By Emmanuel Mutangana
The Rwanda Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP) with the support of United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) organized the National Policy Event on Democracy and Human Rights.
The event took place on Friday 3rd November 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda, under the objective of, “Promoting youth engagement with policy makers through performing arts in Rwanda”. It’s also a year and a half project that trained youth about the principles of democracy.
This project of promoting youth engagement with policy makers was carried out in seven districts of the country; Huye, Bugesera, Rwamagana, Gicumbi, Kicukiro, Gisagara, and Rubavu district.
Ass. Prof. Sylvestre NZAHABWANAYO, IRDP’s Director explained that the project aims to enhance youth civic engagement and creation of both physical and digital civic spaces through which young people engage with policy makers to shape policy debates.
“This is a particular session on a discussion around democracy and human rights issues but also solutions in our respective communities, it will be youth led, we are here today for evaluating the youth not for failure but the success of what they achieved with the impact of the particular project, and to explore and express community issues”. He said.
Prof. Nzahabwanayo revealed that the project increased knowledge and skills among young people about the use of performing arts to explore and communicate community issues, about democracy, human rights and youth participation, and also increased capacity of Rwandan youth to engage with policy makers on in obstacles to democracy.
He highlighted policy recommendations in democracy including to improve citizen participation in elaborating performance contacts, and also enhancing good governance, accountability and good service delivery among leaders.
He noted that the policy makers have to build the capacity of citizens in terms of knowledge and skills about democracy through varied training sessions and Strengthening strategies meant to combat corruption especially in local government and nepotism.
“We recommend pursuing efforts to combat gender-based violence, punish local leaders who engage in personal gains, and reinforce citizen participation, especially among youth, in government programs meant to allow people to exercise their sovereignty by contributing their ideas on the country’s affairs, such as umuganda.” He said.
He concluded adding the recommendations in democracy of Empowering all political parties to be active in transforming people’s lives instead of working only during electoral campaign and building the capacity of potential candidates in articulating their policies and in communicating with others.
Youth representatives shared the experience benefited on their engagement in democracy and human rights successes, challenges and recommendations. They presented about the impact of the project, what has the project impacted directly to them and to their respective communities of districts.
They mentioned the outcomes of the project they have been able to engage with district and different leaders at different levels.
They said they have developed a confidence to advocate to what is going well, and what’s need to be improved.
Young people have also become advocates for early warning systems. If they observe that something is not going well, they report it to the appropriate authorities. Additionally, they have begun to actively participate in community development and engage in political activities within their respective districts. This is a significant change, as they were previously not involved in such endeavors.
According to Deborah UWERA, Youth representative of Gisagara district,” This project has helped us to strengthen our advocacy for democracy, because there is a challenge that the people especially youth don’t understand well what democracy is, some are told wrong explanations with the help of technology”. She said
Uwera also noted that their confidence and trust between their respective leaders have increased significantly, they are now people who are also being seen as people of influence in their respective areas, at school or even those that are out of school, they are respected for being agency of a good change.
They mentioned also the challenges that they have observed, and among the challenges, they were also calling and appealing for recommendations for national policy makers.
They mentioned the challenge of underage girls engaging in illegal sexual activities and provided specific examples, particularly in at a location called Koridoro in Remera. Additionally, they discussed the issue of child labor occurring in various places, such as rice farming in the Bugesera District. They highlighted that parents who are uninformed, traditional, or influenced by external factors are the ones responsible for withdrawing their children from school and employing them in rice plantations.
According to Alexis Mugwaneza, the youth representative from Huye district, he discussed the lack of knowledge, stating, “We appreciate the commitment of local leaders at the cell, sector, and district levels, but they are lacking the skills and knowledge about human rights and democratic values. I recommend that they receive more training.” He said…
They also discussed nepotism in the provision of services by local authorities, highlighting that it poses a challenge and acts as a hindrance to human rights and democracy. Additionally, they mentioned the lack of visibility of various political parties at the community level.
They have a strong understanding that Rwanda is a democratic nation governed by multiple political parties. However, at the community level, specifically in their respective districts, some citizens do not witness these political parties actively communicating their plans and commitments to them. They only glimpse them in the parliament or through the news, but they desire a more visible presence.
According to Felicien USENGUMUREMYI, Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) Head of department of research, on democratic and political governance, through Rwanda’s key imperatives and choices, “We have rejected confrontational politics. We need key imperatives of Rwanda’s governance of consensus and dialogue, power sharing, inclusiveness of women, youth, and people with disabilities”.
Mr. USENGUMUREMYI emphasized the importance of the National Unity and Reconciliation programs, with a particular focus on extending the unity observed within the security forces (Army and police) to all citizens. He pointed out that security is crucial for safeguarding the nation’s territory, sovereignty, and its people.
“We have proved that innovations are tangible solutions to existing problems, thanks to homegrown solutions and innovative approaches embedded in our culture, carefully crafted by our political ideology to address.” He said…
When discussing accountability and transparency, Felicien revealed that Rwanda’s economic development is founded on well-defined and effective programs. Rwanda has also played a role in preparing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As part of Vision 2050, Rwanda aims to transform into an upper middle-income country (UMIC) by 2035, with a GDP per capita of USD 4,036, and ultimately become a high-income country (HIC).
He highlighted the achievements in human rights taking an example of Genocide recovery and reconciliation after the devasting genocide that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
Rwanda has prioritized reconciliation, the Gacaca courts, a community-based justice system, were instrumental in achieving accountability and promoting forgiveness.
Moreover, Felicien highlighted that Rwanda stands as a global leader in gender equality. The nation boasts one of the highest percentages of women in parliament globally, reflecting a commitment to empowering women in a decision-making role.
Felicien concluded noting that Rwanda has made substantial progress in providing access to education and health care, and the country has experienced steady economic growth in the last two decades, contributing to improved living conditions and human rights through the government’s initiatives such as the “one cow per family” program which have positively impacted livelihoods.
He also noted in recent years Rwanda has been improvements in press freedom, fostering a more open media environment, albeit with room for further development, where all these shows good level of democracy.