Ten things to know about Rwandans’ self-reliance

By Théophile Niyitegeka
On 27 juin 2022 at 10:59

Rwanda is a country with unique history. It is populated by people sharing the same culture and language with ambitions to strive for self-reliance, as it has always been.

The country’s history shows that Rwandans have always sought homegrown solutions to address issues facing them and avoid overdependence.

This story will focus on 10 things that characterize Rwandans’ self-reliance dating back from forefathers until today.

The initiative takes roots from Rwandans’ culture and history but efforts to advance self-reliance got much attention particularly after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi to cope with effects of country’s dark past.

It is against this backdrop that the Government of Unity instilled the spirit of developing home-grown solutions to overcome its dark past and help Rwandans to move forward.

Promoting self-reliance has helped the country to find solutions for different problems in the areas of governance, economy, social wellbeing, justice and socialization among Rwandans.

The self-reliance is also enshrined in the article 11 of Rwanda’s Constitution where Rwandans set up unique approaches to address their problems with a view to build the nation, preserve the country’s culture and uphold self-dignity.

The aspects of Rwandans’ self-reliance range from four categories, the first being Governance. This includes National Leadership Retreat (Umwiherero), National Itorero, Performance contracts, governance month and political forum among others.

The second is Social Protection. It features Girinka Program, Ubudehe, VUP, Community Based Health Insurance and 12-year basic education among others.

The third is economy encompassing home grown solutions like community work, Agaciro and land consolidation while the fourth aspect is Justice. The latter comprises of home grown solutions like Gacaca courts and community mediators among others.

National civic education training program (Itorero)

Rwanda’s history shows that Itorero existed even before the advent of colonization where it served as a platform helping the youth to learn cultural values, patriotism, socialization, games, dances, songs and how to protect national integrity.

Trainees under this program known as ‘Intore’ also learnt more about Rwandans’ values and taboos. Among others, Itorero was a good platform that prepared future leaders.

History shows that the first national civic education training program took place at the reign of King Ruganzu I Bwimba around 1312.

From 1924 to 1994 during the period of colonization and first republics, Itorero was banned with a view to destroy Rwandans’ unity, solidarity, patriotism and other values.

Banning Itorero is believed to be among actions that provided loopholes for preparation and execution of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Itorero was re-launched in 2009 coinciding with the establishment of the National Itorero Commission.

Participants of past civic education programs have told IGIHE that they pulled many advantages from it.

Olive Uwizeyimana, a teacher in Nyarugenge District has said that individuals attending the program become more responsible citizens willingly contributing to national development in respective capacities and embrace patriotism.

She revealed that a talk delivered by General James Kabarebe, Senior Defence and Security Advisor in the Office of the President in January 2020 in Nyanza District inspired her and colleagues to stand against ethnic divisionism, and concert efforts for a common cause to spur national development.

Participants of the National civic education program during military drills.

Performance contracts (Imihigo)

The signing of performance contracts (Imihigo) is one of Rwanda’s home-grown solutions playing an integral role in the ability of the Rwandan government to deliver a better life for all.

The performance contracts are signed by different leaders from top government institutions to grass root leaders with a view to achieve community targets and help the country meet envisaged progress.

History shows that ‘Imihigo’ take root from ancestors’ culture where an individual had to set target to be achieved in a specific period of time irrespective of hindrances that might come along the way.

In a bid to fast track national development and promote good governance, the Government of Rwanda officially re-launched Imihigo in 2006 as one of home-grown solutions with huge impact.

Right from the start, performance contracts have been fundamental for Rwanda to promote good governance and fast track development.

It is with this regard that all districts sign performance contracts entailing development targets with President of the Republic on annual basis.

Mayors also sign performance contracts with other local leaders including sector executive secretaries so that they can combine efforts to deliver on expectations.

This has inspired individuals to dream big and work hard for their progress. This is the same case for Alphonse Nkurunziza, a tea farmer in Nyaruguru District who has pledged to buy a car to facilitate him in daily activities.

National Leadership Retreat (Umwiherero)

The National Leadership Retreat is one of home grown-solutions transmitted from generations to generations.

