By: Anibal Ibanez Riso
As we reach the final months before the presidential election in the United States, I’m curious about elections in other parts of the world. I took this opportunity to meet with different international students and ask them questions about elections in their countries. With my ears wide open and my mind full of questions, I saw the interviews as a great opportunity to get to know them and their various cultures better.
It was almost 9:30PM when I walked into the pub looking for Alphonse Gatabazi, a non-traditional one-year enrichment student from Rwanda. The smell of fries and chicken strips invaded my senses as I walked through the crowded pub looking for my friend.
I was afraid that Alphonse had left since I was not able to free myself from my South American habits and had arrived half an hour late. I calmed my thirst and got a cold drink of water from one of the water fountains. As I raised my head from the refreshing water, I saw Alphonse and Stephen Onsabwa, another non-traditional one-year enrichment student from Kenya, walking through the door.
After a warm greeting, I asked Stephen if he would also be willing to answer a few questions about elections in his country. With a big smile he agreed, and we left the bustling, Friday night atmosphere of the pub.
The School of Nations was the perfect place for our conversation. Its warm and silent space was perfect for a great talk about political campaigns and elections.
Stephen told me that Kenyans deeply value their elections. He has personally voted three times and feels that in doing so he has contributed to his nation’s welfare. Alphonse on the other hand, who has voted four times, explains that the Rwandese do not really care about their elections. Alphonse feels that people in his country are forced to vote. He explains that Rwanda is a democracy but only has one main party who is in control of all the country’s national resources. The rest of the parties are not powerful enough to compete and usually form coalitions with the main party. “Voting in Rwanda has become a formality,” says Alphonse.
Kenya, on the other hand, has many different parties. Stephen explains: “These parties are always changing and every year we have new colors, new symbols and new names.” Once candidates obtain their positions in government, they form new coalitions and new parties are created in every election year.
However, despite the differences between Rwanda and Kenya, these countries give their people holidays in which all people can vote. Sometimes these holidays are extended to two or three days, until the counting of the vote is finished and the winner is announced. It’s interesting that Kenya’s elections are held after Christmas, usually on December 26th or 27th. This year, Kenyan elections were postponed to the following year and will be held in March.
Our conversation ended with a deep talk about the Rwandese genocide in 1994, another sad incident of human history that took the lives of almost one million people in nearly 100 days. While Alphonse was telling me about this tragedy, I could not stop thinking how grateful I was to be talking with someone from that country and how magically life has worked for this young man to bring him from Rwanda to Principia College.
I encourage every member of this community to take full advantage of the opportunities that Principia offers everyday. We have been given the gift of learning more about the world, not through books or web pages, but from the lives of the many international students, just like Alphonse and Stephen, on this college campus.
Anibal is a one year enrichment student from Uruguay.