In 2016, Coletha Uwineza Ruhamya was appointed as the Director-General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA).
Prior to this, she served in various senior positions including as the minister of state for energy and water at the ministry of infrastructure and deputy director-general of REMA.
The New Times’ Donah Mbabazi talked to her about governance, patriotism and the reflections that leadership has evoked in her.
Who is Engineer Coletha Uwineza Ruhamya?
I am married and a mother of two, an Environmental Engineer by profession, I also hold a Postgraduate Diploma in Environment Management for Sustainable Development. I was also trained in the environment and water-related disciplines such as environmental impact assessment, integrated water resources management, wastewater management, solid waste management, green economy principles, among other courses.
I like to be honest, considerate and I also like justice. In terms of career, I really dedicate my time, capability and capacity to my work.
You have held a number of senior positions, how would you describe your career journey so far?
I can’t say it was easy but it wasn’t that hard seeing I have been mostly appointed to most of the positions I have held. To me, this is an honor because this indicates the trust our leadership has in me, it is a privilege that I should always cherish.
What has this long path to where you are now taught you?
I have really learned a lot through working with His Excellency the President: he is a great and a special teacher. I have gained a lot of experience on how to handle challenges especially when it comes to engaging and learning from others. From others, you borrow the best practices, to correct and sometimes prevent mistakes and it really works. So, I have learned how to partner and collaborate.
What’s your biggest struggle currently?
Yes, we have struggles just like any other position, specifically about the environment as a cross-cutting sector. This is a bit challenging because it is a responsibility that you need other people to be on the same page with you. For any policy to be implemented, you need other sectors for this to work so you need them to buy in what you are selling. Most of the policies and regulations have been developed but need to be implemented from central to the local level, District, sector, and village levels, so you need to make sure they understand the importance and their responsibilities as people that are on the ground.
One of the responsibilities of REMA is mainstreaming environment and climate change at different levels; people need to understand what is environment and how different activities can be implemented without affecting the environment or at least with minimum impacts.
This is why it is important to involve everyone, educate and sensitize them and that’s what we are doing. But this is a process, of course, it involves the mindset change, to think beyond your boundaries as a sector and involve other sectors.
Another challenge is dealing with people that prioritize personal interests; what we call negative externalities where for example the cost of pollution from the industries affects the large community while the owner benefits from the production it generates. This is because I think you have seen us struggling with some industry owners who just want to maximize profits at the expense of society’s wellbeing.
But we have partnered with the institutions in charge, for example, Private Sector Federation for sensitization campaign.
We want people to own and understand that environmental protection is a responsibility for each one of us for our today and future generation.
How have you had to spread yourself and balance the demands of work and family?
Through good communication with my children and husband, this is very important. As a working wife, a mother and a manager, one has to develop a coping mechanism especially if you are the kind with a tight schedule. Working mothers really need to seek the help of husbands and housemaids if they are to maintain a work-life balance. But regardless of how busy I can get, I always find time for my family, this is very key.
I know as a mother, a wife, and manager, I have to balance the three responsibilities.
What type of reflection has leadership evoked in you as a woman?
That some things need to be delegated, for being a leader doesn’t make you an expert in everything. Therefore how you engage your staff and subordinates matters a lot because at times they have solutions that you wouldn’t have thought of.
We all have different capacities and capabilities but what I have learned, is to focus on the positive side of a person. Sometimes a person is not good at this but good at something else, so it is important to focus on one’s potential because this even helps in allotting them in the appropriate position.
What were your dreams as a young girl?
When I was a young girl, I liked science subjects; I was very good at mathematics and physics. My dream was to either become a doctor or engineer however in high school I didn’t like biology so this disqualified me from being a doctor. I hence pursued engineering, but the good thing I got married to a doctor and now I have the two combinations I wanted (laughs).
What advice would you give to the youth?
Children today seem to be very relaxed; they seem to think that they have everything. But they need to understand that those who brought this country to where it is now are getting old, we want people who will come and take this further. I am very worried they are so influenced by external forces, they are imitating the western culture yet what they need is an immersion in their own culture of which I think is the basis for them to be more passionate and patriotic in terms of developing this country.
How about those who seem to think that the grass is greener in western countries?
I remember the struggles we had to go through growing up as refugees, at times we had to deny who we were because we were scared of being denied opportunities. We didn’t think we could come back to Rwanda but we eventually did. And when I see these young people wishing for life in other countries, I just wish they know how we struggled to come back home and how it feels that now I am Rwandan living in my country. I count this as a special blessing.
What is it that you want to do in the next five years?
In my career, I want to do further training /studies to improve on my knowledge but also leadership, but I also want us (REMA) to do some publications because we have done a lot and it is important to measure what you have done, how we have achieved certain objectives and at what level.
We need documentation on the success stories that we have achieved and also to be able to transfer this to the next generation, something that people can also build and improve on.
We also want to be more strategic and introduce other tools that will help us manage better our environment and natural resource but most importantly ensuring whatever we do as an institution feeds well with government plans and global agenda like National Strategy for Transformation (NST) 1, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Paris Agreement, etc.