Take aways from the 17th Rwanda annual national dialogue

For non-Kinyarwanda speakers, Umushyikirano literally means a meeting where participants are able to exchange ideas, share experiences and question each other. Umushyikirano from its first edition has evolved into the National Dialogue Council.

The first National Dialogue Council took place on Saturday, 28 June 2003 and has been held ever since. And every year, the summary report and recommendations are produced at each dialogue and more importantly, a complete archive of the documents are accessible to the public.

Putting it into proper context, several years ago, as part of deliberate efforts to revitalise and reconstruct Rwanda from where the country was coming from and specifically to nurture a shared national identity, the Government of Rwanda drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt the country’s development programmes to the country’s needs and context. Umushyikirano which was the outcome was a home-grown solutions template.

According to the official records, these home-grown solutions is a set of culturally owned practices translated into sustainable development programs. Succinctly put, Umushyikirano is a forum where Rwandans from all works of life come together to debate and deliberate on issues relating to the state of the nation, the state of local government and national unity.

The event is usually chaired by the President of Rwanda and usually attended by members of the Cabinet and Parliament, Local Government members, Rwandans in the Diaspora, media, the diplomatic community, other invited guests et al. Not every Rwandan is able to attend in person but there are usually various viewing centres where the annual dialogue is televised live and from these venues, Rwandans can participate and even ask their questions or make their comments. And for the upwardly mobile and savvy participants who are at the venue, at the office, at home etc, there are usually platforms like participate via social media platforms where the dialogues and debates can be viewed and comments, criticism or questions asked.

Annually, about one thousand people attend the event in person, whilst thousands more follow the dialogues on the television and radio and on live stream online. From 2003, each Umushyikirano has had a theme and participants are asked to pose questions related to that theme or any other development issue. Once the question has been asked (via a participant at the venue person, via social media platforms, online or via an SMS or phone in; the appropriate official responsible would have to respond. At the annual event, Rwandans ask questions to their leaders.

The 2019 edition of Umushyikirano was no different. The 2019 edition of the National Dialogue Council better known by the Kinyarwanda word Umushyikirano took place on Thursday 19th – Friday 20th December 2019.

On the first day, the theme was ‘driving double-digit growth’; where participants reflected on choices, principles and values that have been central for economic progress over the years and most especially over the last year 2018. The theme for the second day was ‘engaging families for community resilience.’ And this session appraised the achievements made to address vulnerabilities, specifically in health and education, through national and locally driven solutions.

The event commenced with a State of the Nation Address by President Paul Kagame; who commenced by affirming that the state of the nation is strong and stronger than it has ever been. The nation is strong not by coincidence or chance but by the reliance of the strength of everyone in different sectors (individuals, the diplomatic community, partners etc) all have contributed to what Rwanda is today.

The progress so far should motivate us to stay on this trajectory, and do even more. Rwandans deserve peace and stability. This is what has been delivered. The President alluded to Rwanda’s past and stated that the country was once defined by a lack of security. But now, the State is leaving this behind and drawing strength from these lessons, to ensure that Rwandans do not repeat their past in their future.

President Kagame touching on security stated that ‘as the country makes progress, the attempts on the security still remain a reality. We have spent the last two years dealing with people who want to compromise our security, but we can confidently say that they have been dealt with. We have welcomed all Rwandans, irrespective of their beliefs, their ambitions, to come home. We can argue together and have discussions and work together.’

Still, on security, Rwanda’s President posited that the country’s security has been maintained because of the role of every citizen and in collaboration with the security institutions. It is in the Rwandan culture to achieve more with a lot less. And we have the capability to enforce our resolve on matters relating to security.

On the recent issue of relocation of citizens living in high-risk zones, the President stated that no Rwandan(s) should live in high-risk areas and more importantly It is our responsibility as leaders to protect their lives.Projecting into the future, the new year and the new decade, the President opined that as preparations are made, Rwandans take satisfaction in what Rwandans have achieved together. 

The President went further to state that Rwanda is now measured at the global level and ranked amongst the top ten in gender equality.

He stated that it is a reminder that there is more work to be done to be ranked in the top five. He further acknowledged the women who are making positive impacts and winning the fight for gender equality and requested that all actors should work together to increase the speed of progress, in all ramifications. And still, on gender quality, President Kagame said thus, ‘It is my wish that the next person who will hold my position will be a woman.’ 

On the economy, the President stated that the economy has maintained a high growth rate every year, accompanied by reductions in poverty. And in 2019, the economy grew even more than usual. 

Still, on the economy, President Kagame stated that we are now able to finance eighty-four per cent of our national budget. A lot of efforts were invested in and I want to thank you for that. We might achieve 8.5 per cent growth by the end of 2019. That is an unequalled record but it isn’t enough. We need to run not walk. Among the most visible forms of progress is our modern infrastructure. This includes our national road network, access to electricity (for more than half of homes and schools) and health centres.’ 

On agriculture, President Kagame reiterated that the sector continues to drive the economy. And he thanked the farmers, including the young people who are actively involved in agriculture. And projecting into the distant future, the President stated that the country would focus on intensifying agricultural extension and irrigation services to increase productivity.

On Rwanda’s steady progress, the President went back memory lane; when we embarked on Vision 2020, Rwanda had no airline to speak of.

