Umushyikirano 2018: Seven things Rwandans want discussed

From December 13-14Rwandans will converge at the Kigali Convention Centre for the annual National Dialogue, commonly known as Umushyikirano, to discuss the most pressing issues affecting the country.

Last year the Umushyikirano discussed the National Strategy for Transformation, values for prosperity and the youth as the drivers of Rwanda’s transformation among other topics.

Umushyikirano is attended by central and local government officials, representatives of the Diaspora, the private sector, civil society, and diplomats, among others. During the two-day meeting, Rwandans directly engage leaders about the country’s challenges and opportunities.

The event is broadcast live on public radio and TV as well as streamed online with slots for call-in sessions. Ahead of this year’s edition, The New Times spoke to a cross section of Rwandans who weighed in on the issues they want discussed.

1. Children born with disability

Many parents do not understand that children born with disabilities need to be integrated in society instead of excluding them. Children born with disability continue to be restricted, they face prejudice and the stigma that comes with disability. There is need to drum up support and raise awareness that children with disabilities need to be supported to achieve their potential.

Clementine Uwitonze, a mother, entrepreneur and gospel musician, commonly known by her stage name, Tonzi, would be happy to see the issue of childhood disability given ample attention.

“We have to be specific when it comes to the community living with disability; make sure that from early child education, to adult age, they get special teaching systems, benefit equally and, in job creation we have integral programmes based on their knowledge level, market competition and incentives.”

2. Add value to coffee

With the country’s export volumes growing, Aloys Rubayiza, a coffee farmer and Managing Director of Rwanda Mountain Coffee, said his biggest challenge is adding value to coffee and earning more, instead of seeing Rwandan farmers and the economy in general losing from exporting tonnes of the raw materials.

READ ALSORwanda’s coffee exports set to surge

“For me the main challenge is to add value to green coffee beans. Think about coffee as a drink not as a commodity. If the government puts in effort and devises a clear plan it would earn 10 times what is currently earned from coffee exports,” Rubayiza said.

“The technology is there and easily accessible. Up to now you find that government has put efforts in coffee washing stations but the product from there is still a raw material; green coffee, fully washed. Its value increases by about 20 to 40 per cent only compared to prices of coffees that don’t go through washing stations. The investment required is big compared to what you earn from it.”

“Our western friends just come here and take loads of raw coffee at very low giveaway prices and go add value from abroad yet we can do this ourselves. Right now, about 80 per cent of Rwandan coffee is bought by three big international companies and they buy it from the farms, at very low prices. But this [value addition] is a programme that requires government muscle as an individual investor cannot manage. Advocacy is required here.”

3. Unemployment

One of the challenges is lack of access to capital. Financial institutions demand security when sourcing for financing which many of the unemployed do not have. The dialogue should look at ways of easing access to finance as away of dealing with unemployment.

4. State of the media

Any developing country needs a vibrant media sector. There have been some positives over the last decade or so but the state of the media remains challenging.  There should be a conversation on how to make the media sector more vibrant and lucrative. What can be done to create more avenues for financial sustainability for the media and attract investment? What can we do to have a media sector that represents the interests of the citizens?

A commissioner with the media self-regulatory body said more people have to be involved in this discussion. “As someone who is in the media, I believe we can have a national conversation on this because a vibrant, financially stable media sector is good for the country and for us all.”

5. Lower energy costs, increase access

Teddy Kaberuka, an economist, says the steps made toward easing access to electricity are still worth talking about and planning better.

He said: “The Ministry of Infrastructure should plan more on increasing electricity production as well as lowering the cost. The price of energy is very important, both for businesses and homes or family.”

6. Tax on immovable property

Another priority that should be discussed during the Umushyikirano is the newly set tax rates on immovable property.

Last December, the Government tabled before parliament a draft law that revised the 2011 law establishing sources of revenue and property of decentralised entities and governing their management.

READ ALSOHow realistic are proposals in property tax bill?

The legislation introduced taxes on immovable property such as land and buildings, and this is something Rwandans were not used to. Also introduced was an additional tax to discourage inefficient land use and undeveloped plots of land. Months later, the law was passed with some amendments.

Kaberuka, said: “There is a new policy on land and building taxation; the tax level is high and if we are in the logic of building the economic capacity of citizens we need to increase their disposable income and allow them to invest more.”

“If tax rates are high we are not helping increase disposable income. Citizens will not be able to save and invest. So, this new policy needs to be discussed and, if there is a way, it can be reduced again.”

7. Keeping culture alive everywhere

Gisèle Nubuhoro, a Rwandan living in Germany, is passionate about promoting the Rwandan culture, in and outside the country.

She believes the 2018 Umushyikirano would be a good platform for such a discussion.

“I am Rwandan who got a chance to meet people from different cultures. I wish Rwandan culture could be more promoted and sustained. The values of Rwandan culture need to be kept alive everywhere; through embassies and consulates: teaching Kinyarwanda, for instance, or having a department in charge of culture.

“The Rwandan culture related to gestures, behaviour toward a stranger such as being polite has to be valued, promoted and sustained. Many events related to Rwandan culture should take place regularly.”