Inside the programme shaping Rwanda’s future leaders

The values and qualities of good leadership is what every country would like to instil in its youth. For Rwanda, there is a programme that is designed to do just that. It’s called Indangamirwa.
Itorero trainees who attended the 10th edition of the Indangamirwa series march on their graduation day in July last year. Courtesy.

Leadership is a topic the world is grappling with. The values and qualities of good leadership is what every country would like to instil in its youth. For Rwanda, there is a programme that is designed to do just that. It’s called Indangamirwa. It is derived from a Kinyarwanda word that can be translated to mean role models.

According to one Kinyarwanda expert, Indangamirwa are people that are looked up to and are exemplary to the society.

The New Times spent a day at the training centre to give our readers an insight into the highly-coveted programme that is now in its 11th edition.

At a few minutes past 9 a.m., on a Tuesday morning, we are ushered into the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) Combat Training Centre Gabiro, located in Gatsibo district.

Over 560 young men and women are seated in a spacious hall, keenly listening to a lecture from Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Bayingana. He is the Vice Chairman of the National Itorero Commission.

The commission conducts this training for a wide range of Rwandans. These trainees are under Indangamirwa is one of them. There are others, depending on their careers.

The Indangamirwa is specifically for youth in Diaspora or those planning on studying abroad.

Bayingana is speaking about Rwanda’s cultural and political history, post and pre-colonial Rwanda and then giving details of the country’s vision.

These young men and women are key to not only achieving the vision but also making sure that the ongoing journey remains on track. A lot of progress has been made and key to sustaining the progress is how well the future generations understand what it takes.

The story of Rwanda’s history seems to fascinate the youthful audience going by the curiosity on faces as they listen to Bayingana speak.

Two hours can be short if you are paying attention to interesting tales from the past and the ambitious journey ahead.

But it’s time for a short break for the young men and women, they stretch, have a quick bite rush to the bathroom and they are back for the second lecture of the day.

This time it’s the educator-in-chief – Dr Eugene Mutimura.

As Minister for Education, he is responsible for ensuring that Rwandan people have the necessary skills to implement the country’s transformation agenda. He knows too well that Education is key to the country attaining its vision.

Of course, the ministry cannot do it alone and needs ambassadors. His lecture for the day was on the country’s pursuit for an inclusive and competency-based curriculum.

Rwanda is striving for a knowledge-based society to drive the economy.

The minister needs young Rwandans to understand why this is important and what role they can play in achieving the targets. The session is interactive and engaging and they get to share their ideas with minister Mutimura.

In an interview with The New Times, minister Mutimura said that the course has helped the youth to have a common understanding of the Rwandan history, identity, and values—considered essential tools—that would help them forge a better life and a better nation for the generations to come.

It was enriching to hear of innovations and plans they will not only enhance their careers but also benefit of the country and the Rwandan people as well.

The deliberations are in Kinyarwanda, which may not be easy for some of the participants from the diaspora.

But the sheer determination to learn and master their mother tongue is proof of the desire to be part of Rwanda’s journey.

One can strongly argue that the raison d’etre of the Itorero is to ensure that Rwandans are in sync with their country, culture, and values of which Kinyarwanda is part of.

One of the participants is Chelsea Uwera Kayihura, 18, a Rwandan whose family lives in Denmark.

Kayihura has lived in Denmark since she was young and this was her first trip to Rwanda in six years.

This time she returned to the country, not for a family holiday but specifically to attend the Itorero - Indangamirwa series.

“Coming back to the country, specifically for Itorero, is very important because, in my every-day life in Denmark, the Rwandan culture isn’t really a part of it—I don’t get to experience a lot about my culture. Living in Rwanda and with Rwandans is the only way I can get it,” she says.

“When I come here, I get to take part in some of the things I am missing out while in Denmark. It is very important for my mom as well for me to come here and learn the culture better.”

“Kinyarwanda that is spoken here is a little more complicated than what I hear from my mom but I have new friends who help with translation,” Kayihura adds.

It is coming to the end of the five-week training and Kayihura is already looking forward to traveling back home with a purpose to convince her Rwandan peers in Denmark to attend next year’s intake.

“I definitely would encourage my friends to come and be part of this training. This is very important for the continuity of our culture but also to meet with people who you can relate to in so many ways to understand yourself better,” she argues.

For Kayihura, the Itorero has not only given her a better understanding of Rwanda, but also made her a better person.

“For the first time, I have learned to be mentally and physically strong. It [Itorero] is an experience that gets to strengthen the physical and emotional aspects of life. You learn to challenge yourself more,” she said.   

Indangamirwatraining series is now in its 11th edition. Participants are between the ages of 18 and 35. It is for the young Rwandans who live, have lived abroad or plan on going out of Rwanda for school.

There are a few exceptions. The best performing Senior Six science students from public schools also get to take part in the training.

So far, more than 3,000 young men and women have taken part in the training and, according to Minister Mutimura, more are set to benefit.

“The country is building on those numbers (of trainees) to ensure that all Rwanda youth who finish secondary school have an opportunity to undergo similar training so that they develop several aspects of Rwandan values which are very important to build within them leadership skills,” Mutimura said.

Joshua Melis, from Antwerp, Belgium, is a  young man who was born outside Rwanda but decided to take part in this year’s edition to get a better connection to his Rwandan roots.

He is learning to speak Kinyarwanda and loves to sing Kinyarwanda songs.

“My mom and cousins asked me to come here,  my Kinyarwanda is improving,” Melis says.

But to him, there is a lot more that has changed since he enrolled in the training.

“The most important lesson has been discipline; I don’t need to be told what to do anymore. I can now take initiatives; I wake up early (to do jogging), I know a little bit about the military and the culture too. I know how Rwandans sing and dance. A lot has changed about me so far,” Melis says.

As part of the training, the participants also get to learn basic military drills.

The training, organisers say, further equips Rwandan youth who plan to go study abroad with skills and knowledge to understand global dynamics. They take courses in patriotism, prejudice and discrimination so as to make them better global citizens.

Hana Christa Rubenga, a Senior Six graduate who plans to study abroad, told The New Times that when her parents asked her to sign up for the training, she was not sure of what to expect.

“My first days were quite gloomy but, as days went by, I started loving it.  I was taught what Rwanda is really about,” Rubenga said.

Because of the training programme, she says, you get to understand your country so much more.

“You really develop a certain love for your country that I have never had in my entire life,” Rubenga said.

The course will end on August 5 and one of the requirements before graduation is to set goals on how they plan to implement what they have learned.

Going by the testimonies of previous graduates, there is no doubt that Itorero is a transformation programme for young Rwandans.

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