What are you doing the last Saturday of every month? Well, if you are a Rwandan citizen, this Saturday morning is booked. Once each month, all Rwandan citizens commit to a day of community service in an event called Umuganda.
History of Umuganda
Translated as coming together to achieve an outcome, Umuganda is deeply rooted in Rwandan culture as a way family and friends support one another during difficult situations. In 1974, the Rwandan government established a national Umuganda with strict rules and non-participation penalties. This once-traditional form of solidarity thus fell under state control, which created unease among the citizenry.
The grisly Rwandan genocide of 1994 brought greater mistrust and distortion of this tradition, because its meaning was twisted into justification for seeking out and destroying the Tutsi people (70 percent of all Tutsis perished within the 100-day genocide). It wasn’t until 1998, as Rwanda sought to rebuild a unified nation, that Umuganda was reintroduced.
Today, Umuganda takes place on the last Saturday of the month from 8 to 11AM. With a population of about 11.5 million, all able-bodied Rwandan citizens ages 18 to 65 are required to participate in structured, monitored local service. These initiatives are credited with an enormous number of improvements: building schools, constructing health centers, tending cooperative gardens, cleaning roadways, recycling waste, planting trees, among others. In addition to creating a vehicle for public service, Umuganda also creates a platform for local project leaders and community members to exchange information and concerns.
Scope of Service
According to the Ministry of Local Government of Umuganda, from July 2011 to June 2012 an estimated 80 percent of the population participated in this activity, which equates to more than 12 billion Rwandan francs (about 15 million U.S. dollars) in human services.
Given that state law now forbids you to mention your ethnicity, use plastic bags, or neglect your duty on an Umuganda day, Rwanda has clearly emerged from its difficult past. The world can now see the possibility of a more unified, progressive African continent.
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