"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


rwanda's democracy

From Daniel Howden at The Independent:
Rwanda's democratic credentials have been questioned amid evidence that authorities are blocking efforts by the country's Green Party to contest this year's elections. The new Greens have been repeatedly thwarted in their attempts to register the party, their meetings have been violently broken up or blocked by police and their leader has had anonymous death threats.

...There are also widespread reports of intimidation and harassment of opposition parties as the country, which has been ruled by the same party for 15 years, gears up for the presidential vote expected in August. Human Rights Watch says all three opposition groups trying to contest the election have faced serious intimidation and bureaucratic blocks.
A democracy that doesn't allow multiple parties to campaign without fear of harassment or intimidation isn't a democracy at all. I teach my comparative politics students that functioning, consolidated democracies have several characteristics in common: respect for civil rights and civil liberties; regular, free& fair elections; an active and independent civil society; and a free press are among them. A leader can't just hold elections and actually be running a democracy (Saddam and Mobutu both held semi-regular elections. Wisconsin political scientist Michael Schatzberg told a fantastic story about being forced to vote for the latter during his fieldwork in Zaire at the ASA a few years back. Apparently everyone, including an American grad student, was expected to vote for Mobutu and his party, so soldiers made sure that everyone did.).

I think most political scientists would classify Rwanda as a semi-authoritarian regime, that is, one that has some democratic institutions and characteristics, but not others. Rwanda has a parliament, but lacks a free press, significant political opposition, and free speech, and has a few other issues.

My understanding is that there's some question as to whether Rwanda's Green Party is actually capable of registering and running a serious campaign for the elections this August. Nonetheless, the party's inability to register - and the fact that there's international awareness of the issue - is yet another dilemma the RPF will have to address in the lead-up to the elections. If the RPF wants Rwanda to be considered a democracy in the global community, its leadership will have to find a way to accommodate peaceful opposition. Recognizing that "opposition" does not equate to "genocidal" would be a good first step.


Blogger Ron Rollins said...

I agree with you compeltely, for the recordd, but wonder how you classify the former Warsaw Pact countries?

Many of them have outlawed the Communist Party, and prevent former party members from holding elected office.

This is true, particularly in the Baltics. Do they get a pass because of the history of the situation, or are they not truly democratic.

I'm not being argumentive, I'm really interested in the answer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 9:41:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

I'd say that most of the former Soviet states are not consolidated democracies, which is fancy political science speech for saying they're partway there. Some people also call that semi-democracy. We use something called the "two turnover rule" to determine whether a regime is a consolidated democracy, meaning that when power switches back and forth between at least two parties twice, they've made it.

There can be reasons to put limits on political parties even in a consolidated democracy. Germany, for example, has tight controls to prevent Nazi or other racist parties from participating in politics. I don't have a problem with that; a group that is expressing a genocidal ideology is quite dangerous for a democracy. I think there's probably a similar pattern of thought at work in countries that ban the Communist party, even though the party's ideology isn't "genocidal" per se, it's considered extremist and dangerous.

But there's a big difference between preventing genocidal opposition parties from participating in elections and not letting any opposition parties participate. The former is totally understandable and reasonable. The latter is the situation in Rwanda right now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 9:59:00 AM

Blogger Jason Stearns said...

Hmmm...based on the two turnover rule, Tanzania would not be a democracy, nor would South Africa or Mozambique I believe.

According to legend, even the dead and unborn fetuses in Zaire were members of the MPR.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 2:48:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Wouldn't the unborn babies technically be members of the JMPR?

I'm not sure South Africa or Tanzania could be considered a consolidated democracy. Are they democratic? Yes. But are they consolidated? Hard to say. Whether it matters is another question entirely.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 5:22:00 PM

Anonymous Jen Osborne said...

Out of curiosity, what is your *direct* experience with and in Rwanda?

Also, because you're an academic, where is your name on your writings?


Tuesday, March 16, 2010 9:02:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Jen, both my name and my credentials are under the "about me" section in the sidebar.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 9:36:00 AM

Anonymous Jen Osborne said...

Ya, I clicked on "View my complete profile," but no details come up. Where do I find the info?


Wednesday, March 17, 2010 10:32:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Under "about/contact."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 5:14:00 PM


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