• International Day of Democracy / Lamin Manneh (Op-Ed)

    15 Sep 2012

    On 8 November 2007, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 15 September as the International Day of Democracy, inviting Member States, the United Nations System and other regional, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to commemorate this day each year.

    Today we look back on yet another year of remarkable events in the story of democracy – a story that continues to be written by people who yearn for dignity and human rights, for an end to corruption, for a say in their future, for jobs, justice and fair share of political power.
    The” Arab Spring” is the most recent example of youth, women, and men from all social strata demanding greater space for civic engagement in decision making. These calls for transformational change were not so much about elections but rather a popular cry for choice, participation, transparency and respect for people’s legitimate quest for democratic space. These events have reaffirmed the pivotal importance of democratic governance as a system premised on inclusion, participation, non-discrimination and accountability.

    Democracies are not born overnight, nor are they constructed by holding one or two elections. Democracies are about acceptance and respect for the principles of equity, participation, transparency and accountability. It is also about the respect for human rights and the rule of law. This is why the UN supports not only the electoral process but a wide range of democracy initiatives. Approximately USD 1.5 billion each year is provided through UNDP to support democratic processes around the world, making the United Nations one of the largest providers of technical cooperation for democracy and governance globally.

    Interestingly, the United Nations Charter does not include the word “democracy”. The opening words of the UN Charter, “We the Peoples”, however, reflect the fundamental principle of democracy, that the will of the people is the source of legitimacy of sovereign states and therefore of the United Nations as a whole.

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, clearly projected the concept of democracy by stating “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.” The Declaration spells out the rights that are essential for effective political participation. Since its adoption, the Declaration has inspired constitution-making around the world and has contributed greatly to the global acceptance of democracy as a universal value.

    The UN considers the following as essential elements of democracy:

    • Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms
    • Freedom of association
    • Freedom of expression and opinion
    • Access to power and its exercise in accordance with the rule of law
    • The holding of periodic free and fair elections by universal suffrage and by secret ballot as the expression of the will of the people
    • A pluralistic system of political parties and organizations
    • The separation of powers
    • The independence of the judiciary
    • Transparency and accountability in public administration
    • Free, independent and pluralistic media

    As part of the next Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS 2), the Government of Rwanda acknowledges “Accountable Governance” as a key pillar for the sustainable development of the country. Many reforms have been put in place or are underway. Prime examples include the adoption of the decentralization policy, the reform of the justice, rule of law and order sector, the public sector reform, and more recently, the media sector reform. Rwanda is also widely hailed for having the largest percentage of females in parliament world over and for its successful anti-corruption work. Moreover, home grown initiatives such as Gacaca, Abunzi, Ubudehe, Umuganda, have achieved remarkable results

    But the journey doesn’t end there. Reform must continue to be real and progressive. People want a virtuous circle of rights and opportunity under the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, and an enterprising private sector, backed by efficient and accountable state institutions

    Inclusive dialogue is crucial and diversity is strength. Stakeholders should work to promote pluralism and protect the rights of all regardless age, sex, race, religion, opinion, etc. Special attention needs to be paid to women and the youth by putting them at the centre of efforts to build democratic futures. They have been at the forefront of movements for change. They have a right to a real say in governance and decision-making. In this regard, participation is therefore both a means and a goal such that people are recognized as key actors in their own development rather than passive recipients of commodities and services.

    Profound demographic pressures around the world make it imperative to make the voices of the women and young heard. Faced with bleak prospects and unresponsive governments, women and young people will act on their own to reclaim their future.

    Underpinning these prerequisites -- and essential for long term success -- is democracy education, the theme of this year’s observance. It is needed so that all citizens in all nations, in democracies young and old, established or fragile, fully understand their rights and responsibilities.

    Rwanda has made important steps towards adherence to international human rights norms. by being party to almost all the core international human rights conventions. Rwanda has also successfully undergone a Universal Peer Review (UPR) of states in the Human Rights Council (HRC) last year.

    The upcoming parliamentary elections in September 2013 provide an opportunity for Rwanda to integrate democracy education in the civic education campaign and further provide space for inclusive dialogue to secure Rwanda’s democratic future.

    UNDP Rwanda is strongly committed to working with all stakeholders to develop initiatives that elevate democracy education as an integral part of all education initiatives and as a component of long-term governance strategies.

    In Rwanda, UNDP partners with the relevant stakeholders in celebrating the International Day of Democracy as part of the Peace and Democracy Week. This week provides an opportunity for all Rwandans to celebrate the benefits of the peaceful state they have and their valuable investment in a home grown democratic system.

    Let us build partnerships to develop and disseminate best practices so that Rwanda can be defined as a cradle of success stories and a role model for other states.

    Let us develop a culture of civic participation and education to explore opportunities brought by the various recent reforms and the vision 2020.

    In marking this year’s International Day of Democracy, let us use all our energy and creativity to advance this mission.