Everyone – with no age limit, picks a tool; a hoe or a machete to join others to clean up their neighbourhood. It could be helping to construct a house for a homeless family, or repair a damaged bridge.
Nobody gets paid. It is community work, locally known as Umuganda.
President Paul Kagame is no exception – he rolls up his sleeves, grabs a hoe and digs trenches, clears shrubs with community members. After the work around noon, local communities discuss problems around the village.
Umuganda is a traditional practice dating back in the pre-colonial period during which community members gathered for a common purpose such as attending a community court to deal with a case.
The activity has economic and social impacts. The ministry of local government says Umuganda activities were worth Rwf17Bn ($24.7m) last year, up from Rwf12.8Bn ($18.4m) the previous year.
Sensitization campaigns have increased citizens’ participation to over 80%. Some parts of the country, especially the north and north-west, have seen participation increase to 90%.
This Saturday (November 29), is National Tree Planting Day. The Natural Resources Authority (RNRA) prepared 30 million trees for planting across the country.
Forests cover 28.8% of Rwanda’s surface, but the government wants to increase it to 30% by 2017, and Umuganda became the ideal approach.
The service has helped communities accomplish developmental projects.
In October, Felicien Matarataza, a banana farmer in the Eastern countryside, participated in the construction of a bridge worth Rwf30m ($50,000) to help them access main roads to nearby markets for their produce.
Two years ago, floods ruined infrastructure in Rubavu district, Northern-Rwanda. Hundreds of villagers, Police and Army officers agreed to rehabilitate damaged schools, hospitals and roads saving the country hundreds of millions of francs.
Father Laurent Ngendahayo, director of Nyundo Seminary School then said if it wasn’t for Umuganda, the school would have taken ages to reopen.
Big projects such as schools, medical centers and reparation of hydroelectric plants as well as rehabilitating wetlands, have been accomplished.
Meanwhile, Rwandan troops in peacekeeping missions in Sudan, Haiti, Central Africa etc. have introduced Umuganda to help locals build harmony.
By: Patrick Bigabo