Minister for Culture and Sports Mr. Joseph Habineza’s presentation to the 7th National Dialogue was thought provoking. It opened up vistas for reflection on the role of culture in development.
Debates on development should be situated in a broader framework than consideration of poverty reduction indices, improvement in economic sector performance, to include human development.
The thrust of Habaneza’s presentation was to seek ideals or civic virtues from our culture that can be used to build a better society and to discourage tendencies, whether from our culture or outside it, that are counterproductive, hence SWOT analysis.
This paradigm commonly used in evaluation of development projects seems to have been the essence of the dialogue. Policies and projects set the previous year were reviewed and indeed strengths and weaknesses reported to all Rwandans as the dialogue was open to the public who contributed their views via SMS and emails.
Some leaders lost opportunities to contribute to social change among the people they are employed to serve for various reasons, ignorance, incompetence, laziness, greed etc.
According to Habineza some of these failings can be attributed to cultural influences. There is a proverb in Kinyarwanda, nta mutware uba akabeba or( no leaders is a mouse ).
This concept of leadership inherited from our culture might be a hindrance to good governance. How else can one explain the reckless actions of three young university educated Sector (umurenge) Executive Secretaries in Nyagatare district risking their jobs to save their boss, a mayor accused of corruption! some leadership or abuyobozi at local levels have earned notoriety for arrogance.
Some leaders are not approachable. Consider this story by a group of undergraduates doing research in a certain sector of Gatsibo district.
They were baffled when their interviewees fled on hearing the Executive secretary motorbike approach. Later they were informed of the muyobozi’s harshness.
On the other hand the dialogue demonstrated that cultural practices can be used to overcome some impediments. One of the impediments to giving cows to the poor was insufficient land ownership.
President Kagame suggested among others solutions, a cultural tradition, kuragiza. This is where a neighbor or relative hold one’s cattle in trust until one is ready to take over the responsibility.
Social Anthropologist Aflyward Shorter in his book African Culture: An Overview defines culture as “the whole way of life, material and non-material, of a human society. It is essentially social, the product of a society ‘s tradition and its interaction with other societies.”.
Cultures, however, are not static but dynamic and are made up of” convention “and “invention”.
From Rwandan cultural conventions like itorero we can draw from past experience to fashion national civic virtues.
Frank Rusagara in his book, Resilience of a Nation, says that in traditional military schools (amatorero) moulded everyone’s discipline, patriotism, honesty and moral behavior not only make a good soldier, but impfura y’u Rwanda, (which he translates as a gentleman of Rwanda).
Whereas the definition above serves the intention of the writer, the concept of impfura or ubupfura has wider connotations and can be used as basis for national ideals and virtues.
Impfura is a cultured, principled, noble, considerate person characterized by integrity and humility. These values hopefully address Hon Habineza’s concern for the weaknesses identified in some members of public service.
If the concept is inculcated among the youth, respect for elders which is fast eroding and other negative ‘modernistic tendencies will be a thing of the past.
As we live in a changing world we also have to adopt or invent appropriate social practices. Hon Monica Nsanzabaganwa raised an urgent concern: Queuing.
The word speaks for itself, as we talk about customer service. It should be first come, first serve, except of course in special cases like sickness or other cases that call for some form of special attention.
Culture, has been underscored by UNESCO as inseparable to sustainable development. The (1988-1998) World Decade for Cultural Development strategy aimed at incorporating culture into development policies, stressing that culture offers benefits in terms of cohesion.
Development stakeholders will benefit from the examples of Denmark model of her development policy of poverty alleviation.
The cultural dimension in development cooperation in Denmark’s strategy is based on building on “a value basis that expresses what is regarded as positive cultural and social values and change”.
With regard to culture as important component of poverty reduction, Denmark’s development strategy recognizes the promotion of broadbased pro-poor economics growth ( like the policy of Gira inka Munyarwanda ) with equal participation by men and women.
“To achieve this culture must be incorporated as a resource to be drawn upon rather be allowed to function as an obstacle.”
The Denmark strategy uses cultural projects as channels for promoting values such as social justice, equality of opportunity, identity and dignity of poor people and hard-pressed population groups.