Umuganda: Rwanda to package homegrown solutions, sell them abroad

Tuesday April 9 2019


Rwandan President Paul Kagame greets the crowd after addressing supporters at the closing rally of the presidential campaign in Kigali, on August 2, 2017. PHOTO | MARCO LONGARI | AFP  

By The EastAfrican

As the president approaches the podium, the eager crowd chants niwowe, niwowe (you are the one, you are the one). 

On the rostrum, he signals for them to keep quiet as Mwungeri, a song dedicated to his liberation and stewardship of the country, blares from the public address system. He dances to it, the crowd responds but he demands more energy. 

Now a leader and his people are in tandem. In other countries this would be associated with a looming election. But this is Rwanda, where the leadership under President Paul Kagame has over time mobilised communities to improve their neighbourhoods—be it in cleanliness or putting up infrastructure—and to take care of the less fortunate through homegrown solutions. 

The dancing happens at the end of Umuganda, a monthly event where communities across the country execute joint activities identified through grassroots participation. 

March 30, President Kagame is leading residents at the Nyanza Memorial Park on the outskirts of Kigali in clearing underbrush in a forest to improve security and in constructing a canal for storm water. 

The park, to which a garden of memory is being added, is of historical significance. On April 11, 1994, Belgian troops abandoned 5,000 Tutsis who were under their care and left the country.

Extremists with grenades, machetes and other weapons killed the people, leaving only a handful of survivors. 

“This memorial park speaks to how the international community, including the peacekeepers, abandoned Rwanda in its hour of need,” said Dr Jeanne Nyirahabimana, the mayor of Kicukiro district, which hosts the park. 

On the podium, President Kagame reiterates the importance of working together and co-operation across Africa. 

Delegations from the East Africa Community and the DRC are in attendance, on study tours that visit the country every month to learn from Rwanda’s homegrown solutions to social and political issues. 

Besides Umuganda, the Gacaca courts (community justice system), Abunzi (community mediators), Ubudehe (poverty reduction) and Imihigo (performance contracts) have won global acclaim, attracting attempts at replication. 

Earlier, the president got down to work with builders of the canal and by the time he got to where the crowd was, the community—including mayors and ministers—had done their bits too. 

“It is the best value labour I have seen that Africa, especially East Africa, needs to replicate. It brings the community together in tackling problems of poverty and stretched infrastructure, gives it ownership and satisfaction,” says Adan Mohamed, Kenya’s EAC minister who had joined in the activities from an EAC retreat. 

Rwanda now plans to facilitate that replication by institutionalising the homegrown solutions and exporting them to the world. 

The Rwanda Co-operation Initiative (RCI), a think tank, is co-ordinating engagements with the outside world and targeting self-reliance in three years. 

It hopes to achieve this by producing books for sale through universities and online content that can be accessed from anywhere in the world at a fee. 

It will also seek partnerships with multilateral institutions for research while building its internal capacity. 

“Our materials will be principle oriented not cut and paste. Umuganda for example, goes deeper than cleanliness. It is an opportunity for the government to interact with the people, push programmes and empower local leaders,” Louis-Antoine Muhire, the CEO of RCI said. 

RCI would co-ordinate the posting of technical experts abroad to support the replicating entities. It has 14 experts now and sees the number growing to 40 by the end of the year. 

Last year, 300 study tour groups visited the country; 60 per cent of them were from West Africa and 30 per cent from East Africa. The rest were from other African regions, Colombia, Haiti and East Asia.