Eugene Kayibanda is the founder of Isirabo Gakondo Uwemeyaze (I.G.U), a non-governmental organization that seeks to promote and re-instate traditional Rwandan culture and values over modern practices.
The organization’s mission, he says, is to “restore the dignity and honesty of Rwandans” as it was before the influence of foreign cultures. Sunday Times’ Moses Opobo caught up with him at the organization’s head offices in Nyabugogo market…
Briefly, who is Eugene Kayibanda?
I was born in 1960, in the Western Province. My father died when I was just five years old. Before his death he worked in Bukavu, in the Eastern DRC, at a place called Taxi Kivu. One day in 1965 when he came visiting, he was attacked and severely beaten by some neighbors in an act of ethnic violence. He died after six months in hospital.
I was left with a sister and my mother, who placed in the care of an aunt in another district very far away.
Life was okay because I was put in good hands. My aunt and her family took me in as their own son and this made me forget about the past and the loss of my father.
When time for school came, I left and went to Bukavu, where I joined Bukavu SS. I then left Bukavu and went to Kamanyura SS, in North Kivu.
After secondary school, I came to Kigali to stay with my grandfather, who was later killed in the 1994 genocide against Tutsi
What’s your professional experience?
Most of my professional life, I have worked as a store keeper for different organizations.
From 1989-1996 I was a store keeper at ‘La Rwandaise s.a.’ Between 1996 and 1997, I was a store keeper at Manumetal s.a, and then in 1997, I was back at La Rwandaise in the same job. I also worked at SOGERWA and GTZ-TOR (UNHCRL), and at Forever Living Products Rwanda.
Tell us about Isirabo Gakondo Uwemeyaze
We were registered on in march last year as an NGO under the National Non Governmental Organizations’ Act, and our mission is to restore dignity and honesty to all Rwandans, because that was one of our first culture values.
Like many other African countries, Rwanda has a terrible past, in that colonialism distorted and changed our traditional Rwandan setting. More importantly, this colonisation left us deeply divided amongst ourselves because of the policy of divide and rule.
Our organisation is attempting to renew traditional Rwandan religions and customs like marriage, and use of traditional medicine. For instance, the marriage scene today is dominated by expensive weddings and wearing of wedding rings has become the new symbol of marriage. In the past, a woman would wear a ribbon around her head to show that she is newly married.
Today, people wear a rosary around their necks for protection from evil spells, but in the past people used to wear beads around their waists.
We put effort in awakening the history of Rwanda using documentary films (audio-visual), and books or documents.
We teach beneficiaries how to make and use traditional tools, including baskets, winnowing baskets, deep dish, milk gourds, straws etc.
We further teach people about traditional Rwandan wedding ceremonies, and promote acts to remember Rwandan ancestors.
For as low as Rwf50.000, we can arrange a simple traditional Rwandan wedding.
What is your organizational structure?
The organization is made up of 300 members, mostly students. We choose mostly students because these are the young generation who are most exposed to foreign cultures.
We are mandated to conduct our activities on the whole territory of the Republic of Rwanda.
Isirabo Gakondo Uwemeyaze is made up of three types of members: Founder members, adherent members, and honorary members.
Founder members are those who signed the constitution, while adherent members are any natural or legal persons who subscribed to the constitution and were approved by the General Assembly.
Honorary members are any natural or legal persons who are interested in the objectives of the organization and support its activities both materially and morally.