Every last Saturday mornings of each month Rwanda holds community work known as Umuganda where locals across the country commit to cleaning as they also get to each other.
This day is also dedicated to fixing and repairing— clearing bushes, repairing, feeder roads, building houses for the homeless, building schools, sweeping and clogged drainages cleared.
This isn’t the task of the municipality, it’s that of residents, where neighbours come together to pick up litter, cut grass and trim trees. Communities help build schools or plant crops.
As a resultant of Umuganda, the beautiful city of Kigali has a face of trees lining boulevards neatly trimmed; grass on traffic islands is cut as close as golf course fairways; water fountains work; walls are freshly painted; litter bins are everywhere; plastic shopping bags are banned (you won’t even get them through airport customs.
During Umuganda social barriers are crossed as all citizens take part – from taxi drivers to mayors; from doctors to priests as well as the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame.
While speaking to residents after Umuganda exercise at the mental hospital Ndera on October, 26 2013, President Kagame said:
“We can only achieve a better life for every Rwandan if we work to move each other forward, not to hold each other back.”
“We know what is right for us, why should we expect others to do it for us? You have made working together to move our country forward part of our culture, so let us continue to look for solutions to our challenges within ourselves, ” he added.
President Kagame said that although Rwandans were proud of accomplishments, they should not be satisfied until development reaches every Rwandan.
During the exercise people wake up, grab any garden tool that maybe useful such as a hoe, spade or a machete, brooms or any thing worthy.
Umuganda, meaning contribution, is not a consequence of the tragic Rwanda has gone through. It has its roots in an ancient tradition that gives one a sense of the true Rwandan spirit before the descent into genocide.
Its application has changed through the ages: In the beginning it brought farming communities together for the common good, then it was a way for chiefdoms to extract a corvée, or tax, in the form of labour.
It was exploited by the Belgians to mobilize labour forces during the colonial period, and afterwards it was tainted by the Hutu regime as a means of building nationalistic sentiment and disseminating propaganda against the Tutsi.
Now, people embrace Umuganda for its true purpose. It is, in fact, law.
Besides coffee and tea, it is Rwanda’s greatest export because Rwandan peace-keepers introduced it to Haiti and Darfur to help locals build harmony and foster a positive, collective spirit in the wake of disaster.
Delegates from the DRC also took it back to the communities in their own country.
Foreign aid workers and NGOs in Rwanda take part in Umuganda and spread the good spirit to other communities in Africa.
In July last year, Klab members started e-umuganda community work an initiative toward filling names of places and streets of Kigali on openstreetmap.org.
www.openstreetmap.org is an organisation that share free geo-location data to the world. The project creates and provides free location mapping to anyone who wants it
Today close to 80% of Rwandans take part in monthly community work. Successful projects include the building of schools, medical centres and hydro electric plants as well as rehabilitating wetlands and creating highly productive agricultural plots.
The value of Umuganda to the country’s development since 2007 has been estimated at more than US $60 million. -