Democracy African style

24-10-2010

We were down in darkest Nyamirambo yesterday (it was very dark - the rain was heavy) meeting the widows group we are working with down there.

The meeting room, otherwise known as Mama Claude's lounge, is roughly four metres square and easily accommodates between twenty and thirty people. Those that can't squeeze onto one of the well-worn settees around the room sit on a bench in the middle of the floor. Yesterday, at full capacity, some were standing outside looking in through the door.

The widows' meetings are usually well attended, especially on a Saturday afternoon when Pastor Jerome is there to give a sermon and lead the hymns. This week, we suspect there were a few more heads on accounts of Mama Tedy's anticipated announcement that she was giving up the presidents' post in the group. Mama Tedy is a well respected lady who is busy with several roles in the local community.

So the widows were looking for another president. The room dissolved into lively debate as various individuals were nominated but declined on the grounds that they couldn't read or write. We were beginning to wonder if it wasn't easier to ask those who could read and write to put their hands up, but we weren't so rude as to make the suggestion.

Eventually three individuals found their names in the hat. Each was given a chance to speak and we heard about what schooling they had and how many orphans they looked after. Polite applause greeted the speeches and after the last, everyone stood up and made their way to the terrace outside the door. The three candidates stood with their backs to the wall and, playground style, everyone else shuffled around until they had formed three lines, one in front of each candidate.

Emmanuel won easily with sixteen votes, which were duly recorded before everybody filed back into the room for the rest of the meeting. We aren't sure how the Church of Scotland Womans' Institute would have handled the situation, but in a country where things usually take weeks or months, this was decision-making at its sharpest.