The 2018 National Dialogue (Umushyikirano w’Igihugu) is set to open tomorrow, December 13 and close the following day, 14th. It’s the 16th such gathering.
Umushyikirano is probably the country’s most open accountability forum where, from the day it opens to the last minute of its proceedings, leaders at different levels are extra-alert and edgy.
The reason for this hyper alertness is because it’s the only forum chaired by the President that brings together all key leaders; citizens and some Rwandan diaspora to deliberate on challenges facing the country and ordinary citizens allowed to ask questions and leaders concerned asked to respond immediately by the head of state.
With developments in communication technology, the event is now even more interactive as it’s not only aired on television and radios, but also video-streamed on different social media channels.
It’s a forum where careers can be enhanced or lost.
It’s perhaps due to this that talking to different leaders one learns that in the weeks preceding Umushyikirano, leaders in different areas burn-midnight candles preparing and trying to master happenings in their dockets.
This has been the tradition since 28 June 2003 when Rwanda inaugurated its first national dialogue and thereafter made resolutions of what leaders needed to focus on in in selected sectors to move the country forward in the next year.
This event, which is considered a “homegrown” initiative to advance the country’s development and democratization agenda is now a yearly occurrence.
This year’s dialogue comes at a time when the country is oozing with confidence due to a number of good news in recent times, including organizing the election of former Minister Louise Mushikiwabo to head La Francophone; increasing ease of doing business numbers; organizing a number of successful international conferences and President Kagame continued rising star as the reform leader at the AU, etc.
At the same time however, the meeting comes at a time when talk of widespread biting poverty is high with the government’s own national institute of statistics showing that poverty decreased by only one percent in the past four years, unemployment, disturbing conflicts with some EAC member states, rising food prices and the problem of potatoes, etc.
As leaders meet to deliberate on the challenges the nation faces today, it’s appropriate to ask whether last year’s resolutions from the national dialogue have been implemented.
First, there is, thus far, no official or independent evaluation of the extent to which resolutions taken at last year’s national dialogue have been implemented.
Second, a look at the eight resolutions taken after last year’s dialogue suggests that even if that were done, it would be difficult to quantify progress with any measure of accuracy because the resolutions are written in generalized terms.
In fact, some of the resolutions can be lifelong aspirations for the nation rather than short term targets set to achieve in a year!
For example, resolution one “stressed the need to keep taking necessarily measures and changes aimed to improve quality of education” while the second called for ‘increasing health infrastructures…capacity building of medical personnel, putting more efforts in fighting against epidemics, and improved service delivery”.
Now, one can identify measures taken since the beginning of the year that authorities say aimed at “improving quality of education” or increasing “health infrastructure” and capacity of health personnel.
For instance, the ministry of education has made a number of changes this year, including appointing new leaders at Rwanda Education Board, launching the quality education campaign, moving faculties from this to that campus at the University of Rwanda just as Kanombe Military Hospital started offering intra-uterine insemination and vitro-fertilization services to couples this May, et cetera.
However, it’s difficult to measure the impact of these on quality of education or increase in the capacity of health workers or even to state whether these weren’t planned long before the dialogue was held.
The third resolution was to sensitize “parents about giving their children balanced diet, child development, cleanliness and promoting early childhood education” and the fourth was “continued partnership between the government and the private sector in providing more power plants which will increase access to electricity to more citizens at affordable price and will improve ease doing business”.
While “sensitization” of parents is good, measuring whether it has led to the improvement in children’s health in one year is tough just as it’s a lifelong responsibility for parents through the generations to ensure their parents are healthy!
On the fourth indicator though, while the ministry of infrastructure told the media that 138,290 households had access to electricity by October this year down from 755,788 in 2017, and cost of electricity has reduced overall since August, it’s difficult to determine whether this was a result of the resolution; plus, demand for electricity still exceeds supply and prices still dearly high.
With regard to the fifth resolution, which is sensitizing “Rwandans on the culture of saving and to support the three components of Made in Rwanda”, it can be said that although there are no figures to illustrate progress, talk of “Made in Rwanda” has been all-over the place; which is a positive development though this resolution as formulated is timeless.
The same generalization applies to resolution six, which is “to keep and protect values of the Rwandan culture” as well as seven that talked of enhancing “partnership among government institutions, the civil society and religious organisations in teaching Kinyarwanda in families, schools and media programs…”
It would thus help to write dialogue resolutions in precise terms with specific targets achievable in the short term ─ that’s in a year or if they are intended for the long term, have baseline data on which each can be tracked and measured yearly.
That said, Umushyikirano’s cardinal value lies not in what’s observable but in the qualitative interaction of the leadership and citizens, highlighting critical problems the country faces yearly, building trust and providing a thermometer to gauge what the nation thinks.
It’s this collective reflection and sharing of ideas on where the country is, where it’s going and where it should go that’s critical for the soul of a nation to glow and reproduce itself that’s of essence.
It’s in this spirit that the 16th Umushyikirano should be viewed and I hope that the biting poverty that many people are talking about; rising unemployment and cost of living will be discussed and strategies agreed to address it.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com