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THE LAST WORD: The Kenya, Rwanda elections


FILE PHOTO: Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) officials make a sweep of electoral material August 7, 2017 at a holding centre in Kagio before their distribution to the polling stations a day before the Kenya general election.

KENYA, RWANDA: How voting in these two East African nations reflects our understanding of democracy

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | East Africa has recently witnessed two presidential elections – in Rwanda and in Kenya. The two nations are different. Rwanda is a small country with one ethnic group which shares a common language, culture, and a history of nationhood and statehood for the last 550 years. Kenya, on the other hand, is a recent creation of the British; a hotchpotch of tens of ethnic groups that had never formed one unified nation and state. Rwanda has been through military coups, civil war, and genocide. Kenya has been stable.

In Rwanda, the campaign pitted incumbent president Paul Kagame against Western human rights groups and interests seeking to take control of the destiny of the country. This eclipsed any domestic differences that may have existed and caused masses of Rwandans to rally as one nation. The history of genocide combined with a common sense of identity shaped the vote.

In Kenya, the election was hotly contested between the incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his rival, Raila Odinga. The leaders on both sides of the Kenyan political divide share a common historic background (as sons of the founding fathers), and a common economic position (they are all wealthy). So they have a common interest to protect their aristocratic political positions and public policies and political institutions that undergird their wealth. What divides them is power i.e. who should control the state. Unable to differentiate themselves around economic interests, Kenyan elites rely on ethnic identity.

There are two main ways to understand democracy. One is by looking at the source of power (i.e. popular consent) and the purpose to which power is put (service to the people). This definition fits Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy as “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” It is an idealistic view that holds that real democracy should have popular control over public policy combined with a responsible government that serves the interests of the general public rather than a few elites; and one that upholds civic virtues such as honesty.

However, in 1942 the Austrian economist, Joseph Schumpeter, introduced a counter argument in his book `Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy’. He argued that the essence of democracy is not the source of power or the purpose of power but rather the procedures used to gain and retain power. This was popularised by Robert Dahl and has since become a global consensus. For Dahl, democracy consists of two elements – participation and contestation. In this context, a country is democratic if its leaders are selected through free, fair, and regular elections and its citizens are free to join associations of their choice, express themselves freely, and vote without coercion.


  1. Rwandans are one hence the courage to move forward together in one piece is something foreseeable unlike in Kenya! Sometimes I even get surprised at the politics in the region, here we campaigned with no violence at all and people made their choice, but in the neighbourhood it’s the opposite! What motivates this?

