A group of journalists, artistes, sportsmen and women had a privilege of meeting President Paul Kagame, recently. I was lucky to be part of the group that took part in this interactive gathering.
I call it interactive because not so many times do we get to meet and engage with the President outside our duties- whether journalists, artistes or even the members of the sports industry. For this particular interaction, we shared experiences and raised some of the issues that we thought should be further addressed.
This, to me indicated how much the President himself values every sector of the economy. From his remarks, you would tell that he’s so passionate about seeing every Rwandan grow to their potential. The meeting reaffirmed his commitment and the government’s support to the media, sports and creative industries. He pledged his continued support and advised that we can only improve ourselves if we had discipline, strength and humility.
This came weeks after we had completed the national Itorero Programme for local journalists, the second batch of its kind. The President’s remarks echoed what we had learnt during the seven days we spent at Nkumba Peace and Leadership Training Centre.
What we learnt is what every Rwandan who’s passionate about his culture, tradition, his country should be acquainted with. The discipline, the understanding of the contribution that every citizen has, is what we were being trained to have regardless of who we were.
I remember the lecture by Minister for Defence James Kabarebe about the liberation struggle, sharing the experience of those who were on the frontline of the liberation struggle trying to bring back the rights of the people. It was clear that it required courage and strength even in the heart of the deepest recession of the lives of those who were fighting for their country.
After all, the majority of the people whom I met would ask me whether someone should go for Itorero in order to learn the real Rwandan values, and the answer was always yes, without any doubt because then I knew what it meant.
But initially, just like the majority of media practitioners, I hardly believed I had to go for Itorero to be able to learn what my values should be. All I had thought was it is more of a brainwashing course. It’s not true at all.
Building sense of leadership
At National Ubutore Development Centre (NUDC) we had a series of activities all of which challenged our conventional understanding about what we already believed in. Every time, we would be given practical exercises (Imikorongiro) it would take us hours to come up with a plan on how to execute them, because every single one of us wanted to be a leader. Yet, all the physical exercises we undertook required critical thinking and to have a leader who coordinates the entire group. In addition, we had limited time and we were all competing against each group (Isibo).
This taught us the sense of leadership required in every institution to be able to achieve immense results. It wouldn’t have been possible to accomplish all the tasks given if we didn’t have an organised team with a leading role.
Even during the morning sports and the parade, in the absence of our trainers, it required us to have an instructor as it was the only possible way to easily finish the course work.
Look, the day before the last day of the training, we were tasked to organise a national day to celebrate the day of African freedom. We had to take all the responsibilities and all our instructors took a break. This was the hardest test I and many others had ever taken.
We struggled to share responsibilities amongst ourselves so that we execute it, but most of us didn’t even sleep that night. The minimum sleeping time was about 3 to 4 hours. In the end, after being advised by our trainers, we selected a team and gave it a leading role which helped us to share responsibilities.
I would say that Itorero gave us free courses about leadership, event management and organisation, sports, and military, among others.
More importantly, through the lectures by senior leaders, it taught us the spirit of serving above self; resilience, patriotism, self-reliance, love, and hard work, among other things.
The comeback of Itorero
Historically, traditional Itorero was a cultural school where Rwandans would learn language, patriotism, social relations, sports, dancing, songs and self defence. This system was created so that young people could grow with an understanding of their culture. Participants were encouraged to discuss and explore Rwandan cultural values. The tradition of Itorero also provided formative training for future leaders.
As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, the government drew on aspects of the Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programs to the country’s needs and context. The result is a set of home grown solutions - culturally owned practices translated into sustainable development programmes. One of these home grown solutions is the Civic Education Programme, also known as Itorero.
We learnt that Itorero was reintroduced in 2009 as a way to rebuild the nation’s social fabric and mobilise Rwandans to uphold important cultural values. The culture of an Intore (a person who has received the teachings of Itorero) is highly regarded.
Without any doubt, Itorero creates opportunities for participants to enhance positive values, build a sense of responsibility through patriotism and gain professional knowledge.