In June 2011, Seraphine Mukantabana, now Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), returned to Rwanda, ending 17 years of exile life from far away Congo-Brazzaville.
She was surprised by how the country had transformed since fleeing Rwanda in 1994, despite ‘lies’ spread in exile.
Mukantabana had always wanted to express her appreciation to the government for the good reception after returning. The opportunity presented itself on December 15, 2011 during the 9th national dialogue (Umushyikirano).
Before a fully packed parliament, Mukantabana was handed a microphone. She took a deep breath and said, “I’m not presenting any problems. I just want to complement and thank all Rwandans for their good heart in receiving the ‘lost sheep’.”
She wanted to return the favour.
At the time, Rwanda had been struggling to find suitable and better ideas of repatriating thousands of desperate and brainwashed refugees residing in different countries around the world. The issue had kept coming back during the previous National Dialogues.
On February 25, 2013, Mukantabana was appointed Minister of MIDIMAR. Her primary job was to mobilise all the refugees and help them return home, a job she has successfully executed.
Now, when Rwanda suffered cut-offs from foreign aid in 2012, Rwandans expressed desire to become a self-reliant nation. During the national dialogue in 2012, a sovereign fund, known as Agaciro Development Fund, was suggested and later created. The fund is now about Rwf 30 billion in total assets.
Similarly, through the 2009 dialogue, Rwandans had collectively agreed to reduce poverty by giving a free cow to every poor family.
Manure from the cow would improve soil fertility and increase crop yields. Sold milk would increase household income. Today more than 400,000 families have so far benefited. Together with other programs, the initiative has helped lift over a million Rwandans from extreme poverty.
Once again, over 3000 Rwandans and friends of Rwanda will on December 21-22 meet at the 13th annual national dialogue also known as ‘Umushikirano’, to discuss the country’s development.
The theme is: “Rwandans’ Choices Foundation of National Development and Dignity”.
“The National dialogue is about building a common understanding, bringing together ideas from all sectors,” President Kagame noted in a previous dialogue.
The dialogue is also a forum from which citizens hold their leaders accountable.
“Since their leaders are at the national dialogue citizens will ask questions, which are directly answered. The leaders can also explain government programs,” says Christine Muhongayire a Member of Parliament.
Rwandans in Diaspora also participate through call-in sessions and video conferencing. The interactive dialogue is broadcast live on the national radio and television. Various social media platforms, such as tweitter and facebook, are used to ensure vast participation.
During last year’s dialogue, twenty resolutions were outlined. They will be reviewed during this year’s dialogue.
Among the resolutions include; achieving improved service delivery, sensitizing Rwandans on banking, providing feeding for children in schools, fighting child abuse, human trafficking and drug abuse among youths.
Other resolutions also included; improving long term storage of exhibits for genocide cases, sensitizing citizens on dealing with trauma and also decisively dealing with those undermining Gacaca courts.
Concerned government institutions and leaders had declared to the President and the public that they would work tooth and nail to have these resolutions implemented.
President Kagame will be keenly listening to these leaders presenting progress on implementation of resolutions and faulting leaders will be put on spot to explain to the president and the public.
Challenges, successes and failures will be presented, discussed and new resolutions drawn.
Venantia Tugireyezu Minister in the Office of the President said Sunday afternoon that 17 resolutions (85%) of resolutions were implemented two (10%) of them were partially (50-80%) achieved and one (5%) was not implemented.
One of the resolutions was to fight human trafficking and drug abuse, especially among the youth.
By 2014, hundreds of young Rwandans had been trafficked to different countries as far as China, West, East and Southern Africa. And others had been caught involved in drug abuse.
The matter became too contentious during the dialogue with the president making strong statements. “We cannot accept that Rwandan people be traded like commodities,” Kagame said while addressing the 12th National Dialogue.
So far, Youth and ICT Minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana said during a televised show Sunday afternoon, December 20, “We’re at an advanced stage of reviewing laws against human trafficking and drug abuse.”
The Minister of Local Government, Francis Kaboneka, warned parents to play a bigger role. “To fight drug abuse among our youth, we must first sort out issues in our families, he said.
As the discussions continued, reviews from the public began flowing in. Some views were extremely contentious.
One caller made a comment on service delivery as one of the 20 resolutions. He said that he is very unhappy with the way some public officials behave.
“We hear Rwandans complain everyday on radio stations, but some of these officials don’t even listen. Others don’t pick phone calls,” he said.
Minister Kaboneka defended the leaders; “They have to be flexible, sometimes a leader might be involved in an activity that does not allow him to pick a phone call,” he said giving an example of his case while being interviewed in the studio in a live talk-show.
“But that is not an excuse,” the Kaboneka said, adding that, “Besides, these leaders have deputies and all their telephone numbers are printed on their doors.”
Minister Tugireyezu also responded; “We have a toll free number, people must report bad services. We are encouraging Rwandans to report all cases.”
Meanwhile, one of the issues that has recurred over the last three National Dialogues is school feeding.
While schools offer meals at schools, some parents cannot effort contributions to the feeding program. Vulnerable parents continue demanding for government support to feed their children at school.
Minister Tugireyezu said indeed the family is the foundation of the country’s development, but “We need parents to play their role.”
She said the government will partner with parents, and much focus on vulnerable children. Currently, she said, 65% now receive meals at school.
As the country prepares for the national dialogue of 2015, more and more complex concerns are likely to emerge.
One of them, more likely, is the issue of service delivery in the health sector and governance.
The dialogue was established in 2003 and is provided for by the constitution. It brings together representatives of local councils and civil society to debate issues relating to the state of the nation, the state of local government and national unity.
It is from this dialogue that great ideas and great talent such as Mukantabana are identified and put into use.
There is a lot of anticipation as to what might come out of the 13th dialogue especially regarding what will happen after 2017 when President Kagame’s second term expires. After all, the idea to revise the constitution and retain him was a product of the discussions of 2014.
But its not all fun, even some griling and shaming takes place.