  2. Today, I want to throw a wrench in the works. I want to create the “fireworks” that the Rwandan Presidential elections never had. I want to build all the imaginations the Kagame Presidency could bring to its people. I want to create the anxiety a blind man would have when he’s told that before him lies a naked woman- the struggle he would undertake on whether to find his zip first or widely open his eyes? Yes, I want to put it that all African Presidents are cannibals and if not, bloodsuckers. That the bold eat from our flesh during daylight and the shy ones take it to the night when it is dark and suck from us. A great many of African leaders look plump with portly figures. The contrast between them and their populations is so huge as the led look upon their leaders with misery and want. Today, I want to be different, I want to join the big class of “believers” and say; Kagame is different. Kagame is not round faced and chubby like many of his compatriots. Kagame has a wrinkled, protuberant, cone-headed figure that gives him the outlook of a vampire. His looks give the impression that the man is in constant inquisition with hunger. I hate the fellow. (Sorry, I almost forgot that I had to be different.) Be nice Rajab. I will be crisscrossing minds over both articles Mwenda has penned today for avoidance of repetition.
    I want to believe ( genuinely)in what Mwenda has stated in ‘Why Kagame won 99%’, that Kagame stands as a symbol of Rwanda’s miraculous recovery from social disintegration to a stable integrated society where killers live side by side with victims. And that such a success is so precious that Rwandans do not want any change in the current status quo. Much as this might be true, but it could also be possible that Kagame is presented as the only stallion in the stable. Kagame is the infallible leader upon whom, a whole nation congregates and changes its constitution. For academic purposes, let us assume that in Rwanda it isn’t only Kagame and RPF but that Museveni and his NRA fought alongside him and also live in Rwanda. If Rwanda held an election in which, both Kagame and Museveni participated as opponents, would the perception about Kagame as a “saviour” still obtain? Would Kagame still score the 99%? If your answer is in the affirmative, then, Kagame is a true saviour. However, if there is a slight twinge in the thought, then, maybe Kagame is simply presented as such. The point is not to discredit the life saving efforts made by Kagame and RPF, I am simply questioning whether the current situation in that country is only unique to Kagame? That it should be him and only him to take a people to the promised land. I want to relate the Kagame-Rwandan story to my Islamic teachings. At the death of Prophet Muhammad (S.AW), chaos ensued in the entire Muslim fraternity. Nobody had ever imagined a day without the Prophet. When news reached the faithful- they had wanted to sort it out with the messenger for spreading “harmful” information. It’s only Abu Bakr who reminded them that Prophet Muhammad was mortal and that those who worshipped him were at liberty to stop but Allah was still alive and so was Islam. There are Rwandans who in their minds think Kagame is Rwanda. I am begging them to pause for a moment and have the “wildest” of their imagination that Kagame is human and therefore, he will die. Supposing he died before the end of his scheduled term, would Rwandans go back and amend the constitution? Supposing, at his death the only viable alternative was one who did not belong to Kagame’s tribe (it is taboo to state the tribe), will Rwanda be at peace and embrace that alternative? If Rwanda is not ready for a Kagame alternative after 23yrs of his leadership, what does that speak of a nation and the leader? In a country were 99% vote for a single leader, who are the extremists and who are the moderates? Should we be made to believe that in Rwanda right now, 99% are moderates and the 1% extremists? Should we then, also be made to believe that Rwanda is fearful of just this 1% and that’s why it is a ‘do or die’ to keep Kagame around?
    There is an English maxim that “a fool’s blade can be sharper than his brains.” Mwenda touts the argument that Rwanda through participation, is more democratic than Kenya. In defending Rwanda, he, however, notes that given her history and context, Rwanda cannot afford a democracy where citizens are free to organise. I do not know from which political handbook Mwenda borrows his ideas. But there is what is termed as the “democratic bargain.” There is an old “truth” about democracy that it is related to individual freedoms. This does not mean that Democracy and Freedom are identical but that while moving towards one means generally moving towards the other. Both democracy and a variety of individual freedoms were derived originally from the same basic principles of liberalism. Mwenda further praises the system of democracy that Rwanda has managed to craft. A power- sharing arrangement where no political party, regardless of its numerical strength can take more than 50% of cabinet. In a country where 99% vote in a government, how do you “democratically” choose 50% from the opposing 1%? Are you managing a democracy or, simply “imposing” one?
    “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, (Gravity’s Rainbow.)

    • “Therefore, by historical reference, I am proudly Rwandese. I hope, I have settled that score” RAJAB KAKYAMA

      Thank you for coming out clear. One thing remains, join hands with others and serve your nation. It will not be built by constant criticism as no state is perfect.

    • Didn’t you say in a previous post that if Raila lost you would quit this forum forever? Why return? Would it sound like an insult if one said you return to consume what you rejected?

    • Rajab Kakyama August 7, 2017 at 9:10 am
      Today, I make one of my shortest predictions, yet life-changing. Life changing both at private level and at community level. The tomorrow Presidential elections in Kenya if not in favour of NASA the whole of Eastern Africa will get the cold including the “island” of Rwanda. If this does not come to pass, I will resign from all public discussions including this very one. If it comes to pass, then, I will take the task to explain how I came to this conclusion. “If NASA does not win tomorrow’s presidential elections, East Africa will burn.” But where is the water?

  3. Why is it that Ugandans are not interested in voting their presidents? Kagame, Raila Odinga each got more votes than total votes cast in the last Uganda presidential elections.

    • A good number of voters in Opposition strongholds could not vote due to non delivery of voting materials. That reduced the number of votes cast to the advantage of the incumbent.

  4. Well done to the people of Rwanda and Kenya for achieving elections which better reflect their respective contexts…luckily, Kenyans refused to be dragged into the boycotting movement and they saw through it…democracy is a process, not an event…so not one size fits all, but the Rwanda approach is more likely to guarantee peace…and those who imagine that there is no possibility for debate and divergence within a consensual model of democracy, need to study Houphouet Boigny rule in the Ivory Coast…it managed to bring together potential warring factions, from different ethnic backgrounds…pity those who came after him proved incapable of maintaining this consensus.

    • Some models cannot stand the test of time. Remember Yugoslavia under strongman and “hero” Josip Tito? When he died, Yugoslavia disentigrated into five or is it six independent states?

  5. @ Rajab do you have a personal gurage against pk?because you describe him as if you have personally dealt with him before.

    most African States are still delicate so if Rwanda is moving on I see nothing wrong with it ;according to you how best should Rwanda proof her worthiness if everything to you appears cosmetic secondly ,does Rwanda appear to you as a nation that is dying to prove her worthiness to the world ?isn’t she performing the normal roles like all nations?

