15 Sep 2013
Today, the international community celebrates the “International of Democracy, 2013”, with the theme “Strengthening voices for Democracy”. The purpose of commemorating this day is to raise public awareness, as well as promote and uphold the principles of democracy.
The theme for this year aims to raise the importance of people’s voices, both expressed directly and through their elected representatives in the governance of their countries. The post-2015 consultations, indeed affirm the centrality of empowerment and participation in tackling growing inequalities, promoting social inclusion and preventing conflicts. The million voices represented in the UN’s MY World survey overwhelmingly call for open and responsive government, placing this in the top three goals they seek in a future development agenda.
On this International Day of Democracy, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urges leaders to hear, respect and respond appropriately to the voices of the people, whether expressed directly or through elected representatives: “I call on the world’s citizens to think about how they can use their voice to not only take control of their destiny, but to translate their desires and the desires of others into a better future for all”.
Rwanda has made significant strides in putting in place the relevant legal framework to provide for the involvement of the citizens in the governance of their country. The right for Rwandans to participate in governance is enshrined in the Constitution; and so is the freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of information. Significant progress has been made in the restoration of security of persons and property, separation of powers, gender parity in leadership, respect for human rights and control of corruption; all of which have led to a significant improvement in the country’s quality of democracy.
While a lot of progress has been made, the results of the Rwanda Governance Scorecard (2012) show that, more needs to be done to promote empowerment and civic participation in governance. Access to public information, civil society participation in policy making, and vibrancy of non-state actors in policy formulation are areas where more progress needs to be made. Additionally, the ability of CSOs to hold state and private corporations accountable also remains a challenge. Citizen participation in local government development processes especially at the conception and planning processes of development projects is another area that requires improvement, according to the perception survey 2012.
This year, celebrations to mark the International Day of Democracy in Rwanda will be held on the eve of parliamentary elections. UNDP, the Rwanda Governance Board and the National Election Commission have organized a “democracy caravan” that will move around Kigali city to encourage citizens to turn out in large numbers to vote. Participation in elections is not only a civic duty, but more importantly an opportunity for citizens to choose leaders that will work to ensure that their needs are met and fundamental freedoms protected.
So speak out. Participate. Vote. We all have an equal stake in our shared future. Today, let us commit to ensuring that each of us can and does play our part to the full.