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Rebuilding a Stronger Rwanda Through Umuganda Community Work

Rebuilding a Stronger Rwanda Through Umuganda Community Work

Traditional Rwandan homes were a community event constructed from grass-thatched materials. Umuganda was a communal act of assistance and a sign of solidarity. In everyday use, the word Umuganda refers to a pole used in the construction of a house. The pole typically supports the roof, thereby strengthening the house.

The word Umuganda is translated as strength in numbers, coming together for a common purpose to achieve a positive outcome.

Umuganda became an official Rwandan government program
February 2, 1974, Umuganda became an official Rwandan government program

Rebuilding Rwanda Through Umuganda Community Work

In the period immediately after independence in 1962, Umuganda was only organized under special circumstances and was considered as an individual contribution to nation building. During this time, Umuganda was often referred to as umubyizi, meaning "a day set aside by friends and family to help each other".

On February 2, 1974, Umuganda became an official Rwandan government program and was organized on a more regular basis usually once a week. The Ministry of District Development was in charge of overseeing the program.

Local leaders at the district and village level were responsible for organizing Umuganda and citizens had little say in this process. For this reason and because penalties were imposed for non-participation, Umuganda was initially considered forced labor.

Umuganda is also known as community work

During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the meaning of Umuganda was distorted to describe “finding Tutsi where they were hiding and chasing them out”. It was not until 1998 that Umuganda was reintroduced to Rwandan life. This was done as part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and to nurture a shared national identity.

Umuganda, also known as community work, was reintroduced to Rwandan life in 1998 as part of efforts to rebuild the country after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The program was implemented nationwide though there was little institutional structure surrounding the program. It was not until November 17, 2007, with the passing of Organic Law Number 53/2007 Governing Community Works and later on August 24, 2009, with Prime Ministerial Order Number 58/03 that Umuganda was established into Rwandan life.

Today, Umuganda takes place on the last Saturday of each month from 8a.m. and lasts for at least three hours. To help Umuganda activities contribute to overall national development, supervising committees have been established at the village level and up to the national level.

These committees are responsible for organizing what work is undertaken as well as supervising, evaluating and reporting what is done. Rwandans between 18 and 65 are obliged to participate in Umuganda. Those over 65 are welcome to participate if they are willing and able. Expatriates living in Rwanda are also encouraged to take part.
An Umuganda building community activity
An Umuganda building community activity
While the main purpose of Umuganda is to undertake community work, it also serves as a forum for leaders at each level of government to inform citizens about important news and announcements. Community members are also able to discuss any problems they or the communities are facing and to propose solutions together.

Umuganda is also used for evaluating what they have achieved and for planning activities for the next Umuganda community activity. Today close to 80 percent of Rwandans, take part in monthly community work.

Successful projects include the building of schools, medical centers and hydroelectric plants as well as rehabilitating wetlands and creating highly productive agricultural plots. The value of Umuganda to the country’s development since 2007 has been estimated at more than US $60 million.

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