  6. Tina, I hope you meant to state “grudge” and not, ‘gurage.’ You seem to be deeply and personally touched by my comment. No, me and President Paul Kagame have never shared the same space anywhere on this entire planet. I hope, I will (only in my grave when I am certain that I can’t die a second time.) My expressions seem personal simply because the seat of the Presidency of Rwanda seems personal to the beholder.
    According to historical facts, Rwanda and Burundi could be the cradle land of man. The early Iron Age culture and the prestigious architectural work of the town building, can be traced to the eighth century Rwanda. Therefore, by historical reference, I am proudly Rwandese. I hope, I have settled that score. The questions you raise here cannot be approached with definite answers but there are traditional political ideologies that can give insights into the answers that you are searching for.
    Tina, you’re what you’re because of the choices you make and the principles you set for yourself. As a private individual that’s entirely your choice. For instance, you choose who to marry, what to wear, what to study, the type of job, etc. When it comes to state, the choice of an entire nation and its aspirations are duly expressed in their constitution. This leads to what in politics is termed as ‘a political culture.’ The culture in Rwanda’s political history has been one of broken promises and eventually leading to bloodshed. Kayibanda fought his way into power. His party became the National party. Habyarimana manoeuvred, his political party became the basis on which nationality was to be determined. Having looked at all the bad history, the Rwandans came up with the constitution (2003), which among all other things begins with the” stamping” of Paul Kagame. In less than two decades, and before its tried, it is altered. Political cultures vary a great deal but one striking characteristic is that they change very slowly. A good example of this is provided by Alexis De Tocqueville in ‘Democracy in America.’ De Tocqueville visited the United States in the nineteenth century to examine the workings of democracy, but his description of the American approach towards politics is still recognisable to date. The emphasis on individuality, freedom, reliance on local politics and voluntary organisations, the restlessness and the desire to progress. This has not changed, despite the fact that the America he saw was an almost totally agricultural society, without the modern means of communication and without the “quasi-imperial” world role that America has adopted since the second world war. What has so far changed in Rwanda in less than 20yrs, to warrant that change? My constant questioning about Rwanda is in pursuit of finding out whether Rwanda has really moved on from its past given the unfulfilled gaps in their political history and not simply a desire to impose my political theories. If I presented myself to suggest as much, then, my apologies.

  7. “Therefore, by historical reference, I am proudly Rwandese. I hope, I have settled that score” RAJAB KAKYAMA

    Thank you for coming out clear. One thing remains, join hands with others and serve your nation. It will not be built by constant criticism as no state is perfect.

    • Abe, they say, “give a fool a rope long enough (rope and time) and he will hang himself” If you just found out that Kakyama is interahamwe, then you are a skeptic. the signs have been there all the time in all his posts and his chagrin when Rwanda or Kagame is mentioned. he only hates Museveni because he believes that it is Museveni who created Kagame. As for those islamic quotations, he gets them from the web, not the mosque. No true moslem is so rabid in his hatred of another human being.

  8. “His looks give the impression that the man is in constant inquisition with hunger. I hate the fellow” Kakyama what value would your love for Kagame add? If he chased you off a raping and meat eating orgies, what should you like him? Make a mental picture of what Rwanda would be like if you had been left to your ways assuming they had let you kill off all Tutsi,eaten all their cattle and raped all their females unhindered? It would still be going on to-date because you would have found more Tutsi than existed. When people talk of violent armed robberies that were the norm in Hutu refugee camps in DRC, hell sounds preferable. anarchy was the law, all females were strictly forbidden to wear undergarments at pain of terrible beatings and it was inconceivable to deny any male his dues if you were a female; never mind your age unless you were tired of living. In 1994-1995, Kibumba refugee camp alone had sired 750 thousand children…..yes you have guessed it…..of unverifiable paternity. That is Kakyama’s paradise. South Kivu town of Bukavu in 1998 had no milk,meat or any livestock product because they had eaten even cats such that a kilo of beef (from Rwanda) sold for 20 USD and a litre of milk 5 USD. Rwanda today earns more foreign exchange from dairy products than from any other single item. Kakyama will soon run mad. He is such a fool that he thinks others are fools too to the extent of trying to convince that when Rwanda buys an Airbus it is a lie, when Rwanda builds an airport, it is a lie and many other denials till the fellow goes mad.

