Before 1994 Rwandans in diaspora could not vote. Post-genocide reforms reversed this, today they can.
According to the country’s electoral agency, about 44,000 of them registered to participate in last week’s election. They reside in 33 countries hosting Rwandan diplomatic missions, bar Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Following president Kagame’s nearly 100% victory, observations are rife he is poised to go on up to 2034—when age cap in the constitution as amended 2015 would halt him, upon turning 76. Now and then, are two elections—in 2024 and 2029. Kagame promises never to run again. But from recent history; none, not least himself can be sure of this.
If he runs; will he still be sweeping these polls? History nods—and this forms the basis of him seen at the wheel for 17 more years.
But, this is in as-far-as the electoral body fails to fix gaps identified in this recent election. Fixing them, would open new dynamics, potentially changing fortunes including, possibly shifting the balance of power.
Studies show that electoral management agencies play critical roles in these circumstances. This, premises on the extent of their autonomy from government.
In Rwanda, however, it is a complex case; completely different. First, by self-funding the electoral exercise nearly 100 percent, government sought to shake international scrutiny off its back—so that the process is not benchmarked on global democratic norms. Second, as candidate Kagame would argue, the world let Rwanda to die in the genocide—but, by own means, it survived. Hence, the world must let Rwanda live its life.
From the periphery, however, anti-global-things happened in this election that cannot go unmentioned. And fixing them offers an improvement in citizen participation of shaping Rwanda.
Citing security issues, for example, electoral managers declined to register keen citizens resident in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi. This raised a question of autonomy. For the electoral body to determine an unconducive security environment to conduct its mandate, it has to rely on security experts. For such advice to pass in good faith; the concept of impartiality must prevail. In this case it should have been authorities in Kinshasa or Bujumbura to declare the insecurity as its their primary responsibility to provide security.
Apparently, Rwanda’s diplomatic missions—the would-be epicenter of electoral exercises in both countries continued consular services even to Kigali destined visitors. How then would only security concerns rise for election purposes?
Far afield, in the United States and Canada, 10 and 4 polling locations were respectively provided as 6 were in India.
Clearly, if there was a political will on the part of election managers, there would be at least a polling venue in the vast DRC, protected by Kinshasa security.
Beware of digital space
During election season, the Rwanda Diaspora Global Network (RDGN) headed by Eng Daniel Murenzi reaches out to citizens in some world and leaves out others. It doesn’t seem to have stepped in DRC. If it had, diaspora voters could have marched domestic ones. A huge young and innocent Rwandan generation is in DRC today—having emerged from thousands who fled during the genocide. If unchecked, the same lack of drive to integrate these people in their country’s political destiny may persist to the next election and the other.
But amidst the expanding digital media space that is narrowing the global village, by 2024, Rwandans in diaspora may not require Eng Murenzi for mobilization. They will press buttons in their palms—to gather at centers secured by their respective host governments across the world and collectively demand inclusion in shaping their country. That is the lesson, particularly those in DRC and Burundi may have learnt—so that they don’t miss again. The outlook for Rwanda’s election managers must be that possibilities of stifling some citizens’ rights can never endure. Factoring all foreign-based citizens in its plans is what will totally distinguish today’s Rwanda from that before 1994.
Swaib K Nsereko
Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Islamic University in Uganda