Electoral Volunteerism: reducing costs and increasing national ownership of elections

Jul 25, 2017

Elections volonteers exercising elections process during the training

With the elections forthcoming, a delegation composed of UNDP Rwanda staff, officials from the National Electoral Commission of Rwanda (NEC), the CEO of Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) and representatives from the National Parliament, CSOs and the National Forum of Political Organizations all convened in Nyabihu District to witness a demonstration by electoral volunteers on how ballot-box voting works.

The Joint Field Visit was organized under the auspices of the Deepening Democracy and Accountable Governance (DDAG) Joint Programme, which features a collaborative effort between the Government of Rwanda and United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UN Women, United Nations Volunteers (UNV) and the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  

The purpose of the program is to support Government’s effort to strengthen inclusive citizen participation and political accountability thus deepening democracy in Rwanda. It addresses issues of political participation, media-sector reforms and use of evidence based governance and planning.

Speaking at the event, the One UN Rwanda Resident Coordinator Lamin Manneh pointed out that the fundamental tenets of democracy include having leaders who are elected for the people and by the people; by presenting a manifesto that is favorable to the people.

He added that there should also be mechanisms in place that enable the people to hold them fully accountable.

He also paid tribute to the leadership of President Paul Kagame, which he described as “indispensable” in helping bring the country back from the brink of total collapse after the 1994 Genocide committed against the Tutsi, to instead emerge as a shining beacon of hope and resilience and an African success story as it is today.   

Also present at the function was the CEO of the Rwanda Governance Board, Prof Shyaka Anastase. Addressing the election volunteers, he pointed out that all functioning economies in the world are based first and foremost on good governance and sound leadership, and thus it is crucial to ensure free and fair elections.  

He praised the contributions made by One UN Rwanda, under the leadership of the RC Lamin Manneh, to further deepen democracy and make sure it was a citizen-owned process. 

The NEC Executive Secretary, Mr. Charles Munyaneza on his part stated that it is vital to train election volunteers because through capacity building, they can be able to deliver a transparent election process that is result based.

“As NEC, we are on track. We are confident that the kits will be ready for the elections in August. We want to assure the country that our processes are in place,” Munyaneza said.

Fatou Lo, the UN Women Representative seized the moment to stress the need to ensure women’s participation in the electoral process.  

“Inclusive elections should be the target, with the electoral management bodies ensuring that women participate to the fullest of their potential e.g. identifying women opinion leaders.”

After the ballot-box voting simulation was completed, a group of opinion leaders, “abavuga rikijyana” were given the floor, each of whom in - their respective capacities - pledged to play their part to ensure free, fair and transparent electoral process.

The group, composed of members of society from all walks of life including teachers, businesspeople, traditional healers, youth and women representatives, church leaders and persons living with disabilities, said they have been equipped and they are ready for the elections, and have already began to conduct sensitization and outreach to locals, urging them to fulfill their civic duty and come out in large numbers to vote on election day.  

NEC depends on its staff at its headquarters, provincial and district levels to oversee and manage training for up to 75,000 electoral volunteers countrywide, with direct support from the One UN in Rwanda.

This is made possible by using   the volunteerism system to support elections cycle management, first “training of trainers” roll out, which is a national training programme implemented under a “cascade” model where volunteers train other volunteers in thrie turn.

It is noteworthy that basing on the most recent election, NEC reduced the cost per voter from approximately $2.90 in 2008 to $1.20 in 2013, amongst the lowest on the African continent. This was achieved mostly through the use of election volunteerism system, which was first implemented in the 2003 Presidential elections and has been relied on since.