  9. Abe, your reactions always come as afterthoughts, which makes wonder, as to whether you’re experiencing “memory lapses” or, you’re just a lazy individual? Either way, you need to be helped. School yourself on who a “Democratic citizen” is? Total submissiveness is also dangerous to democracy. The one most special thing about the relationship between a democratic state and its citizens is that democracy requires citizens who will do more than simply obey and follow the government. In a desperate move to show legitimacy, some nondemocratic states try hard to generate enthusiastic support. Hitler through his pageantry, rallies and his network of youth organisations, sports clubs – tried to generate enthusiastic support for “Nazism” to help him build a powerful German military force more rapidly. Similarly, the Soviet Union and other communist countries always organised rallies, discussion groups, parades and at times, strenuous campaigning even when their elections were restricted to a single party. In a democracy is not only hoped that people will obey the laws and be enthusiastic but that they will also and at the same time be critical citizens. In a true democracy, its people who are required to maintain authority over government, however, in an “interplay” manner.

    I made the statement you so quote, in relation to the Darwinism theory of evolution, its inconsistencies notwithstanding. I am a “Muganda” by Nationality and of the “Mmamba” clan hailing from Kyaggwe County. I hope I made myself clear.

    • Kakyama, acha wongo! Many Banyarwanda have immigrated to their neighboring countries and have changed names but not “the agenda” you are one of those that are terribly offended that genocide was halted, yes halted despite the French backing and that was no mean feat! Kakyama, you keep claiming a certain lineage, but the truth is that you are an offspring of immigrants that continue to burn with hatred for imaginary enimies, something that PK has delt with in the most dignified manner for all concerned. Why don’t you chew humble pie and accept that Rwanda is moving in the right direction (and doing very well by the way), different than Kayibanda and Habyarimana’s! Now every Rwandan is equally valued! Mbu muganda from Kyagwe, really! I have found a few people who happen to know and pin point to your Rwandan heritage, Kakyama, its very cool to be who God made you to be, “Ndi Umunyarwanda, kandi wowe”

  10. The political leaders from Kenya look dapper e.g; Mudavadi looks like a Soul,Jazz and Funk artist,Rutu William is handsome.

    The Kenya elections portrays the marginalization of the Luo people by the Bantu speaking tribes in Africa they even go an extra mile to brain wash their children that the luo are bad but they exploit their intelligence and honesty yet they dont wish them well this therefore raises the following qns;(i) Will a Luo ever become a president in UG and Kenya?(ii)Should they form a country of their own ?(iii)Do Kenyans respect the Luo ?Recently i attended a wedding between a Luo and a Bantu the comments from the Bantu side were disgusting.

    @ Rajab:Muslims naturally are complicated people they even had the nerve to ask M7 to appoint them Judges yet they had not studied law; here in Ug, Christians have tried to civilize them. I am not surprised with Rajab ‘s comments coz he is one of them secondly, don’t you see how they blow their own butts in the Arab world Rajab has never explained why there are so brutal but he is an expert in the brutality of the Rwandans which by the way does not exist? Here in Uganda when one wants to buy meat we are cheated coz they own all the butcheries.(The guy will slice for you portions of meat while dragging his feet as if he is doing you a favor he will even pack for you both the spoilt and fresh meat with confidence.

    • “he will even pack for you both the spoilt and fresh meat with confidence.”

      That’s business acumen.

    • How old are you Winnie? Dr Obote and Gen Okello were both Luo by birth and descent and they were Presidents of the Republic of Uganda aka Pearl of Africa.
      Kenyans respect and fear the Luo. A one Pte Hezekiah Ochuka (private being the lowest rank in the military) overthrew the Kenya Government, had Kenya for two days and when his forces were overpowered, he tactfully withdrew to TZ. Nyerere betrayed him and handed him over to be hanged. Wasn’t he President of Kenya? That was in August 1982.
      Winnie you may be having lapses of certain historical occurrences due to much work that is the way of lawyers but at least you have never in all your posts copied a textbook or sent an obsolete outdated or revised data like one Kakyama.

  11. @ Rwasubutare,all the Luo presidents Uganda had were never elected they became presidents thru coups.

  12. If you are not able to see that Rwands’s ‘democratic’ arrangement is a grand bargain between between a ruling
    Tutsi elite and the majority Hutu population chances are you are delusional. Rwanda’s arrangement is basically to increase the rights of a minority and clip rule by majority. As long as the ruling elite delivers public goods to the majority , the majority population agrees to relinguish claims to rule by majority. Very well …this arrangement was done precisely to guard against the ills that arose from rule by a majority. However you cannot deny that this arrangement of power has an ethnic logic embedded in it.

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