The Blog

Voting: A Privilege or a Right?

With the next general election approaching in 2015, the race is on to see who will next govern the British Isles. I've been passively watching and listening not voting and weighing in on the current state of affairs in the UK for years. Now before you lynch me for my apathy, there are extenuating circumstances. You see, I'm here under EU Law and despite having lived and loved being here for 12 years, the law states that I can't vote.

Maybe it's because I grew up in various parts of Africa, but I take voting very seriously. Democracy is an opportunity that is not as widespread as some are led to believe. I made England my home in 2001 when my parents decided that it was time for something new. So we set off for the shores of England, much to my chagrin as I was leaving my friends and the only life I knew behind. As soon as I saw snow for the first time upon my arrival, all was forgiven. What can I say? I'm easy to please. Though it took some time for me to adjust, I grew to love England (and its bipolar weather) and as such voting on its future with fellow citizens is imperative to me.

So imagine my surprise when, on Tuesday, I gained an exciting new lesson in politics. Unbeknownst to me another group allowed to vote, other than the British, are those in the Commonwealth. My amazing home country Rwanda is the 54th member state of the Commonwealth and has been since November 2009. As I processed that I realised, holding dual nationality, that I CAN VOTE! My friends laughed at my excitement but a few made a good point. They said that seeing my elation they realised how they take their right to vote for granted. That got me thinking.

The attitude I encounter time and time again is this general acceptance that voting is a right granted to all. Just like having medical bills covered by the NHS, or school fees by the government and other automatic benefits to living in the United Kingdom. This is not the norm. Looking at how Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa have overcome enormous odds and become who they are today, I am proud. People have fought and died to make my home country, my birth country and my foster country even a little closer to having a better tomorrow. Yes, it's not perfect and yes there are still big issues to address but we are drawing ever nearer. The fact that the Congo holds most of the world's reserves of coltan, or columbite-tantalite, a mineral needed in mobiles, laptops and other electronic devices is great. The sad thing is that though useful for trade it is simultaneously one of the causes for the current conflict.

Taking that into account, the UK model may still need changing here and there but there's a lot more to appreciate than not. It even contributed to the government shutdown as America try and implement an NHS-type model, Obamacare. So next time you go to the voting station and fill in that ballot, take a moment to appreciate that voting is a privilege not just a right. With the stroke of a pen, you can determine which way the ship is headed and how we navigate the waters. We hold the power to change and create the government we want.

Anything fascinating that you've learnt this week? Comment below and let me know.

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