Made in Rwanda is not just about processing and manufacturing, it is also a combination of the Rwandan spirit and all homegrown initiatives aiming at self-reliance towards sustainable development and total liberation.
Since the creation of Rwanda as a Nation-State (estimated in the sixteen century), Rwandans struggled to forge their own way of living by addressing all challenges in their daily life in communities as well as at societal level, including macroeconomic issues.
The ancestors’ genuine way of thinking was – and it should always be – that; in unity is strength. Patriotism shaped their character and solidarity allowed them to build a prosperous Rwanda, until colonialists entered the country. Rwandans, despite hardships, always thrived to prosper with their own strength, by working together.
Narrative has it that umuganda was institutionalised in Rwanda by colonialists in 1945 as a way to fight against the infamous famine, “Ruzagayura”. Whatever the story, umuganda helped Rwandans to overcome that famine.
As time went on, umuganda changed the direction depending on the political regimes in place, but the concept remained the same; umuganda is essential for unity and prosperity.
It would be fair to say that; “umuganda” is among Rwandans’ values, as it is essential to their social cohesion and development. It is hard to imagine Rwandans without “umuganda”.
After the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, which had completely destroyed the social fabric and infrastructure in the country, umuganda was revived and conceived as a tool to restore unity and mutual solidarity amongst Rwandans, and to promote activities in the area of socioeconomic development, taking citizen participation and empowerment as cornerstone.
It has become a tool for community mobilisation towards self-reliance and sustainable development.
Among the financing mechanisms of the sustainable development goals – as defined by the international community and the World Bank Group – are good governance, maximisation of domestic resources mobilisation, community participation, and public investment as a catalyst.
The new policy and strategy for umuganda fall in that context, in order to make significant contribution to national budget.
As we talk of the contribution of umuganda to national budget, this should not be reduced to the financial impact exclusively. It includes bringing people together, to think together and to work together towards liberation: liberation from “want”.
Umuganda helped Rwandans get together before any other programme could be initiated. People think together of their problems and find solutions; they built classrooms, roads, houses for vulnerable persons, but also it became an opportunity for them to solve citizens’ complaints and address mutual conflicts, among others.
Grassroots umuganda committees should be innovative, customise and tailor it to local needs and local challenges, to keep it relevant for both urban and rural population, labour and non-labour organisations.
Sustainability of umuganda shall depend on how it is localised and domesticated into every community’s life and by every category of the population, especially youth and women who make up the bigger section of the Rwandan workforce.
The Ministry of Local Government has been organising annual umuganda competitions since the year 2011, and the best performers are recognised. This exercise stimulated and encouraged innovations, because everyone aspires to emerge the best performer.
Rwandans come together and build local government offices, police and health posts, roads, classrooms and public stand taps, among others. They share both failure and success. That spirit is commendable.
Umuganda plays a significant role in social cohesion when we effectively utilise this platform in efforts geared towards social solidarity, conflict management, and conflict resolution in communities.
When the social fabric and governance foundations are strong, umuganda becomes a pillar for sustainable development and self-reliance.
As President Paul Kagame recently said; “Umuganda is not a small contribution. It is proof of all we can achieve by working together”.
The writer is a political analyst and Pan Africanist