Rwanda’s history shows that leaders in the past used to come together at different times to discuss issues of national interest and seek together the solution to address problems affecting ordinary citizens.

Rwanda re-launched the annual National Leadership Retreat in 2004. Such retreats bring together top government officials, local leaders and members of the private sector among others to make performance evaluation and discuss new measures to move forward along the development journey.

The National Leadership Retreat is organized every year.

The National Dialogue Council (Umushyikirano)

The word Umushyikirano translates into a meeting where participants are able to exchange ideas, share experiences and question each other. Today, Umushyikirano is known as the National Dialogue Council.

As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, the Government of Rwanda drew emphasis on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programs to the country’s needs and context. The result is a set of home-grown solutions, culturally owned practices translated into sustainable development programs. One of these home grown solutions is Umushyikirano.

Governed by the Rwandan Constitution (Article 168), Umushyikirano is a forum where participants debate issues relating to the state of the nation, the state of local government and national unity. The Office of the Prime Minister is responsible for the overall co-ordination of Umushyikirano.

Umushyikirano is an annual event chaired by the President of Rwanda that gives Rwandans from all walks of life the opportunity to ask questions directly to their leaders. The event is attended by members of the Cabinet and Parliament, representatives of the Rwandan community abroad, local government, media, the diplomatic community and others invited by the President. Those unable to attend in person at Rwanda’s parliament building can participate via telephone, SMS, Twitter and Facebook as well as follow the debate live on television and radio.

The first National Dialogue Council took place on 28th June 2003 and has been held each year since. A summary report and recommendations are produced at each dialogue.

Umushyikirano aims to be a leading example of participatory and inclusive governance. It is hoped that by directly engaging with their leaders, Rwandans feel part of the decision making that affects their lives. Umushyikirano also serves as a forum for Rwandans to hold their leaders and government to account.

Each year, about one thousand people attend the event in person, while thousands more follow the proceedings through live TV coverage, online and radio.

Each Umushyikirano has a theme and participants are asked to ask questions related to that theme or any other development issue. Once a participant has asked a question, either in person, via Twitter, Facebook, SMS, the web or phone, the leader responsible for that area responds. All questions asked are recorded.

The main achievements of Umushyikirano are considered to be the participation of Rwandans in national decision making and the fast-tracking of government programs and citizen priorities based on the resolutions tabled each year.

Umushyikirano is a forum where participants debate issues relating to the state of the nation, the state of local government and national unity.

Solidarity work (Ubudehe)

Ubudehe is a traditional practice based on strong understanding by Rwandan communities on the effectiveness of working together to solve problems.

History shows that it is among Rwanda’s traditional practices that take roots from forefathers.

It is said that the tradition perceived as a symbol of solidarity has existed for centuries even though there is no precision on the year during which it was introduced.

Ubudehe used to focus on construction and agricultural activities to help members of the community.

The practice seemed to be dormant during colonial rule and after but was formally reinstated in 2001 by the Government of Rwanda’s Unity to promote solidarity among Rwandans and encourage them on homegrown solutions.

Today, Ubudehe activities at cell level focus on agriculture, creation of feeder roads, building bridges, water reservoirs and terraces.

Like other historical Rwandan community management methods such as Umuganda, Imihigo and Gacaca courts, Ubudehe has been given a 21st century makeover and put to work in order to tackle uniquely Rwanda’s problems, drive change and contribute to the country’s growth and development agenda.

The modern Ubudehe program was launched countrywide in 2006 after a pilot project carried out five years earlier.


‘Girinka Munyarwanda’ also known as ‘One Cow per Poor Family’ program is one of home-grown solutions emanating from Rwandans’ traditional culture. A cow is perceived as a symbol of wealth and friendship.

Girinka Program was initiated in 2006 by President Paul Kagame, as one of the homegrown initiatives existing within the national social protection initiatives after realizing that a big number of children under five years were malnourished.

It is based on a model that a cow brings nutrition, sustenance and employment, providing a stable income for a family and is a source of soil nutrients via manure to assist small farming.

The program is acclaimed by beneficiaries and implementers for transforming rural livelihoods and achieving poverty alleviation in Rwanda.

A poor family receives a heifer raises it and when she gives birth, the first female calf is given to another poor family and the process continues.

