Nothing demonstrates the yawning gulf between outsiders’ depiction of Rwanda, and the reality of the country, more than the annual Umushyikirano, or the National Dialogue Council. After a three year absence, imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Rwandans throughout the country and around the world, are once again gathered for two days of what is the most unbridled exercise in participatory democracy, anywhere in the world.
Only a thousand or so people attend the event, which since 2016, has been held at the Kigali Convention Centre, but anyone with a television set, a laptop, radio set, a mobile telephone, which need not be a smartphone, can take part.
The event is chaired by the head of state, President Paul Kagame, and organised by the head of the government, Prime Minister, Dr. Edouard Ngirente.
As well as the heads of state and government, the rest of the entirety of the nation’s leadership is also represented, either at the Convention Centre itself, or virtually, from their own localities.
Although it is that too, the translation of ‘National Dialogue Council’ does not quite do it justice. And although it is a time when the citizenry holds their leaders to account, that too does not quite do it justice. It is a particularly, quintessentially, Rwandan concept.
It would be more accurate to describe it as the nation holding a mirror to itself, examining what is going well, and deciding what to do about what is not going quite so well.
The event begins with the head of state’s summary state of nation presentation. From then on, a light is shone directly at different aspects of national activity, institutions, leadership, and critically assessed. Participants send in questions, thoughts and suggestions. All are recorded, and considered by the government.
It is one time in the year, when any and every Rwandan, has an opportunity to not only air their grievances, call leaders to account, but also suggest a better direction, if they have one, and be certain that it will be considered at the highest level.
Umushyikirano is, in short, Democracy in action, and a chance for people to have a catch up.