Culture is intangible and yet defines people’s identity through the values and taboos they champion and decry, respectively.
These values have an impact on the thought processes, what people understand as bad or good and, therefore, determine their responses accordingly.
It determines what they eat, wear, attend to, talk about, appreciate, or even scorn at.
It defines hierarchy of respect, fear and love. It defines relationships and basis of trust and cooperation. Taboos and values become social laws of contract; for example the cow culture; where a bond borne of cow-giving in the Rwandan culture transcends everything.
Such relations are expressed in cultural practices, birth, marriage or even death.
Since globalisation connects people culturally through creative industry and supra-national governance structures, systems, procedures and practices, dominant societies may, as we have witnessed, be tempted to impose their value systems to the less developed parts of the world.
This does pose a danger of discontinuous development, exclusion, marginalisation, inequality and inevitably conflicts.
Equitable and sustainable development demands full participation of all citizens. For this to happen, culture has to be mainstreamed in all development policies and strategies of a nation.
We see examples of this in Far East countries like India, China, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea, where people, through their culture, are given space to choose what best suits them.
This promotes ownership of development and, therefore, raises the level of sacrifices that they have to make today for better livelihoods tomorrow.
It releases their creative juices, innovations and advances in creative industries through music, dance, drama, films and instruments with an assured internal market.
Renowned scholar Ali Mazrui once said, “one strategy for Africa’s development to transcend its state of under development is to follow a policy of indigenisation.”
What he meant is that there should be greater utilisation of the indigenous approaches and techniques to development, wherever applicable.
That way, less effort and time is lost in the introduction of a novel development programme.
I am sure it has been the foundation for the homegrown solutions and programmes we have seen bearing equitable benefits for the people of Rwanda.
We see the phenomenon in governance where Kujyinama (dialogue) is the basis of Rwandan democratic practice.
At the central level, we have Inama y’Umushyikirano (National Dialogue), which annually brings together all national leaders in all organs of the State.
At the grassroots levels, Njyanama, that fully embodies the value of kujya inama (dialoguing), which informs the policy decisions made in the interest of the people.
This week, we are going to celebrate Umuganura festivities, the annual harvest fete.
This is a cultural practice that went on for generations during the pre-colonial period and this had an enormous social, economic and political value for the Nation State of Rwanda.
For generations, at homesteads, chiefdoms and national level, people would get together and celebrate the harvest through sharing the fruits of their labour.
This sharing was great for cementing social cohesion and fostered the spirit of belonging and strengthened kinship and national identity – Ubunyarwanda.
During Umuganura, evaluation of the year’s harvest would be undertaken through an open discussion, and strategies would be drawn to ensure increased production.
Such solutions to prevailing problems would be reproduced in songs that would be danced to through the celebrations. Seeds for planting would be distributed.
At the household level, such ceremonies were presided over by the clan leader and at the national level by the king (Umwami).
This practice had a political value as it cemented the relationship between the people and their leaders, thereby ensuring a people-centered governance system.
This social, economic and political cultural practice was one of the strategies for nation building and development.
We are told that it was institutionalised in the 9th century.
What is very well known is that King Ruganzu II Ndoli (1510-1543) greatly popularised it after liberating Rwanda from Abanyabungo before the colonialists banned it in 1925 after branding it “a symbol of paganism”.
It is interesting to note that it was later re-introduced in the Church; not as a function of sharing and planning development though, but one to give tithe to the Lord.
A culture from elsewhere that we honour and obey today without asking why the Lord would want it and how he would get it!
Thankfully, in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, that aspires to transform Africa socially and economically, culture is put at the centre of transformation.
Aspiration #5 aims at “an Africa with a strong cultural identity; values and ethics”.
It is planned that Africa will by then be a continent where Pan-Africanism is fully entrenched and the African cultural renaissance very preeminent.
It is apt that this year’s Umuganura festival will be celebrated alongside FESPAD, a Pan-African festival that showcases cultural dances/performances.
This gives the African peoples a chance to engage culturally, make new relationships that will help convey the message that Africans have a common destiny and a future they have to work together to create.
The writer is the Chairperson, Pan African Movement, Rwanda Chapter.