Rwanda’s democracy, Rwanda’s development. It is a liberation movement turned political party, and without it, Rwanda is not what it is today, arguably, without it, Rwanda is not at all.

The nine political parties which put their support behind the RPF’s presidential candidate recognise the distinct position it occupies, not only at the heart of Rwanda, but in the minds and hearts of Rwandans.

The RPF may now be a political party, rather than a liberation movement, but at its heart, under the leadership of its present chairman, and presidential candidate, Paul Kagame, it continues to serve and implement its liberation ideals. And it sets the tone for Rwanda’s body politic.

Watching the RPF’s campaigne trail, a disinterested observer might be forgiven for thinking that they are watching not a political campaign, but a festival. On Saturday in Musanze, Sunday in Rubavu, Monday in Ngororero and Muhanga and Tuesday in Nyarugenge, the candidate is welcomed by party members and supporters, as fans welcome a favourite musical star.

The party is led disc jockeys, and local music stars. A sea of dancing bodies, in RPF colours of red, light blue and white, dance to campaign songs, some composed especially for these elections. Ever since Saturday, people have been getting up in the small hours of the morning, to be the first at the venues, to grab a much coveted front row view, close to the candidate, when he does eventually arrive.

The joy is heartfelt. But it is also based on a clear headed understanding and calculation of the difference that the politics they now celebrate, have made to their lives, and expectation of an even better future. It is that thinking that moves the feet into a dance.

Pride of place is given to the white of hair. Only they and other dignitaries have seats. The white haired, mostly women, are people who have gone through the worst of their nation’s history, endured tragedies that would break the most strong minded, and lived to a nation reborn.

Watch their faces, their expressions, what stories are written there. Now, here they are, to celebrate their deliverance, the deliverance of their nation, no doubt still mindful of all they and their nation have suffered, but at peace now, hopeful, confident of a brighter future. Life is worth living again.

As is his wont, the man they have come to see is bang on schedule. The crowd bursts into chants of “Ni wowe, ni wowe, ni wowe”, you are the one, and Muzehe wacu, Muzehe wacu, our elder. Even the ever dignified candidate cannot be unaffected by the wave of affection, and breaks into a fulsome smile, as he waves to the adoring supporters.

The masters of ceremony (MCs) welcome him to their district, amongst them. The MCs speak of why everyone is gathered, the import of the moment, the party’s achievements and how to continue them. The crowd waits with ill concealed impatience. They are at one with all the MCs say, but they got up before the first birds, to see and hear it all from one man. The sentiment is not lost on the MCs and speakers. “But it’s not me they came to see”, said RPF Vice-Chairperson, Console Uwimana, as she invites the candidate to the stage.

He steps onto the stage to a chorus of “Ni wowe, ni wowe, ni wowe.” He allows himself a moment to drink in the atmosphere, exchanging a greeting with the crowd, as he allows the chanting to subside. It does slowly, as he begins to speak.

You campaign in poetry and govern in prose, or so goes the adage. This candidate however, writes his own script, more at ease with speaking of what needs to be done, when and how. That is his poetry. Not for him euphoric promises of sunlit uplands, should he be returned to office. It is instead a clear sighted vision of what must be done, if the life to which the nation aspires is to be achieved.

He reminds his listeners of the meaning of the exercise in which they are engaged, the difficult journey they have travelled together to get here, and the challenges ahead. In fact, he tells them, he comes not to ask for their votes, but rather to thank them, and together reaffirm their commitment to realise their goals of nation building.

We are here once again, to examine where we have been and where we are…” But it should begin with a look at the history, he suggested. “Our Rwanda, its history, where we have come from…It’s only yesterday, that Rwanda was not in a good state. No Rwandan, or indeed anyone else, should live what we have had to live through, in the sixty years or so, behind us…”

Where we have had to come from, over the last thirty years, explains the unhappy history we endured, in the thirty years before that, whether under colonial rule or post colonial rule, it all amounted to a life of misery.”

The politics of today, the reason we are here, whether it’s to campaign or to vote, what people have in their hearts and minds, is the politics of change for Rwanda, for the lives of its inhabitants, to have lives like anywhere else, or even better.”

This is therefore not a task just for today, tomorrow or the 15th [election day], it is a task within which lies that history, and the desire to change it. That is the politics of the RPF. When we speak of RPF, we talk about that history, and to change it. That’s RPF, that’s why we are here, me, you and all the others. In short, RPF is distinctive. Distinctive in this history, and distinctive in what needs to change.”

But the question then, is who is to make that change, and how? It is you who make the change, you yourselves, through the right politics, that is how change comes about, Unity, Democracy, and Development” he said, referencing the RPF motto.

He reminds his audience that there are those who would arrogate to themselves the right to define democracy for everyone else, while they themselves define it for themselves.

We have our own understanding of democracy, on which we base that distinctiveness, and what we must change, in all our lives as Rwandans. Democracy means choosing what is right for you, what you wish. And it means the freedom to make that choice yourself. It does not mean others choosing for you. The choice is yours to make.”

That is how it should be understood here as everywhere else, including those who believe themselves to be the source of democracy…No one chooses for them, and they have not the right to choose for others. That choice is based on that distinctiveness of the country, its people, in short, Rwanda and Rwandans.”

Others have their own understanding. I have no say in what they do, and I have no desire to, it’s their concern. But here in Rwanda, it concerns you, and me…in any case” he adds, allowing himself some levity, “can there be anything better than being Rwandan. I speak only about what concerns me. In that, there is nothing better than being Rwandan.”

Even more special, there is nothing better than being your leader…I say that because you make it easy for whoever you choose to be your leader, by supporting them to fulfil their responsibilities…”

Slowly, imperceptibly, the conversation turned interactive, as the crowd reassured their candidate of their unwavering support, with almost every point he made. Now “turiteguye” we are ready, now “Kagame wacu” our Kagame, and of course, “ni wowe, ni wowe, ni wowe…”

With his concluding remarks, he assured his audience that on everything they had asked him to do, he had done to the best of his ability, and always with their help. He had their support, even where he had fallen short.

Of course,” he said wryly, “we have to share credit for all of it, you can’t just have the praise for what we managed to do, and leave me with with responsibility for what we didn’t do, we share everything.”

With that he told them he was aware they had got up very early to be there, and he would not keep them longer than necessary. Asking them to help him thank all the other parties, including those that had chosen not to give their support to the RPF, he bid farewell, with his thanks and best wishes.

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