Umuganda spirit could be the key to a happy world

At home, we got more than humbled when we saw a neighbor come home with a gift from her harvest. It’s a customary courtesy, said she, to share with neighbors when one gets to harvest.

So, what’s the big deal, you’ll wonder, don’t people everywhere share gifts? That, however, will be because you don’t know the lady and where she and we are coming from.

The lady is a single mother of three little ones, having recently lost a husband in a freak fishing accident, and they live on a plot of land belonging to somebody else who’ll develop it later.

The family is sustained by government with a monthly stipend like all vulnerable families and individuals in this country. That means also paying school fees for their children as well as covering them with Mituelles de Santé, the community health insurance scheme.

It means, moreover, that she is on the waiting list of those to benefit from free housing, having only missed the chance the other day. It won’t be anything near the hovel she occupies, either.

If you’ve seen one of these model villages government is rolling out in the whole country, you know the habitation involves fully furnished, airy-multi-roomed village and city houses.

That every citizen must live in decent habitation is a call this government holds as one of its raisons d’être.

And while on the topic, it begs mention that we are coming from a past where government-sponsored citizens to hunt and exterminate part of its citizens and where that customary courtesy had been completely trashed. As countries go, Rwanda today is a total howl-over.

“Total howl-over” in the sense that, where in the past individuals and groups competed among themselves to see who would eliminate whom, and government targeted some groups for extermination, too, today it’s all hand hands on deck for all to advance together.

They are working together, in tandem with and supported by government, for national development.

So, much as that lady went around sharing her little harvest, the whole mudugudu (village or housing estate) had always been supportive of her and other equally poor families.

That’s how the whole mudugudu (Kibaya in Kamashashi, Nyarugunga) rose to the occasion and pooled resources to support the lady at the time of her bereavement.

And that’s not all. The people are not eager to work with their government only but also with government agencies and even private organisations or companies.

That’s how, to quote Umudugudu Kibaya again, when this country’s water utility under the ministry of infrastructure, WASAC (Water and Sanitation Corporation, Ltd.), was strapped for resources, overwhelmed by the work of providing water everywhere in the country at the same time, the residents took up the gauntlet and chipped in.

And bingo! Water everywhere in the estate.

With the corporation’s ready assistance, the residents pooled resources to fix the water supply for their area. That was not all, either, because the families that were not connected to the water utility were not left out; they were provided with a bore-hole and given other forms of help.

Mind you, this is only quoting one estate out of the many estates of Kigali city and, lest you forget, we have not mentioned the many towns that dot this whole country.

Which should not lull you into forgetting that the same and similar are happening in villages the country over.

Rwandans all over have learnt, to slightly distort the saying of an American president, “to ask not what the government can do for them but also what they can do for and with the government”. In a word, to work in partnership with government for overall development.

And the same applies for government corporations as well as private companies.

That’s the miracle that consensus politics has birthed for this country that may be incomprehensible to a foreigner.

And so when citizens don’t rise up to fight for their right of getting, for instance, the supply of water that they pay for, it’ll be because they’ve opted for dialogue to together get to a consensus. And with that, you’ll see no demonstrations, strikes, et al.

Which, to any foreigner who is too lazy to get to the bottom of how so, will be put to totalitarianism, dictatorship, gagging of free thought, stamping down on dissent, say it.

They will not begin to comprehend the fact of it all stemming from the spirit of umuganda.

It is this spirit of umuganda, the Kinyarwanda word that’s now understood globally, even if its essence is not exactly equally perceived, that, I dare hazard, President Kagame tries to sell to all his fellow Africans, if not the world at large.

“Increasingly,” said President Kagame at the opening of the third YouthConnekt Africa Summit in Kigali, “integrating countries from across the continent and creating connections among citizens will make Africa an ideal home for all.”

This was said for the continent of Africa as it can be said of any single country, any other continent and even the entire globe. And as a globe, what a happy world we can make!

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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