The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) this year on June 8 adopted Umuganda – a Rwandan traditional community work exercise revived in the interest of national reconstruction – to clean the South Sudanese capital, Juba, internally displaced camps, and other areas.
Umuganda takes its root from Rwanda’s culture of self-reliance and cooperation. It’s replication by the blue berets in South Sudan, according to UNMISS leadership, is meant to make mission camps and surroundings of Juba and IDP camps cleaner, greener, healthier and more environmentally efficient.
The Government of Rwanda reintroduced the practice 21 years ago, in 1998, as one of the country’s home grown solutions to reinforce socio-economic development as well as promote the use of cultural resources to supplement other available resources to fast-track national development.
Lt Gen. Mushyo Kamanzi (2nd L) greats other peacekeepers in South Sudan where he was until recently the Force Commander of UNMISS. Courtesy.
In August 2004, 10 years after stopping the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and liberating the country, the first Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) peacekeepers (155 soldiers) set foot in Sudan under what was then the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS).
The mission was at the time under the auspices of the continent body, the African Union.
The peacekeepers, the first from the continent to intervene and try to curtail the humanitarian catastrophe that was boiling in Sudan’s Darfur region, got their boots on ground armed with, among others, determination to ensure what had happened to Rwanda in 1994, would not happen on their watch.
Bit by bit, they worked with others to revolutionise the concept of peacekeeping.
Rwanda’s distinctive approach to peacekeeping – in exporting the country’s home-grown initiatives like Umuganda – has included the establishment and or renovation, in foreign lands, of numerous socio-economic facilities such as schools and health centres, among others.
Rwanda has engaged in peacekeeping for the past 15 years. / Courtesy
This has been witnessed in Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Abei region and in far-flung countries like Haiti where Rwanda National Police maintains a contingent of peacekeepers, among others.
The peacekeepers have also exported the annual Army Week Medical Outreach programme that provides thousands of Rwandans with free medical care, and infrastructure such as roads, bridges and health centres built for hard-up communities, in foreign lands.
Wherever they are based, Rwanda’s peacekeepers have been commended as exemplary as witnessed in medals contingent after contingent have received among other commendations by host communities and top-most leaders at the UN level.
It was, therefore, no isolated incident when on June 8, during the launch of a communal exercise UNMISS leadership, all Police, military and civilian peacekeepers from various UN contributing nations cleaned streets, removed plastic bags and littered bottles, and planted trees, in Juba and other towns.
The exercise, which was in line with the World Environmental Day, marked the launch of the “Environmental Sustainability Policy Statement” and “Umuganda Cleanliness Campaign,” which will be conducted every month just as it is done back home in Rwanda.
Peacekeepers will always refurbish road networks, water channels, building shelter for disadvantaged families, plant trees and fight soil erosion, among others.
RDF peacekeepers in South Sudan during Umuganda where they introduced the Kitchen Garden concept that is popular in Rwanda. / Courtesy
The Rwanda National Police (RNP) first got involved in UN peace support operations in 2005.
And, just like the RDF, Rwandan police officers serving in UN peacekeeping missions are highly appreciated for their professionalism. They are also principled ambassadors everywhere they go.
Despite difficult working conditions, Rwandan peacekeepers have professionally discharged their mandated tasks, always keeping the Rwandan flag high. Rwanda’s commitment to maintaining international peace and security is based on a firm belief that the international community has a responsibility to prevent conflict and act when confronted with challenges to the same.
Much is influenced by events 25 years ago when the international community failed to intervene and protect Rwandans during the Genocide.
In May 2018, UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarked that it is particularly commendable that a nation – Rwanda – that endured the worst atrocities should risk its soldiers to ensure those atrocities cannot happen elsewhere.
Rwanda National Police peacekeepers arrive at Kigali International Airport from tour of duty in South Sudan. / Courtesy
Today, UN military personnel – the Blue Helmets on the ground – consist of more than 90,000 military personnel contributed by national armies from across the globe. They work alongside UN Police and civilian colleagues to promote stability, security, and peace processes to promote lasting peace.
As of April 30, 2019 UN figures indicate that Rwanda was the second largest UN troop contributing county in the world, with a sum total of 6,546 military and police personnel.
The first is Ethiopia with 7,499, while third and fourth are Bangladesh, 6,487 and India, 6,319, in that order.
By and large, the manner in which Rwanda participates in international peacekeeping missions is a measure of the nation’s commitment to world peace. Its peacekeepers do not only continuously endeavour to maintain the highest levels of discipline. They focus so much on protecting civilians whose lives are at risk.
Rwanda’s approach is also highlighted by the manner in which the country is at the forefront in advocating for improvements in the UN peacekeeping modus operandi; focusing more on the protection of civilians.
Today, the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians – a non-binding set of pledges to implement certain best practices in peacekeeping – which were ratified in 2015 in Kigali are being given attention by peacekeeping contributors.
They were issued at the conclusion of a High-Level International Conference on the Protection of Civilians held in Rwanda on May 28 and 29, 2015.
A Rwandan peacekeeper being decorated in Central African Republic. / Courtesy
Among others, Kigali maintains that if they are to be more effective, peace support operations must be judged in the context of the evolving international geopolitical situation rather than on the basis of the legal texts of the UN charter.
According to RDF Spokesperson Lt. Col. Innocent Munyengango, Rwandan peacekeepers go to peace support operations committed to do a good job.
Munyengango said: “Commitment calls for peacekeepers and their commanders to be equipped with the requisite will and pledge to risk their lives for the sake of humanity. Rwanda remains committed to giving its contribution towards achieving global peace. It is in this regard that the RDF participates in UN missions.
“Our troops don’t only support attainment of sustainable peace and security in affected countries but also have been at the forefront in advocating for necessary improvements in UN peacekeeping modus operandi focusing more on the protection of civilians.”
The RDF maintains five infantry battalions, a mechanised infantry battalion, a mechanized infantry battle group, an aviation unit, a level II hospital, staff officers, liaison officers and military observers, in support of five UN missions.
As the country celebrates the 25th anniversary of the liberation, or Kwibohora 25, it is this resilience that the RDF whose precursor, the Rwandese Patriotic Army, stopped the Genocide against the Tutsi, continue to characterize them and according to them, remain their guiding principle to attain mission objective, wherever they are deployed.