All innovation should be anchored on local ideals

Editor, Allow me to respond to Dr Tom Abeles’ letter, “Rethinking rural Rwanda” (The New Times, August 16).
Residents of Kanombe construct a school during a past Umuganda exercise. File
Residents of Kanombe construct a school during a past Umuganda exercise. File


Allow me to respond to Dr Tom Abeles’ letter, “Rethinking rural Rwanda” (The New Times, August 16). I agree that Rwandans need to “improve agricultural practice, introduce new sources, such as aquaculture, as well as business and management practices” in order to more adequately respond to the 21st century requirements of life.

However, I disagree with his assertion that, fundamentally, “all of these efforts require technical support and financing”, and “management improvement” à la Western way. I disagree with his one track, Western-minded view on the nature of Rwandans’ needs and on ways to respond to those needs.

His suggested perspective implies that he’s looking at Rwandans as aliens to their own land: with no personality, no culture (in a broader sense) of their own. In his view, Rwanda needs only those so-called “universal” life requirements, inspired and adopted from the European northern bourgeois cultures.

It is important to recall that before the Europeanisation of this land, there were practices such as “Ubudehe” and “Umuganda”, perfectly responding to the needs experienced by Rwandans of those pre-colonial times. And, in recent years during the post-colonial period, the Government of Rwanda has worked hard to re-install those traditional practices, painstakingly adapting them to modern population needs and requirements.

In my view, it is basically this laudable “innovative” trend that, first, we should support, and then, eventually, enrich with other peoples’ experiences and practices from around the planet, such as the cooperative concept and the Saemaul Movement.

François-Xavier Nziyonsenga, Rwanda


I wish to respond to Mr Nziyonsenga. In a globally connected world; we all learn from each other. Research in universities as well as understanding practices in all countries help us to produce better crops, reduce postharvest losses, improve health and nutrition, and adopt new opportunities.

This knowledge is reciprocal and not just being transferred from the developed to developing countries. It includes all areas, from agriculture to health care. It is a cornerstone to the programmes of the Government of Rwanda under the broad goals of EDPRS II.

As you note, in contemporary times, colonial activities have been disruptive, not only in Africa but also in South and Central America.  But, at different scales, from global aspirations of the Roman Empire to local tribal warfare, this has changed political boundaries and cultures. It has brought new ideas, technologies and opportunities as well as social disruptions.  

Rwanda, with its efforts to create an ICT hub, is placing itself at the crossroads of change and opportunity in all sectors, including agriculture and rural development in general.

The issues you raise are critical. The Government, operating down to the sector level, provides the path to address your concerns, locally, and in Kigali. In that manner, Rwanda can adopt that which makes sense.

Dr. Tom P. Abeles, Rwanda