Now RwandAir reaches twenty-eight destinations with more destinations planned. The new airport in Bugesera will take our aviation sector to the next level and provide jobs to thousands of Rwandans.’

Furthermore more, the President stated that as the world keeps changing, the future belongs to those who are equipped with the right skillsets and have made good use of the available technologies. And Rwandans must be equipped with the skills to compete successfully in the global knowledge economy.

Speaking about Rwanda on the international stage, President Kagame stated that the foundation of Rwanda foreign policy is the pursuit of mutually beneficial relationships with partner States and Rwanda seeks to play her part by making meaningful contributions to the multilateral system.

On the national level, the President of Rwanda started that one of the most important gains Rwanda has seen is mindset change amongst Rwandans. And he had some advice to the teeming youth who were in the auditorium and those watching via various screening centres and online; when he stated that do not let our old mindset become yours. Do not go back to bad habits of not taking responsibility; of being afraid of speaking up to your superiors. Reject the mindset of accepting to be led wrong. Do not be dragged down to a lower level. Do not look for a reason not to do something, look for a reason to get it done. If you believe it should be done, do not be afraid of what people will think of you.

Concluding his State of the Nation address during Umushyikirano, President Kagame went thus, ‘ask yourself as someone who contributes to this country, where am I coming from and where am I going, how can I do more so that our collective results and benefits can increase? This Umushyikirano should go beyond government evaluating our achievements, everyone here should evaluate themselves.’

During the driving double-digit growth’ session moderated by Dr IIdephonse Musafiri; and which had as panellists; Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Minister Uzziel Ndagijimana stated that the factors behind Rwanda’s progress is due to the good leadership, transparency, accountability, citizen-centred homegrown solutions and public-private partnerships.

Whilst commenting on the Made in Rwanda project, Minister of Trade and Industry, Minister Soraya Hakuziyaremye stated that three years ago, the contribution by the manufacturing sector to the GDP was 300 billion Rwandan Francs.

But today, after the Made In Rwanda policy was adopted, exports of Made in Rwanda products grew by seventeen per cent and the sector contributes circa 510 billion Rwandan Francs. Mr Yusuf Murangwa, the Director-General of National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda whilst commenting on the food price hike stated that as the economy grows, consumption of agriculture production would also grow.

Once agriculture production is not on the same speed with other sectors there has to be the shortage of those in need. When asked by the moderator (Dr IIdephonse Musafiri) about Vision 2020; the founder of Charis UAS; Eric Rutayisire who is in his late twenties; stated that he heard of vision 2020 when he was a kid and thought it was a dream.

Presently, his company uses drones in agriculture precision and also extending expertise to the electricity, mining and health sectors. And revealed that Charis UAS operate from five African countries and plans are in motion to expand to ten countries. And the establishment of a drone manufacturing facility in Rwanda.

Some important statistics to note were reeled out by Rwanda’s Prime Minister Ed Mgirente during the first day of Umushyikirano and they are as follows: Umushyikirano in 2018 adopted ten resolutions, with fifty-eight milestones. Forty-seven milestones were implemented at 75-100% rate.

Seven milestones at 50 -74% rate and four resolutions were implemented at below 50% rate, In agriculture and establishing post-harvest infrastructure: twenty-four maize warehouses were completed in eight districts. Fifteen mobile maize dryers installed in five districts. And thirty-one potato collection centres were completed in three districts.

On the education of the youth about the history of the Genocide against Tutsi; sensitization campaigns and talk shows were conducted in 264 secondary schools and eleven tertiary institutions. The Prime Minister also reported on the preservation of Genocide memorial sites; stating that the rehabilitation of Ntarama memorial site had been completed; 4,640 bodies and other Genocide physical evidence were conserved and 45,000,000 Gacaca documents were digitized.

Pertaining to the elimination of malnutrition and stunting: 86,531 children between 6-24 months old received fortified blended food. 19,099 pregnant and lactating women were reported to have received fortified blended food. Also, 26,915 poor families received cows under the homegrown Girinka Programme. 2,152 pigs were distributed to thirty cooperative societies and also, 63,000 poultry were distributed to cooperative societies.

The Prime Minister reported that 9,239 children under the age of five years received milk whilst 457,963 children received milk under the ‘one cup of milk per child’ program.

On improving the quality of education, the Prime Minister stated that circa 1,853,029 textbooks were printed and distributed to schools. 1,993 trainers were trained in the English language, Information, Communication and Technology; and pedagogy.

Pertaining to the initiative Made in Rwanda and its promotion; the Prime Minister revealed that about 102 new locally made products were certified, 57 products received the Made in Rwanda emblems. The second day focused on engaging families for community resilience and the deliberations were deep and insightful as the first day’s proceedings.

One glaring feature of this type of dialogue is that the leaders hear and see first-hand (not through the grapevine or a special adviser et al) the issues (which might be minute to them but significant to the citizens) that matter. So, what means is that as an elected official, one cant feigns ignorance if by the following years Umushyikirano; the same problems tabled at the dialogue has not been solved or in the process of being resolved.

Watching the proceedings of the national dialogue; it is evident Umushyikirano is a day of televised accountability where the citizens know that it is a forum for them to hold their leaders and government officials accountable. And the 2019 edition was an eye-opener for a first-timer of what is possible with regards to the national dialogue which other African countries can study and fit into their national idiosyncrasies.

Umushyikirano simply solidifies the school of thought which states that leadership is explaining not communicating.

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