'Ndi Umunyarwanda' concept should be a legacy for posterity

Ndi Umunyarwanda programme was initiated in 2013, with an ultimate goal of building a national identity and to foster a Rwandan community that is based on trust and unity. 

It was initiated as a way to strengthen the solidarity of the people, uphold their moral and spiritual values, as well as make them understand their fundamental rights as Rwandans.

I recently had a chat with one of the very few senior citizens we still have today, with whom we talked about very many issues that concern our country, including this very concept of national identity.

“The youth of today,” the old man begun, “at least majority of them, are oblivious of the fact that during the period well before the advent of the Bazungu, the notion of ethnic hatred between the Hutu and the Tutsi was non-existent.”

He explained that the youth should know that Rwanda’s main economic activities in those days were cattle keeping and farming, and that a more valid description of the Tutsi-Hutu-Twa divide was by class and occupation. The Batutsi were the upper class and were mostly herdsmen.

The Bahutu were the second class and for the most part lived by farming, and the Batwa did a little hunting, but their main occupation was pottery. It is on the basis of these economic activities that one’s status or a family’s status in the then Rwandan society was determined.

“At the time, there also existed a socio-economic system known as ‘Ubuhake’, a system which enabled a symbiosis kind of relationship between the wealthy and privileged, and the less privileged. It was a system in which ordinary Batutsi, Bahutu or Batwa participated and mutually benefited. This system was voluntarily subscribed to and was entered into for many reasons, including protection, and the anticipation of getting favours from the wealthy and the most powerful. This system therefore, harmonized and ensured a strong interdependency and relationship between two individuals of unequal status in the Rwandan society.”

As the old man spoke, you could clearly see he knew what he was talking about. He went on.

And because cows were then considered very important in our country’s economy, he went on; a Munyarwanda with a big herd was considered wealthier than the land farmer. So, in this system of ‘‘Ubuhake’’, the patron (shebuja), was most of the time a Mututsi, but the client (Umugaragu) could be a Muhutu or a Mututsi of inferior social status.

Also, one individual person could be a client as well as a patron; even a Mututsi patron of a Muhutu could at the same time be a client of yet another Mututsi, he said.

“Take my case, for instance: until this day, I still swear by the names of Chief Munderi or Chief Rwabutogo, because they were of a superior status than mine and because at one given time, they each gave me cows as presents. But, on the other hand, there are also those who swear by my name because I was of superior status than they were, and that at one given time I gave them cows.”

So, an individual could be a patron or a client depending on how many cows the individual had.
And in those days, a very big number of Bahutu were owners of countless cows, a fact which made them patrons of less affluent Bahutu and Batutsi alike, and which even elevated them from the Muhutu title to become Mututsi.”

They spoke the same language, practiced the same cultural rituals, and worshiped the same god. Only, upon the arrival of European colonisers was it possible for the latter to exploit the group divisions as a means of securing control. The modern conception of Tutsi and Hutu as distinct ethnic groups in no way reflects the pre-colonial relationship between them.
And this is what the “Ndi Umunyarwanda” initiative is all about.

This is why the programme should be thoroughly exploited in order to help Rwandans, especially the youth who represent the hope and the future of the country, understand their roots and the origins and the meaning of tribes and clans in yesteryears, and how things got distorted during the colonial era and led to the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.

Colonialism left Rwanda badly divided, and the division ultimately resulted in the Genocide. The poor villagers, who were used to implement the dirty work did not benefit in any way from the atrocities they committed.

The Hutu ideology only benefitted the politicians for a few years, but the ordinary citizens on the hills across Rwanda were the victims in every sense. These remained as poor as ever before, while the entire episode had a negative impact on the social oneness of the Rwandan society.

With “Ndi Umunyarwanda,” Rwandans today should critically examine our dark history towards shaping a bright future. They should seek to uphold the moral values of all Rwandans, to restore their unity in building their country and getting rid of the Genocide ideology, for the sake of posterity.

The writer is an editor at Izuba Rirashe, a sister news paper to The New Times.