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Visitors Marvel At The Cleanliness Of Kigali City
And Even Anywhere One Travels Over Rwanda

Coastweek --  I was in Kigali for a couple of days recently and continued to marvel at the cleanliness and order in the city, writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.

I have been visiting this neighbouring capital city for over twenty years and have watched as it blossomed from a sleepy capital in a small country to a vibrant, orderly and well planned city which is currently the envy of almost all the capital cities in the East African Community and indeed in the wider COMESA region.

We can only admire our near neighbours and what they have achieved in terms of making an almost model capital city.

Their ‘Umuganda” day is a unique activity that has had multiple effects on the country. Loosely translated the word Umuganda means the coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.

It is a tradition where one can call on family friends and indeed the community in which they live to help them complete a difficult task.

Umuganda has been used uniquely in several areas that I was told by my hosts in the country.

The most touted one is the cleaning effort that that has been entrenched in the way of life of the Rwandese.

This is part of the first pillar which is that of improving the environment.

Once a month, for four hours, the whole nation stops whatever they are doing and get on with cleaning the area around them.

Everyone who owns any property or land has to clean the area they own and also the public area immediately adjacent to it.

There is really no excuse acceptable for not doing this.

Those who stay away from this exercise will either be reported by their neighbours or found by the state agencies.

Those who do not participate will be fined some five thousand Rwandan francs.

This is why people marvel at the cleanliness of the city of Kigali and indeed anywhere one travels on the country.

Even informal settlements are clean.

The streams, rivers and other water bodies I saw had very little in terms of litter or sewage and other liquid wastes visible in them.

The second aspect of Umuganda is that of community development.

The most visible manifestation of this is when the President of the country asked the nation to ensure that everyone’s neighbour had a “permanent” house and that no living accommodation should have grass thatching on it.

During my flight into the country it was very clear from the air when one crossed the border from Burundi to Rwanda.

One the Burundi side of the border the countryside was not “active”.

However, on the Rwandan side of the border the country side was extremely active.

One got regular flashes of light from the ground as the plane made its way towards the nations airport.

These flashes of light came from the galvanised sheeting on the roofs of almost all the houses one could see on the ground.

There were very few buildings that had grass thatching on them and my hosts told me that these were probably housing livestock or working implements

The other two aspects of Umuganda were not that visible and I only learnt about it from my hosts as they explained to me the fullness of the application of the word or philosophy.

The third aspect was that of security.

Each community as part of their “Umuganda” was expected to exercise self-policing or community policing.

As part of one’s duty of the community, one is expected to contribute to this either by recognising and correcting any wrong that they see or working to prevent a wrong from happening.

If one sees any security breach or threat that they feel they cannot correct then they report to the enforcement authorities who take up the matter.

They key success factor here is that one is protected from retaliation and also that the enforcement agencies ACT !

The last aspect of Umuganda according to my hosts was that of unity and reconciliation. This was actively used as part of the healing process post the Rwandan genocide period.

The establishment of the gacaca or community courts was possible and they worked well riding on the implicit acceptance of Umuganda.

The country has uniquely been able to expunge a very low point in its history and emerge to rebuild itself from the grassroots.

This conversation with my hosts started as I was trying to understand the “stickability” of some of the reforms that have transformed the country.

We will continue to explore some of the visible manifestations of this national culture and also some of the lessons we can draw from this in our Kenya context.

As Kachumbari says, a well founded national culture and ethos are the foundation of a successful economy.




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  This year’s rally will be
flagged off at Sarova
Whitesands on November
23rd and finish at the same
venue on December 1st.


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