Beneficiaries attest that the program has helped them to increase agricultural yields, making savings from sales of milk and live better life.

Eurelie Murangwa from Huye District received a pregnant cow in 2020. Few months later, the cow gave birth that she no longer struggled to get milk for her children.

“The cow came in handy. I milked it to feed my children and generated income from sales of milk. Besides, the cow provided a source of compost which I used to fertilize maize, beans and increased yields. I want to take care of it and work hard to move out of the second Ubudehe socio-economic category to which I belong,” she said.

Girinka has uplifted many households from poverty.

Community work (Umuganda)

The community work aims at sharing the practice of ’Umuganda’ as one of the homegrown solutions aimed at uniting people and help the community to protect their environment.

Umuganda can be referred to as an activity of “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome,” a practice that has long existed in Rwandan culture but only recently became mandatory.

Umuganda was carried out to build or renovate a house for a member of the community and till farm lands among others.

As per history, Umuganda was adopted by the first and second republic after Rwanda’s Independence in 1962 and used as a platform to spread political ideology among people, hence distorting its goal.

Since 2007, the Government of Rwanda revised the program’s priorities to align them with activities promoting national development, contributing to national budget and socialization among people.

Umuganda is conducted every last Saturday of the month. It brings together all Rwandans aged between 18 and 65.

The activity has had a huge impact to beneficiaries in a short time span. For instance, over 400 families living in dilapidated structures in Nyanza District were helped to live in decent houses in 2017.

They were built through community work and local leadership’s support which provided roofing sheets.

President Paul Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame joining residents in monthly community work held in Kimihurura Sector of Kigali City on 30th November 2019.


On 23rd August 2012, President Paul Kagame presided over the official inauguration of ‘Agaciro Development Fund’ (AgDF).

The solidarity fund was set up to raise more domestic resources to accelerate economic development. It was initiated to supplement traditional sources of state revenues, including donor aid.

The idea to establish the Fund was floated during the National Dialogue (Umushyikirano) held in 2011 where Rwandans inside the country and abroad had to raise contributions to build their nation through ‘Nation Solidarity Fund’.

The launch of this fund helped to bridge gaps in Rwanda’s development as some countries had suspended their aid.

The initial name was later changed to Agaciro Development Fund.

Figures show that the fund had raised Rwf46 billion by December 2017, an amount that increased to Rwf184 billion in December 2018.

In the first eight years (2012-2020), Rwandans contributed 1% of their salaries to the fund. Different institutions also provided contributions until 2020 when the fund hit Rwf200 billion allocated for investment in areas boosting national economy.

On 14th July 2021, a board comprised of seven experts in economy and finance was appointed to oversee the fund’s operations.

Gacaca courts

Following the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, Rwanda turned to the semi-traditional justice system to help clear a backlog of Genocide related cases.

The government launched Gacaca in 2002 expedite reconciliatory and restorative justice as well as establish the whole truth about the Genocide.

The courts were closed in 2012 after settling nearly 2 million cases including 1,266,632 related to properties looted during the Genocide.

The work was executed by Gacaca judges (Inyangamugayo), a committee of selected and trained honest members of the community who tried suspects before the public.

Community mediators (Abunzi)

Community mediators committees were also established as a homegrown solution to handle simple civil cases that would have been referred to courts.

At cell or sector level, the mediator’s committee comprises 12 non-salaried members living in the same cell or sector.

They are elected by the cell or sector’s advisory council depending on their jurisdiction.

Those who are not part of local leaders or members of the judiciary, are elected for five-year term renewable once. Women representation is also considered during the selection of community mediators.

History shows that community mediators existed long ago in the ancient Rwanda to solve disputes among members of the society.

The committees would be comprised of elderly wise people and other honest members of the community.

They were established in 2005.

The research carried out by Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) in 2020, indicated that community mediators resolved disputes amicably and handled 85% of cases that would be referred to courts.

The research indicated that citizens are satisfied with the work of community mediators at more than 70%, rated their honesty at 77% and trust them at 78%.

Figures show that Rwanda has over 17,900 community mediators.

History shows that community mediators existed long ago in the ancient Rwanda to solve disputes among members of the society.