Members of faith-based organisations and local and international NGOs have called on the Government to revise the framework within which the country carries out communal activities, Umuganda, to improve its efficiency and attract more citizenry participation.
The request was made, Thursday, during a consultative meeting that brought together representatives of civil society and officials from the Ministry of Local Government to discuss several issues that would make the traditional communal activities “bigger and better.”
Civil society groups say the planning of Umuganda should be done in a way that a certain community agree on activities for a particular period of time.
This, they say, will allow for proper forecast of what is to be done and how it could significantly contribute to socio-economic transformation of the community.
Bishop Jean Faustin Gapira, head of Federation of Pentecostal Reformed Churches in Rwanda, said there’s sort of “laxity” growing among the populace, especially the youth, whom he said do not seem to understand the significance of Umuganda.
“Some faith-based organisations are also not taking this activity seriously,” he said.
Drawing an example from the recent mudslides in Gakenke District that claimed about 30 people and left over 1,300 people homeless, Gapira argued: “In such instances where a certain community has been hit by a natural disaster, as a nation, we can always come together and contribute resources to help such people as a unit. But this can only be successful if monthly and special communal activities are planned ahead of time.”
He also reiterated the need for strict measures to penalise those who do not participate in Umuganda, as well as calling on the Government to set up grassroots committees to monitor the implementation of the communal activities.
The Head of the Muslim community in Rwanda, Sheikh Salim Hitimana, said it seemed some people were just doing Umuganda for the sake of “fear” to be penalised, while paying little attention to the significant of the cause.
“There is a need for increased sensitisation for people to own the process and know that this activity goes beyond the monthly gatherings but rather a noble contribution to the social and economic transformation of our country,” said Hitimana.
He added that community leaders should communicate details of Umuganda programme in time to allow people know where the activity will take place.
“Proper planning for Umuganda will increase the level of participation and scope of coverage,” Hitimana added.
Vincent Munyeshyaka, state minister in charge of socio-economic development in the Ministry of Local Government, said the meeting was intended to help policy makers gather right information from stakeholders for “proper” planning and implementation process of Umuganda.
“This is indeed the right time to put things right with all stakeholders; this is a time for policy makers to check ourselves and see how best we can plan and resent the outlines for better implementation.
He said it is imperative that every citizen participate in communal work, “because it is through these activities that the government gets citizens’ views regarding several public issues as well as have citizen participation in governance.”
Munyeshyaka also faulted urban residents on being less enthusiastic about the community initiative compared to compatriots in the countryside.
“We have heard that some households apparently hire casual labourers to represent them during communal work. This is wrong! People should own this activity for communal transformation,” said the minister.
Umuganda in numbers
According to Munyeshyaka, last year, the activities conducted through umuganda are valued at Rwf19 billion, while the projection for this year is for the activities to account for at least Rwf20 billion.
Normally, Umuganda is held on the last Saturday of the month is supposed be engaged in by citizens between the ages of 18 and 65.
Non-compliance of eligible citizens attracts a fine of Rwf5,000.
However, there is an exception for Seventh Day Adventists, who engage in the activity on Sunday.
“Last year, about 91 per cent of the population participated in Umuganda. If we can get the remaining 9 per cent of the population on board, then this activity will contribute a lot to the national budget,” Minister Munyeshyaka said.