Making “Umuganda” more useful

In Rwanda, on the last Saturday of the month, there is a mandatory work fest from 7:00am to noon, it is called Umuganda. It is a Rwandan tradition that dates back to long before colonial times.

In Rwanda, on the last Saturday of the month, there is a mandatory work fest from 7:00am to noon, it is called Umuganda. It is a Rwandan tradition that dates back to long before colonial times.

During Umuganda (literally meaning “contribution”); every able bodied person aged 18 years or older is supposed to participate in the unpaid communal. Businesses close and no public transportation operates.

Avoiding Umuganda without a proper authorization could lead to immediate arrest. Government officials from the President to the lowest local official attend Umuganda. It contributes to a sense of community and a shared responsibility for the neighbourhood.

As Saturday is a Holy day for Seventh Adventists, they are exempted from attending Umuganda on Saturdays; they provide their contribution on the last Sunday of the month. 

Umuganda is usually supervised by the “Umudugudu” manager. This is comprised of a small number of households (typically between 50 and 150 households) and is the lowest local administration unit.

Umuganda is particularly useful for cleaning up streets, clearing bushes around roads and waterways, cutting grass and maintaining public property, attending neighbourhood meetings, etc.

Even though this is good, this article is going to argue that we could do much more with Umuganda as Umuganda is supposed to build the country (“Umuganda wubaka igihugu”).

The best feature of Umuganda today is that it gives opportunities to the local population to mingle with the authorities and pose questions directly on matters that affect the local community and the nation as a whole.

Another benefit is that Umuganda allows people to know each other in the neighbourhood, to share concerns and solutions to common problems, for example neighbourhood security; it offers a platform for unity and reconciliation processes and for communicating information on Government programs.

Proposed improvements to Umudugudu

Umuganda potentially represents a big value: 4 hours x 5 million people = 20 million man-hours = 20 million/8 = 2.5 million working days = 2,500,000 / 22 = 113,636 man-months = 9,469 man-years.

Each last Saturday of the month is equivalent to about 10,000 people working for free for a whole year. We could take some man-years, with no skills, to pick up garbage and plastic bags, repair public building, plant trees, and cut or plant grass on public property; those who have skills could contribute various services to the neighbourhood and to the nation.

As the number of people in each Umudugudu is limited, it is easy to interview them all and figure out their special skills beyond cleaning the neighbourhood. Those with no special skills would by default be assigned to clean the neighbourhood on the last Saturday or Sunday morning of the month.

People with special skills would offer their services the last Saturday or Sunday afternoon of the month: Medical doctors and nurses would offer free medical, nursing services and workshops on health issues, Government officials would offer civic lessons and explain government programs that fight poverty, Government ministers, Senators and Members of Parliament would chair town meetings where people give their opinions on Government programs and laws being considered by Parliament.

Businessmen would offer classes on business planning, lessons in entrepreneurship, accounting and financial management, the teachers would offer free classes in their specialty, and primary school teachers would offer Kinyarwanda literacy classes to illiterate members of the communitywho would be required to attend community literacy classes Saturday afternoon.

Most graduates of KIE (teachers college) are not involved in teaching, they have fled to higher paying jobs, this would be their opportunity to teach various classes: mathematics, English, French, Statistics, etc.; the military would teach self-defence classes and any other skill they mastered; automobile mechanics would teach maintenance of cars and trucks; plumbers would teach an introductory class in plumbing and would fix neighbourhood plumbing problems for free; construction engineers and architects would give free building consulting; construction workers would help build houses in the neighbourhood; the whole idea is that all services available from the members of Umudugudu would be available to the neighbourhood for free.

Classes would be taught in the afternoon at local primary and secondary schools, universities or church buildings. This proposal would open Umuganda to be not only a tool for maintaining public property but also to encourage exchange of services inside the community.

To motivate people, a potluck would be organized by the Umudugudu manager: the contribution of the cooks in the neighbourhood would be to cook and bring food to Umudugudu office at noon for a community potluck.

The food would be contributed by each household and it would be cooked by their own cook. Home security guards on duty would be exempted from Umuganda as security is Rwanda’s priority. 

RITA’s (Rwanda IT Authority) contribution to Umuganda would be to provide software to each Umudugudu to manage assignments of tasks to each Umudugudu member and provide monitoring and evaluation tools for the Umudugudu manager and for the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC).

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