Okello Oculi,Ph.D
Executive Director

The decision by Rwanda to be among the first two
countries to come under the peering eyes of the
African Union's "peer review mechanism" was as bold
and historic as her challenging Nigeria for the
headship of the African Development Bank and winning
that diplomatic boxing bout. It was a statement that
the country has turned the corner from wallowing in
the macambre image of being a massive killing field,
to one where leaders and their people are engrossed in
the daring imagination of a new and healing society.

The wise elders of the African Peer Review team must
have gone into Rwanda with a touch of disbelief to
look under earlobes of the country's social, political
and economic conditions and their interface with the
governance performance of President Paul Kagame and
his team or rulers.

It is not clear if these wise PR Elders were looking
out particularly for new roads to a new Rwanda.Their
report, however, talks, with unrestrained delight,
about novel policy initiatives now afoot in that
country. Their delight would not be unexpected
considering a melancholy backdrop emphasized by the
fact that "in 1994, there were two million Rwandans in
exile, one million dead due to genocide and another
one million internally displaced". So what did the PR
team find ?

First, that while severe social dislocation had in
2001 yielded an estimated "between 400,000 and
500,000" street kids, by 2004 the number had fallen
dramatically to seven thousand. For a country with an
underdeveloped capital, Kigali, 7000 "street kids"is a
frightening number.It is, therefore, a gigantic
achievement by the government of Paul Kagame that the
situation had climbed down from that of a societal
nightmare.As part of its rehabilitation programme,
school fees are not paid by genocide orphans; and
"compulsory universal and free primary education is
being provided". Students in secondary and tertiary
education are, in 2005, benefiting from a loan scheme
conceived in 2003.

On the issue of gender, the Peer Review team are
ecstatic.They report that 50 per cent of senators in
Rwanda's two chamber parliament are women. 49 per cent
of "the seats in the Chamber of Deputees are held by
women". Women also hold five vital positions in
government, namely: the National Unity and
Reconciliation Commission, the Gacaca process,the
Deputy Commissioner of Police, and the Minister of
Justice. A law is in place which has set up "Women
Councils" which exist at national,provincial, district
and village levels. The councils "provide a forum for
analysis and advocacy on issues affecting women". Also
to be noted is that Rwanda has achieve"an equal
balance of girls and boys in primary schools". By the
record of most African countries, these are historic

The Peer Review team, however, kept watchful eyes on
the existential conditions of the majority of Rwanda's
women and found a few important warts. Among these are
cultural practices which deny women unequal access to
land and other economic resources. Moreover, as in
certain parts of Nigeria, women "perform much of the
work in the agrarian sector".

The Peer Review team was clearly unprepared for the
innovative measures taken by Rwanda to reconcile its
communities through crafting political practices to
comform with that primary task. In the area of
politics, for example, political parties are allowed
to practice their competitive impulses at the national
and provincial level; but are not allowed to operate
at the village level. The PR team considers this a
"denial of much political activity of citizens", but
provides no creative alternative to Kagame's scheme
for avoiding political activities which would reignite
murderous ethnic emotions at the village level where
"most people reside".

Rwanda's Electoral Commission has also borrowed the
voting practice pioneered by Namibia and Nigeria by
which secret voting in elections at local levels is
replaced by voters lining up in the open and during
daylight hours behind the candidates or their choice.
The PR team is convinced that this system does not
"protect citizens from the likelihood of intimidation
and other forms of undemocratic and blameworthy
practices". The PR team does not, however, provide a
mechanism for assuring Rwandans that without the
hysteria of genocidal mobilisation "Hutus" can vote
for a "Tutsi" on the basis of merit ,and Tutsis can
vote for Hutu candidates on the basis of merit.
Clearly the visual demonstration of this social
chemistry is vital for healing the terrible wounds the
country desperately seeks to transcend.

Moreover,without this visual demonstration of
cross-ethnic partisan choice, it would be difficult to
contain possible conflict-fanning rumours about Tutsi
candidates winning elections because secretly cast
ballots had been tampered with by election officials.
It were better if the PR team had planted alternative
seeds of social imagination and social engineering.

The PR team also failed to consider the merit of
Mwalimu Nyerere's proposition that "two party"
politics is grounded on a view which sees politics as
a "civil war" by which the political party in
government is permanently in antagonism with the
political party in opposition. Nyerere's view has been
confirmed by scholars who found that the notion of
being in political party opposition is interpreted in
most African languages as being "the enemy" of those
in the "government party". For a country whose
population has gone through horrendous traumas
carried by genocidal opposition multipartyism, it is
clearly insensitive and cavalier for the PR team to
recommend a voting tool which actively keeps those
behavioral propensities alive. Their position gives
intellectual laziness and fixation to an electoral
model lifted from European traditions of politics a
philosophical dignity it does not merit.

On the judicial plain, the Peer Review team found
refreshing creativity. Rwanda's leaders have turned
inwards to borrow models from ancient traditions of
community action.Through practices like "ubudehe" (or
community participatory planning), and "Omuganda"(or
communal work), Rwanda's leaders found that of
"Gacaca". Gacaca rests on judicial practices organised
from the cell level upwards. Under this judicial
practice, the village sits together and conducts a
dialogue with itself which is also an open exploration
of a crime as well as its punishment and modes of
compensation for victims. That the system is not
elitist compared to legal systems inherited from
colonial rule allover Africa, is indicated by the fact
that "instead of training a few judges, 400,000
traditional judges have been ELECTED BY THEIR PEOPLE
and trained and are being given the power to bring
justice to their own communities".Clearly here is yet
another case of 'something new always coming out of

The African Peer Review Mechanism is conceived of as a
novel tool for bringing good governance to Africa. It
is interesting that President Obasanjo, the current
head of the African Union, proposed in a speech to a
conference on corruption held in Abuja, his country's
capital city, that the mutual interrogation of each
other's performance in governance should be extended
to cover top civil servants who head government
ministries and parastatals. What needs emphasizing is
the need to open up for public discussion and
interrogation the contents of reports compiled at the
end of each country searchlight conducted by the
African Peer Review Mechanism. Africa'smedia,
intellectuals,professional groups, trade unions,
cooperative societies, community association and civil
society would thereby be enabled to participate in
building the continents future.