Linking culture, work and development

As we mark the International Labour Day, it is important to recall that before the colonial era, all aspects of work in Rwanda were inspired by its cultural values.

As we mark the International Labour Day, it is important to recall that before the colonial era, all aspects of work in Rwanda were inspired by its cultural values.

How can we then use those values in order to achieve the sustainable development the government aspires for today?


Before we even try to respond to the question, it is imperative that we properly define culture and work before delving into what and how they can contribute to a sustainable development.


In general, a culture is a set of practical symbols that characterise a people in a particular country, a community, and all the way down to a family.


These symbols are manifested through values such as Kirazira (dos and don’ts), way of life, behaviour, personal beliefs, etc.

It is in this regard, therefore, that one can conclude that culture combines creative arts, agriculture, and others that help Rwandans to strive.

Rwandans are traditionally known for their generosity, working collectively through Umuganda (communal work, derived from one of the traditional hut’s pillars) that usually denoted a whole day volunteering to help a friend or neighbour to complete a task that one person could not otherwise be able to carry out alone and in time.

Other values related to work were fighting procrastination (ubunebwe), working hard, delivering on time, competing constructively, striving for excellence and always coming up with creative innovations.

In addition, Rwandans were always there for oneother, in happiness or sorrow, as well as regular visits to check on one another’s well-being.

In fact, all these collaborative and caring ethos cited above reflected the local phrases like;“Kubaho ni Ukubana”, “Abantu ni magirirane” ( both literaly translated to mean solidarity).

Therefore, based on the above, in Rwanda, a job should be understood as a set of activities and responsibilities closely guided by the Rwandan cultural values such as delivering with care and commitment in order to support the worker effectively while serving the common good.

However, nowadays, since the world has become a global village, to be able to survive in that considerably enlarged and complex market, it is impossible to imagine a successful project or an activity with no clear plan or effective use of technology.

In order to prepare Rwandans to deal with these dynamics, the national leadership has been actively mobilising people to adapt to the new realities and adopt a new mindset, make the most of good cultural values and drop retrogressive ones, exploit available opportunities, embrace technology and be open minded.

Some of the examples of programmes that were revived and improved to encourage Rwandans to think in that direction include Imihigo (performance contracts), Girinka, Ubudehe, Hanga Umurimo (social protection programmes) and Umuganda

These schemes have indeed proven to be a catalyst for faster economic progress and a source of improved livelihoods, self-sufficiency (Kwigira) and dignity, commonly known as Agaciro

The writer is a cultural expert and a member of Inteko Izirikana, an elders forum.

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