The 7th Annual National Dialogue closed today in Kigali, Rwanda where citizens from all walks of life challenged their leaders on the issues that affect their lives.
The unique democratic process, mandated by Rwanda’s constitution and known as Umushyikirano in Kinyarwanda, the national language, saw hundreds of Rwandans representing all levels of society gathering in the Parliament chamber to debate the future direction of the country and to hold their leaders to account. Over 700 participants at the dialogue, which is broadcast live on television and radio, included all branches of government, district mayors and grassroots leaders, heads of agencies, members of the Rwandan Diaspora, media, diplomats and development partners.
The two day event included, for the first time, live SMS and telephone questions from the public and was preceded by a series of radio shows each featuring senior government officials including cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister and the President who took part in a 4-hour live call-in radio show last Sunday.
Opening the Umushyikirano proceedings, President Kagame said: “I am satisfied with the achievements of Rwanda, and we must keep on pushing forward. Rwanda is number one for reform, but I want us to be number one for implementation too.” He urged Rwandans to welcome the new friendships recently forged through accession to the Commonwealth and re-opening of diplomatic relations with France, and called on them to stay close to old friends.
Pointing out that good leaders with the interests of the country at heart were crucially important for Rwanda, President Kagame challenged Ministers, Mayors and business leaders to stand up before the people and account for their successes and failures. He emphasised the need to identify the root causes of problems and find workable solutions for the benefit of the people. “Everyone we need is together in this room, so we must be able to solve these problems today, right now”.
In his closing remarks, President Kagame emphasised the need for home-grown solutions, developed and implemented by Rwandans, pointing to local innovations including Ubudehe, Imihigo, Umuganda, and held up Gacaca as an example, saying that “Gacaca gave us a solution that we could not find anywhere else”. President Kagame expressed his satisfaction of the democratic debate shown in the National Dialogue, and told the participating leaders “Resolutions are only approach the start. Now, we must deliver on them”.
The Prime Minister, on day one of Umushyikirano updated everyone on achievements from last year, such as the safety net provided in local savings schemes (SACCOs) and Rwandans’ valuable contribution to the construction of additional classrooms required for the new nine-year basic education program that begins in 2010. The Prime Minister said “Rwanda needs to be proud of all this – but also must work on Resolutions that are not complete”.
More Rwandan citizens than ever were able to take part in the event:
- For the first time any Rwandan was able to telephone in their concerns free of charge and their voices were heard directly in the Parliament Chamber.
- In another new innovation, thousands of Rwandans sent SMS messages which were scrolled in real time on screens in the National Dialogue chamber for response by Ministers and Mayors.
- In the week leading up to Umushyikirano the senior leadership of the country took part in lengthy live radio debates where any Rwandan could SMS or telephone in their concerns. Participants included the Prime Minister, four Cabinet Ministers and President Kagame who answered questions live on air for almost 4 hours.
- The event was broadcast live on Radio and Television and 16,000 followed the proceedings that were streamed live online around the world.
The National Dialogue this year focused on the themes of Doing Business, Customer Care, Reducing Corruption and the role of the Diaspora. However issues as varied as social erosion, agricultural loans, school buildings, assessment of the “one cow per family” programme, and the quality of broadcast signals in the provinces were raised by Rwandans who telephoned into the event from around the country.Amidst energetic debate, Ministers and other leaders updated the country on these themes, plus:
- Progress towards Vision 2020 for Rwanda, Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy, and the Millennium Development Goals;
- the Gacaca courts (bringing justice and reconciliation after the Genocide);
- Doing Business and improving Customer Care