What Are You Doing on Saturday?
By Carina Cordero Brossy
Matthews, NC, United States
What are you doing the last Saturday of every month? Well, if you are a citizen of Rwanda, this Saturday morning is booked. Once each month, all Rwandan citizens commit to a day of community service in an event called 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 11 AM. Out of a population of over 13 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 11 million US 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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- During an Umuganda service on Saturday, a group of villagers must clear a five-acre banana field in order for the farmer to plant a crop of wheat. If it takes 10 villagers three hours to clear and process one acre, how many villagers must be involved to clear and process this banana field in three hours?
- Rwanda’s capital of Kigali is home to about one million inhabitants. According to the chart below, 86.1% of Kigalians participated in Umaganda projects from July 2011 to June 2012. How many Kigalians participated in Umuganda that year?
- Kigalian human service equaled 2,017,961,636 Rwandan francs in that same year. What is the Rwandan franc (RWF) value per person?
Social Justice Questions
- Do you think one should be penalized for not engaging in community service? What do you think the Umuganda participation rate would be if there were no penalties?
- Are you more or less motivated to do helpful tasks that are mandatory?
- What are other incentives for serving in the community besides the desire to avoid being penalized?
- News story on Umuganda’s impact
- Building a road through Umuganda
- Details about the economic consequences of Umuganda
- Video about Umuganda’s role in clearing Rwanda of litter
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