In August, political parties in Rwanda got busy travelling up and down the country, canvassing for votes for the parliamentary elections that took place at the beginning of this month.
As has been the case with previous electoral cycles, this one left me with many takeaways.
To capture the importance of these takeaways and why they give pause for thought, it is important to outline some things that have been said or written about governance in Rwanda over the past 24 years. One is the claim that there is “no political competition” in the country.
This links smoothly to another claim: Political space in Rwanda is closed. This particular claim allowed would-be exporters of democracy to Rwanda to demand that the “political space” be “opened up” to allow for wider participation.
In response to the pressure to open up, the authorities insist that theirs is a political system whose workings reflect the country’s uniquely difficult history and a collective determination by those upon whom primary responsibility for ensuring political stability in the long run has fallen in the past two decades.
Their primary aim is to ensure that past mistakes that made instability inevitable are not repeated. A key mistake, the argument often goes, was unrestrained competition amid systematic use of sectarianism by those in pursuit of power to further their ambitions.
It is easy for those given to applying standard templates to every situation to dismiss these arguments as excuses, and to refuse to judge Rwanda’s political reality on its merits.
The best way to examine the question of political space and the degree to which in Rwanda it is open or closed is to look at the number of political parties in the country, changes in the number over time, how political campaigns are conducted and managed, and the organisation of elections.
Contrary to the all-too-common claim that Rwanda is a one-party state, there are actually 11 political parties in the country. Here, more than elsewhere in East Africa, election campaigns are a matter of constantly shifting alliances. Presidential elections can see several parties sponsoring individual candidates as happened in 2003 and 2010.
Then comes another presidential election and the same parties forgo the opportunity to sponsor their own candidates and instead choose to rally behind a single candidate as happened when President Paul Kagame contested and was re-elected for a third term in 2017.
Come parliamentary elections, some parties will go it alone while others seek alliances to bolster their chances of securing a seat or two.
Rwandan political parties may not be so fractious, but they are not immune to bitter splits. One such split saw some members of the Social Democratic Party, the second largest behind the RPF, walk away to form another party, which was nearly stillborn because of infighting that ended with its first leader spending a few years in prison.
Interestingly, a lot of what happens inside Rwanda in terms of political competition and alignments and re-alignments is largely unknown outside the country’s borders.
One reason is that inter-party political contests are largely sedate affairs entailing neither violence nor verbal fights of the kind that feed media headlines.
Nor are political campaigns in Rwanda occasions for politicians and political parties to spend fortunes on buying political support or paying hooligans to disrupt each other’s rallies, another aspect of politics elsewhere that sells newspapers and keeps people glued to their radios and television screens.
Another reason is that there has been no occasion when the army or the police have had to intervene in inter-party political contests and thereby ignite the kind of controversies that reverberate around the globe.
Arguably the most striking aspect of participation in politics by Rwandans, is the opportunity afforded to every eligible voter, wherever they live in the world, to have their say in electoral contests. It is probably not that significant that Rwandans in the diaspora can and do vote in presidential elections.
What is significant is that voters in any location in the world can organise themselves to vote, including supervising the elections and tallying the votes, and then relay the results back to the national electoral commission in Kigali.
Even Africa’s much-vaunted democracies, the likes of Ghana and others from which the rest of us are supposed to learn, do not go this far in enfranchising their citizens.
Even more significant, these recent legislative elections have demonstrated that even polls that observers may not consider insufficiently important to merit all the resources required to enable the diaspora to vote are taken seriously in Rwanda.
Which is why on September 2, a day before Rwandans inside the country went out to vote, their compatriots in the diaspora trooped to dozens of polling stations outside the country.
Even Rwandans who ordinarily live in the country but happen to be travelling on that day voted from wherever they were. So much for the country’s “closed” political space.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.