It is now well known that Rwanda approaches most issues that affect the country with such seriousness, focus, commitment and innovation that leave little room for failure. Whether it is financial management, protection of the environment, security or football, the commitment is the same – it must work and benefit Rwandans.
Rwanda must rank high among the countries that place the environment at the top of their development agenda. Now, it has taken environmental protection to another level in which it is integrated in the entire development process.
Integration is a much loved word in Rwanda because of the results it brings. Various policies and programmes, whether in health, education, or economic development, are integrated with each other to achieve a more effective and cheaper whole. The opposite – stand-alone programmes receive little favour because they are more costly and less effective overall.
Back to the environment and integration. Yesterday, President Paul Kagame inaugurated a new village (umudugudu) that illustrates how this works and how human settlement and economic activity do not conflict with protection of the environment. In fact the mudugudu shows how they are mutually beneficial.
The steep hills of Northern Rwanda are perhaps as famous as the gorillas that live in the higher volcano range. They are notoriously difficult to cultivate, or settle on. The abundant rainfall in the area washes away the most fertile soil and sometimes, even houses, or huge chunks of the hills.
Now, a solution may have been found to this perpetual struggle between nature and man in which the latter is invariably the loser. The solution is so simple that it is incredible it took us so long to figure it out. It is basically about settlement and better and integrated use of resources. This is what the Umudugudu of Kabeza in Gicumbi District is all about.
The mudugudu is built on top of the hill, freeing the slopes for making terraces for cultivation. The terraces break the speed of run-off water, check the loss of soil and retain much of the water. That which flows downhill is then collected in reservoirs to be used for irrigation.
In the mudugudu, Girinka, the one cow per family has become a communal rather than individual project. There is a common collection centre for waste from the cows which is used to generate biogas that is distributed to all the houses for cooking and lighting. The residue is then used as manure in the terraces.
Rain water from all the roofs is collected into a huge underground tank from where it is piped to different taps in the mudugudu.
This is the beauty of Kabeza in Gicumbi. There is minimal loss but utmost utilisation of resources, and optimal benefits to all. All because they are integrated.
This village, developed by UNDP, UNEP and REMA is the rural settlement of the future in Rwanda.
This is one environmental protection and development initiative that comes after others that have proved successful.
Every visitor to Rwanda now knows that you cannot bring in a polythene bag. They will have been told about that at airports and on the plane. And if some find it difficult to imagine a world without polythene, they soon change their mind upon arrival. They realise that this ban is real and it is one of Rwanda’s environmental successes.
Perhaps the more widely known conservation measure is the protection of the gorillas. The annual Kwita Izina ceremony (naming of baby gorillas) has become an important fixture on the international tourism and conservation calendar.
These giant creatures from which we may have separated along our evolutionary path have been living with us for ages. Clashes over the use of shared resources by the two neighbours were always inevitable.
Now, gorillas are famous, actually, international stars. Diana Fossey got them on the road to fame. The Rwanda Development Board has confirmed their stardom and added something else. They are also the country’s cash cow and must therefore be protected.
But what about the people living in the same neighbourhood? Must they languish in poverty, denied the use of the rich fertile land the hairy and possibly distant cousins occupy?
Apparently not. In a sign of good neighbourliness, the two have agreed to share benefits of their habitat. The gorillas will bring in the tourists and money. The people share the receipts from tourism. The price for recognition of their neighbours” star status is to protect their habitat. Everyone is happy – like all good neighbours.
The Kabeza settlement is in the same league as these two. Bur I am sure it will not attract as much attention as either. I am almost certain it will bring about howls of protest from that breed of “conservationists” who would want Africans to remain in their “natural” habitat rather like the gorillas for curious visitors to come and view unspoilt human beings. And they will accuse Rwanda of insensitive rural engineering.
Who cares? Rwandans enjoy better lives and we conserve our motherland. That’s what matters.