So the World Economic Forum for Africa is in town, bringing together the bright brains of our globe to ponder the future economic fortunes of our continent, and powering it with digital technology.
Rwanda needs this summit for inspiration and encouragement, seized as she is in a concerted campaign to extricate herself out of the sludge of squalor and strife, the bane of many an African country. She should put her best foot forward, then, to show these eminent visitors that their choice of venue was not in vain. That she is a worthy host and that what pulled them here, her swift economic turnaround, is for real.
What better way for Rwandans to demonstrate their hospitality than to give our visitors something to contemplate, as a souvenir?
When I think of a souvenir, I don’t think of the sighting of gorillas per se. Nor do I, giraffes, cleanliness, security, rolling hills, Intore dance, nor any of the others.
I think of a visit to the nursery, where ideas to value, effect and maintain the turnaround are incubated.
I think Umuganda: the practice and the discussions after.
So, it’s a pity that our visitors come in the middle of the month and not at the end, when Umuganda would be in session.
For then anyone of them would take a few hours off meetings and participate in Umuganda. With all of 14,8541 Midugudu (villages or, in towns, estates), wherein resides Umuganda, our visitors will split and each partake of the incubation, in their Umuganda. It’s here they’ll truly get the pulse of Rwandans, see what makes them tick, for a lasting souvenir.
In Umuganda gathering, they’ll be in the company of the head of state here, a businessman there, house-help, church priest, military’s wife, driver, government minister, civil servant, market vendor, on. That won’t be all.
There will be a Kenyan nyama-choma-eatery owner, visiting Swiss, Chinese chef, Brazilian business hound – generally, the whole jamboree. Topics under discussion will necessarily be as varied as the motley gathering.
Understandably, Umuganda in villages is not so diverse, but for sure it’s never mono-nationality.
Still, however, whatever topics, there is no end to repeating the values of the Rwandan culture.
After all, it’s thanks to its collective promotion that Banyarwanda performed something of a legal wonder, in their Gacaca court system. And it’s thanks to that that they have recreated Umuganda, regained their honour, courage, self-worth, self-confidence, courtesy, cleanliness, say it....
Talking of cleanliness, I recall the joke that went around during CHAN2016, this year hosted by Rwanda. It went that on visiting the ‘bathroom’ (American lingo), a Congolese official quipped that it was cleaner than some executive hotels back home!
The veracity of that aside, what’s important is to note how that self-effacing attitude (if it was) was a result of the general camaraderie that Rwandans strove to demonstrate. But I deviate....
Or do I? For it was that attention to cleanliness, order, courtesy and unfailing open invitation for friendship that endeared Rwandans to their Congolese sisters/brethren and their government. Of course, that courtesy ‘forgot’ to discriminate against Moïse Katumbi, now in opposition, and the Congolese government has reverted to its familiar turf of all sorts of false accusations.
Still, be that as it may, Rwandans filled up stadiums and cheered themselves hoarse for all teams, including the Congolese one that had handed them a humiliating defeat.
That conduct speaks volumes for the Rwandan culture generally. And Umuganda, in particular.
Culture which recalls another time, before the formalisation of Umugunda.
When the RPF/A was still in the trenches of Rwanda (1990 – 1994), fighting to liberate the country, it used to be that any foreign journalist visiting them was always left in a dilemma: how was it possible that everyone expressed the same vision for Rwanda, from lowly politician to big leader, foot fighter to top commander?
What the journalists didn’t know was that these liberators-to-be of this land functioned on the principle of Umuganda.
It didn’t have anything to do with fearing to deviate from an “iron hand’s line” then, as our visitors will have heard from foreign “experts”, and it doesn’t, today. It doesn’t, either, with “an iron-willed strongman consolidating indefinite rule”, as the fiction writer Ms Wrong is ‘wrong’ to have fictionalised recently, if our visitors had time to read such miscarriage of opinion.
It has everything to do with the power of transparency, consensus and unity of purpose, involving all and sundry, as incubated in Umuganda.
Excepting freak floods and landslides, possible to mitigate but mainly in the hands of Mother Nature, or a momentary women’s protest against a rogue attacker – condolences to beloved compatriots! –, human-induced death and disorder happening in this land is a remote call. So are xenophobic attacks as in Zambia recently; South Africa before that; riots as in London boroughs in 2011; bouts of looting as in Louisiana, USA, after Katrina in 2005.
However high-sounding any summit and their ‘digital’ topics, they’ll find a place in Umuganda.
It is the simple elixir to conflicts and poverty. Not bad for a lasting souvenir, eh, dear visitors?
A hearty welcome to the land of a thousand hills – and ten thousand chances!