The New Rwanda:Four Traditions for the Future

In the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the newly established Government of National Unitysought to promote reconciliation through justice. To meet the challenges they faced, Rwandans turned to traditionsthat served as a driving force for positive change. Each is based on the idea that every individual mustcontribute to and feel responsible for the community’s well being. Four of these traditions—Umuganda,Gacaca, Ingandoand Ubupfura—are of special relevance to the new Rwanda.
Umuganda is a tradition that has fostered unity and reconciliation in the Rwandan society. The New Times / File
Umuganda is a tradition that has fostered unity and reconciliation in the Rwandan society. The New Times / File

In the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the newly established Government of National Unitysought to promote reconciliation through justice. To meet the challenges they faced, Rwandans turned to traditionsthat served as a driving force for positive change. Each is based on the idea that every individual mustcontribute to and feel responsible for the community’s well being. Four of these traditions—Umuganda,Gacaca, Ingandoand Ubupfura—are of special relevance to the new Rwanda.

UMUGANDA is unique to Rwanda and existed long before colonization in some communities. It is acommunity work day for the public good. Umuganda is the Kinyarwandan word for “We Work Together.”

The tradition started in the 1970s as a nationwide community programme implemented by the Local

Government Ministry, where all citizens, rich and poor, male and female, irrespective of class, were expectedto do community work and keep the environment clean. All households are assigned to small cells calledumugudugu, with a leader/organizer who allocates tasks. Everyone reports to the leaders at the end of the jobto prove that they have participated in Umuganda, as participation gives one access to government services.Umuganda takes place on the last Saturday of each month between 8:00 a.m and 12:00noon. No public transportoperates and all businesses are closed.

Tasks include cleaning the streets, digging, picking up litter, clearing bushes around the roads and water

sources, clear drains, and planting trees. They also include road repairs, land clearance and building homesfor genocide survivors. Community members also sit together to review development programs and importantcivic issues. Umuganda has matured into a vehicle to promote participation and public responsibilityfor national programs and policies.

As a monthly public program engaging all citizens, Umuganda is uniquely suited to The National Conversationon Prosperity and the Public Good, which is designed to engage Rwandans in discussion of how to build amore prosperous and publicly responsible citizenry that can realize the dream of a new Rwanda.

GACACA COURTS are part of a system of community justice inspiredby tradition and established in 2001 in Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Gacaca derives its name from a short grass known in Kinyarwanda asumucaca. Gacaca literally means “a resting and relaxing green lawn in the Rwandan homestead.” In thepast, Gacaca tribunals were traditional councils of elders formed to resolve conflicts in their communities.

This system derived its legitimacy from its communal and participatory nature. In the aftermath of the

1994 Genocide, modern courts were incapable of handling the large number of suspected perpetrators.

The government introduced the traditional Gacaca system to involve citizens in providing justice in the

Genocide crimes. The Gacaca courts have ruled in thousands of genocide- related cases and contributed tonational reconciliation and the restoration of the social fabric.

The Gacaca Courts are intended to end untenable situations by bringing to justice those perpetrators responsiblefor the Genocide. The reconciling of a fractured society, divided along identity lines (Tutsi, Hutu andTwa) is thought by scholars to be a long-term process. While survivors want to know the fate of their lovedones and where they are buried, Gacaca Courts provide perpetrators of the genocide the opportunity to tellthe truth and ask for the community’s forgiveness.

INGANDO is the updated version of a Rwandan tradition that was born of meetings at Urugwiro State

House in the years following the Genocide to foster reconciliation and grapple with the past in post-genocide

Rwanda. Ingando derives from the Kinyarwanda verb “kuganika”, which refers to a process in which theelders of a community leave the distractions of their daily lives and retreat to places of isolation to solve problemsof national concern such as war, famine, drought and the expansion of the nation’s borders.

Ingando is used at various levels of the community to discuss the causes of conflicts and how they can be resolvedin order to start a new era of unity and reconciliation, sustainable peace -building and economic prosperity.

Topics at these Ingandos include civic education and education on unity and reconciliation, governmentprogrammes, psychological demilitarization, reintegration into civilian life, and HIV/AIDS.


There are three kinds of Ingandos:

Ingando for soldiers and combatants is a pre-demobilization, pre-discharge orientation program that offersa chance for reintegration and economic aid to all rebels, fearing that if it does not assist them in peacefulresettlement they might revitalize the insurgency.

Ingando for students involve three phases: 1) Engaging in activities that encourage independent thought andcritical analysis; 2) Identifying political, economic, and social struggles facing the nation; 3) Engaging insmall group discussions and debate about possible solutions to national challenges.

Ingando for released perpetrators (Genocidaires) is for those who participated in the government’sconfession programme, those who were children during the time of the genocide, ages fourteen and below, theelderly, the terminally ill and accused genocidaires who had no information in their case files to support thecharge of genocide.

In addition, in both private and public universities, former students of Ingando have set up chapters of the

Students’ Club for Unity and Reconciliation in an attempt to disseminate the central tenets of Ingandooutside the formal Ingando settings.Ingando’s future as a catalyst for reconciliation is seen as limitless.

Orphanages are closing down in large numbers because people are opening up their homes to orphans regardless of which families they come from. Ex-FAR (The former Rwandan armed forces) and RPA

(Rwandan Patriotic Army) merged into the RDF (Rwandan Defence Force) and are now working well

together. Genocidaires who went through Ingando are now living peacefully next to survivors. There are nopowerful antagonisms.

If one thinks of genocidaires as not simply criminals but victims in their own right, the concept of rehabilitationthrough Ingando is invaluable. According to the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), there are many indications of the success of Ingando.

Non-governmental and civil society organizations approach the NURC with relative frequency to set upgovernment-run ingandos for their constituents or to seek government funding for privately run ingandos.

The NURC believes this shift is an indication of the mainstream status Ingando enjoys in Rwandan society.If Ingando is integrated into the school setting and a curriculum is created that includes honest critiques ofthe current administration and open discussions about history, it will be a creative mechanism for addressingthe difficult business of societal healing and progress.


UBUPFURA is a concept that describes generosity and kindness. It also stands for openness to others,mutual understanding and tolerance and creates new spaces for communication. Similar to Ubuntu in Zulutradition, Ubupfura creates a collective consciousness by establishing a network of privileged relationsbetween people, which leads to the edification of a collective destiny. In the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide,this tradition has been paramount to community relationship at the local level. In the political sphere theUbupfura concept of is used to emphasize the need for unity or consensus in decision-making, as well as theneed for a humanitarian ethic to inform those decisions.

Umuganda, Gacaca, Ingando and Ubupfura are ideal starting points for transmitting a strong sense ofresponsibility in citizens in the New Rwanda future. These institutions promote a deep understanding of howto solve problems in a fair and humane way and give insight for civic education.


To Be Continued… 

This article is part of a series of articles from ‘The New Rwanda: Prosperity and the public good’ by Sondra Myers.

Email: sondram@ix.netcom.com

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