The small, central African country of Rwanda may have a tragic recent history, but has one unique feature as a rapidly modernising state; it has the highest proportion of female Parliamentarians than any other country. Having had the privilege of working with the Parliament for a week, I can attest to its desire to also establish itself as a highly accountable legislature seeking to engage with the electorate.
I was on my third visit to Rwanda as a volunteer with Project Umubano, the Conservative Party’s social action programme started six years ago by David Cameron and, the now International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell. A team of nine was working with the Parliament whilst others were teaching, dispensing medicine or helping small businesses to develop.
Although the bi-cameral legislature follows more French lines with a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate, the Westminster influence brought on by the President aligning himself with the Commonwealth, is seen with a sign over a door in the Parliament saying ‘Hansard Office’.
My own brief was to work with a team helping to strengthen the accountability of the Parliament and its members. Talking to journalists who report Parliament through its own radio station and newsletter, they were very cautious about how far they could go in questioning politicians and scrutinising legislation. They saw their role as straightforward reporting what was happening to the extent that they indicated that they could not interview anyone about a Bill until it had been passed. Talking to politicians, they suggested that they would welcome more inquisitive questioning as it would enable them to explain more. We demonstrated through role play using the project leader Stephen Crabb MP and a CCHQ press officer, Alex Dorrey, the contrast between banal and dull interviewing and a more robust but interesting style, albeit not quite Paxmanesque.
As part of the drive to promote anglophilia, new sports are being encouraged in Rwanda, specifically cricket and rugby. On the last day a motley team turned out from the Project including 4 MPs. The average age was a lot nearer 40 or even 45 than 20, unlike our opponents who were fit, young and used to playing together. I’ll spare you the score but it was more like a one sided cricket result than a rugby one.
Rwanda is a country of great hope and optimism. Maybe given its past this may not be surprising, nothing could ever be as bad, but the spirit is uplifting and the positive changes are evident.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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