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1.0 Introduction

Following an invitation from the Government of the Republic of Rwanda, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) deployed a short-term Mission to observe the presidential elections scheduled for the 4th of August, 2017.

The COMESA Observer Mission was led by Bishop Mary Nkosi from Malawi, who is a Member of the COMESA Committee of Elders. The Mission comprised of observers from the diplomatic missions accredited to COMESA and to Rwanda and officers from the COMESA Secretariat. The Mission deployed its observers to Kigali City, Eastern province, Western province, and Southern province. Before deployment, the observers received training from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).

The Mission was guided by the Rwanda Constitution and other legal frameworks governing the conduct of elections in Rwanda. The observation is also predicated on regional and international principles governing the conduct of democratic elections as well as the COMESA Election Observation Guidelines and Code of Conduct of 2013.

This preliminary statement therefore, contains our key findings, conclusions and recommendations based on our independent observations, interaction with electoral stakeholders including the National Electoral Commission, Ministry of Local Government, police, media, political parties, international and local observers and selected members of the public. Based on our findings we report as follows:

2.0 Preliminary Findings

2.1 Campaigns

For the short time the COMESA mission has been in Rwanda, the campaigns were generally peaceful despite isolated reported cases of opposition campaigns being disrupted in Rusizi and Nyagatare areas. The mission was informed that the government stepped in to ensure that presidential campaigns in the two areas proceed uninterrupted. The candidates campaigned and outlined policy issues including governance, health, education, infrastructure among others. The level of political tolerance among the presidential candidates was commendable.

 2.2 Legal Frameworks

The mission established that the Constitution and the law relating to elections provided clear guidelines and measures that enabled the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to implement its mandate. Indeed, the Mission noted that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) conducted its work efficiently and professionally including training of electoral staff, setup of the polling centres, and distribution of electoral materials among others.

 2.3 Security

The mission observed that security was adequately provided before, during and after elections. In particular, the presidential candidates were provided with adequate security.  All the polling centers that the mission visited were well secured by security personnel. At least there were 2 police officers in the polling centres that the mission visited.

 2.4 Civic Education

Whilst the National Electoral Commission in collaboration with other local stakeholders has endeavored to provide civic education to the citizenry, the mission noted that some voters were not aware of how to cast the vote, the time the polling centres were to close and the required documentation for voting.

2.5 Media and the Elections

The mission noted that the media played a critical role in the campaigns whereby both the public and private media accorded coverage to all the presidential candidates during campaigns. The media further highlighted key policy issues that all the presidential candidates were communicating to the electorate.

 2.6 Polling and Vote Counting

The polling process went smoothly in all the polling stations that the mission visited. The polling centres were easily identifiable and decorated showcasing Rwanda’s deeply entrenched cultural heritage. The community involvement in the setup of polling centres is commendable. This demonstrates communal ownership and commitment to the electoral process. The mission further noted that:

  • Apart from the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) agents, the other two presidential candidates’ agents were not present in most polling centres;
  • Polling centres were opened on time at 0700 hours. However, the voting process was delayed by 15-30 minutes due to the oathing of electoral staff and preliminary announcements by the polling centres coordinators;
  • Voter turnout was high in all the polling centres especially during the morning period by both male and female voters;
  • The polling officials were well trained and they conducted themselves in a professional manner;
  • The elderly, expectant women, disabled and women with young children were accorded priority during voting;
  • The polling centres were well demarcated and marked;
  • Though entertainment of music was provided in all the polling centres, in some cases it was too loud and somehow disruptive;
  • The counting was systematically conducted by the polling officials after close of voting at 1500 hours;
  • Aggregation of results from different rooms was done in an open and transparent manner.
  • Ballot papers were not serialized.

3.0 Best Lesson Learned from the Elections

  1. Community involvement in setting up polling centres is commendable. It encourages community ownership of the process.
  2. The counting using charts for each presidential candidate was easy, faster and transparent.
  3. Having few registered voters (700) per room in the polling easy voting and collating of results in the polling centres.
  4. The voters casting their vote and leaving the polling centres.

4.0 Recommendations

Based on our findings, the COMESA Mission recommends the following measures to enhance the conduct of electoral process in the Republic of Rwanda:

  1. Need for the National Electoral Commission to undertake continuous civic education to enable the electorates to understand the electoral process in terms of required voting documentation, and time allocated for voting.
  2. Adequate budgetary allocation should be provided to NEC and other stakeholders for effective civic education.
  3. Gradually consider incorporating information technology in the electoral process, particularly transmission of results.
  4. Playing loud music while the voting process is ongoing in polling centres needs to be reconsidered as it appeared disruptive and noisy.

5.0 Conclusions

COMESA wishes to extend its gratitude to the Government of the Republic of Rwanda for inviting COMESA to observe the presidential elections. COMESA further commends the National Electoral Commission for its efficiency in ensuring that the elections were successful.

COMESA further extends its appreciation to all the stakeholders that the mission consulted for their productive engagement with the Mission.

Bishop Mary Nkosi, COMESA Elder,

Head of COMESA Election Observer Mission to the 4th August, 2017 Presidential Elections in the Republic of Rwanda

Kigali, Rwanda 6th August, 2017.