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