Dieudonne Gahizi Ganza is a young Rwandan university student whose movie ‘The Change and I mean it’ recently emerged the best at the 2011 TVE Biomovie Competition in the UK. The film, which portrays the significance of Umuganda (Rwandan homegrown community work programme) in environmental protection, beat 400 others from around the world to this year’s TVE top prize, after it was voted the most inspiring by online viewers the world over. Ganza is one of the millions of Rwandan youths who have been inspired by the unique and valuable initiatives that have come to symbolize the post-genocide Rwanda.
While some of these homegrown initiatives could be traced in our traditions, their significance had never been as visible and popular. Umuganda, Imihigo, Ubudehe, Gacaca, Abunzi have all played an essential part, not only in Rwanda’s recovery from the tragedy of the 1994 Genocide, but also in the country’s socio-economic transformation.
Across Rwanda, millions of children, youths and adults, alike, are inspired and fired up by these bold and groundbreaking initiatives that have helped bring us together as a people, with unprecedented sense of ownership, common identity and national character.
And what makes these initiatives successful is the fact that they are run and owned by the masses, and their impact is visible anywhere in Rwanda. You can hardly find any Rwandan family that has not benefited from these home-grown programmes. Through these people-centered initiatives, ordinary citizens are empowered to hold their leaders to account; to deliver restorative justice while promoting reconciliation in their communities; and to engage in activities that accelerate socio-economic development.
In particular, Umuganda has played a critical role in the ‘Bye-Bye Nyakatsi’ campaign, which seeks to replace all thatched houses with more descent homes, by May, this year. Contrary to what some people have sought to portray, and aside from the isolated mistakes that were committed earlier in the campaign – which have since been corrected – the anti-nyakatsi programme has the support of the Rwandan people. There’s no programme anywhere that one can describe, with certainty, as flawless; what is important is to quickly identify the errors and fix them.
That’s what has happened with the anti-Nyakatsi programme, following the National Dialogue in December, last year, during which the project came under spotlight.
Ordinary Rwandans, through Umuganda, have played a major role in the construction of decent shelter for the most vulnerable families that previously resided in thatched houses. An evaluation conducted mid this month indicated that at least 40 percent of the projected 35,000 more decent homes, for the most vulnerable households across the country, had been completed, with the rest half-way through completion. And, its full steam ahead for local residents who, like they did with the Nine-Year Basic Education blocks, are doing everything possible to ensure every member of their community lives in a home that reflects the new Rwanda. They are not walking alone.
Many civic groups, including religious establishments, too, have come in to make the government programme a success.
If there’s anything to learn from the anti-nyakatsi drive, it’s the growing spirit of patriotism and solidarity among Rwandans. From the grassroots to the top of the pyramid, many have responded impressively to the call for a decent, fitting home for every Rwandan. Businesses across the country have mobilized funds to back their respective province’s anti-nyakatsi drives. Villages are taking turns to clear construction sites, lay foundations, make bricks and raise walls. It is a moving, inspiring response to the unfair criticisms of the otherwise noble cause.
With this wave of popular support for the programme, the least the critics of Kigali could do is to keep quiet, and stop criticizing for the sake of it. The distance between the old and new Rwanda is worlds apart; and so Rwandans are a million times smarter today. I know they have previously rejected unwise decisions. Sometime back, they outrightly rejected a decision by Kigali City to ban commuter motorcycles. The decision was later reversed.
But Rwandans also have a history of sticking with their leadership when they think the policy in question is in good faith. They did it with Gacaca and, despite understandable challenges, ensured that the traditional courts dispensed justice – in the end, trying well over a million suspects in less than a decade.
From experience, Rwandans now understand that the buck stops with them on issues that concern their welfare.
The author is a training editor with The New Times and 1st VP of Rwanda Journalists Association