Rwanda’s Elections: beginning the habit of democracy

Rwandans will be voting for their President Kagame next week. The overall outcome is not really in much doubt. And it is easy to be disappointed in the lack of real political competition in Rwanda (though Rwanda’s electoral commission claims there is real competition).

Indeed, those of us who were first introduced to Kagame through Philp Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You…, may continue to wish for that more heroic figure to reappear to bring democracy alongside liberation. It is old news to comment on the Gourevitch-Kagame connection and whether a journalist has become too influenced by his source(see here and here). But it remains a question we teachers face. There are still few books as accessible and engaging for undergraduates to read, as a colleague and I discussed just last week (I don’t use the book, but have considered using it).

Texas in Africahas a great roundup of what to expect with the upcoming election. And I think it is right to expect that, at the end of the day, the election won’t have much of an immediate impact. However, it may be that the habit of going to the polls is all that is needed. It has been the habit of democracy in Ghana, arguably, that has contributed to its success. Going to the polls repeatedly, and seeing gradual progress, has been key. And I really think that “habit” is something we as political scientists should not ignore. After all, in his reflections on democracy in the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that our “habits” are a clear contributing factor.

So, in that spirit, I hope the “election” goes smoothly, that many people go to the pools, and that regardless of how their votes translated into outcomes this time around, that the idea of voting begins to become a part of the national psyche.

“France attacked an African camp and killed Muslims”

A little over a week ago, a French raid in Algeria to free an aid worker, Michael Germaneau, failed. He was already dead, and perhaps even dead before they got there.

Global Voices had a nice roundup of some of the African sources on this raid, one of which cited the quote I used for the title here.

Both France’s military and aid programs in Northern Africa has often been contentious (probably an understatement). Just a few years ago, French aid workers were jailed in Chad on child trafficking charges, where France has intervened militarily several times in the past decade. David Leonard has argued that there are reasons for cautious optimism about France’s evolving military role in Africa. At least, he seems to say, both the French military and French civil society seem to be more reflective about the nature of their interventions.

But the question the blogosphere seems to be asking is how fragile French relations with this part of Africa actually is. Were there clear winners or losers in this failed raid? France is clearly not a winner, having failed at getting the hostage, facing allegation that it negotiated with the al Qaida-affiliated group that held Germaneau, and having upset local politicians. One thing I would like to know is the extent to which Algerian muslims are identifying with the al-Qaida-affiliated groups in the region. But other than possibly increasing local opposition to France and the West, it is also unclear what the hostage-takers possibly got out of this. One possible winner? The US military’s counter-terrorism training program in the region seems more important than ever.