Umushyikirano: a unique practice of democracy

Toward the end of each year, Rwanda hosts a two-day national dialogue that brings together various stakeholders to discuss matters that are of importance to the country’s development and the wellbeing of the Rwandan people.

The convention is a home-grown solution referred to as Umushyikirano.

The sessions are chaired by the Head of State with participation from the private sector, grassroots leaders, national leaders, civil society and members of the Diaspora. They get to sit together and deliberate on the country’s priorities.

The 2018 edition of Umushyikirano, scheduled for December 13 – 14, is expected to host over 2,000 delegates with thousands more following online or through live broadcasts.

The sessions are highly interactive, with participants both at the event and those following online able to share ideas, challenge conceptions, propose solutions, raise concerns and even pitch business ventures.

To enable participation from a wider audience, slots for social media contributions and phone-in sessions are provided for. And, with the majority of the population being youth who consume content using their mobile phones, there is no better way to hear directly from them. 

Many have also used Umushyikirano to hold those in authority accountable for issues that need to be addressed and have either been ignored or poorly addressed.

One can strongly argue that such accountability carried out openly and in a very transparent manner, has contributed toward having an efficient government; not one single leader would want to be called out or put on the spot for non-performance.

The resolutions that are drawn from Umushyikirano are concrete goals aiming at accelerating the development of the country and its citizens’ welfare.

More importantly, it is how these resolutions are reached that makes the national dialogue a successful and unique practice that fosters democracy.

Umushyikirano is not only essential to Rwanda’s participatory democracy but is also key to actively engaging the population in efforts to build the “Rwanda We Want” as stipulated in the country’s development blueprint – Vision 2050.

When ordinary citizens have their say on the country’s governance, when ordinary citizens participate in the drawing of the national agenda, when ordinary citizens have access to national opportunities and equitably share the available resources, they collectively and willingly drive the country’s development journey.

Such buy-in is a great boost towards achieving of the set targets.

That is why the dates of December 13-14, 2018 are instrumental in the determination to succeed as a nation.

Among the things Rwanda has learned from recent experiences is that democracy is not only about going to the polls, but also continuous citizen participation in all aspects of governance.

The Post-Independence Rwanda remained an unknown country on the international scene. Later, this landlocked country at the heart of Africa came to be known negatively due to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed more than 1 million lives in only 100 days. 

Today, 25 years after the liberation of the country by the RPF Inkotanyi, the country has metamorphosed into a highly respected nation. Against all odds, it has risen to achieve a lot, be it in development, unity, and security to mention but a few. 

All Rwandan children have access to free education, life expectancy has gone up and universal healthcare is now a dream come true. All of these milestones have been achieved through engineered home-grown solutions deeply rooted in the richness of the Rwandan culture.

One of the key values not usually talked about is Rwanda’s original, people-centered democracy. It also constitutes the backbone of the 3 main pillars of RPF Inkotanyi in rebuilding the nation through a people-centered leadership.

As far as democracy is concerned, Umushyikirano remains a rare and distinctive tool of Rwanda’s true participatory democracy; that we Rwandans should be proud of.

Prof. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, a former Prime Minister of Rwanda, is a Political Science Expert, while Patrice Habinshuti is an International Development Expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the authors.