Anyone who has been to our national celebrations or other official functions will have noticed a number of things. First, they run like clockwork. Secondly, there are very few speeches, usually not more than two, and the longest 9by the President of the Republic) not longer than ten to fifteen minutes. Finally, until the chief guest arrives, there is almost non-stop singing.
This says a lot about the organisation of the events – tight, not tedious, attendee friendly, and so on.
But it would seem that these events would be incomplete without the morale raising songs belted out by the various Intore (agents of change) from across the country.
They sing about patriotism and development, work, nation building and responsibility, and a host of other subjects. Sometimes they sing with so much gusto and stamp hard on the ground with so much vigour that if you are in the national stadium, you fear that the collective foot-thumping will bring the structure down. It hasn’t so far, but it may be a good idea to carry out periodic structural checks.
Other times the singers have to be coaxed by the morale booster-in-chief to hum a few tunes, until eventually they break into full voice. You can’t blame for having to be cajoled before they burst into a full-hearted rendition of by-now popular songs. Most will have been up for many hours and all would have been in the stadium for a long time.
All the songs are full of meaning. They are a call to Rwandans to action. The most popular goes something like this: “We shall build our country/ we the children of Rwanda will build our country/ and turn it into paradise.” And so on. It is a very rousing song that even the less sensitive to any sort of rhythm cannot resist clapping or tapping their foot to it.
Still, some people simply sing along and never give much thought to the meaning.
But there is also evidence that the meaning of the song has actually been absorbed (internalised, some would say)
Last Friday, a group of Rwandans took the lyrics literally and raised money to turn Rwanda into paradise – not for the few as some cynics like to say – but for everyone. Businesspeople celebrating President Paul Kagame’s first anniversary of his inauguration for a second term reported they had raised 300 million Rwandan francs towards the girinka (one cow given to a vulnerable family) project.
The business community promised that they would do more. In a simple calculation carried out at the venue of the celebration, they reckoned that if every able Rwandan contributed as little as one thousand francs, they could raise enough money to make sure that no Rwandan ever goes hungry, has no shelter or lacks medical care.
They may have been thinking aloud, but the proposal is not outside the realm of possibility. And knowing Rwandans, that possibility will come sooner rather than later.
What the business community did last Friday follows similar citizen initiatives like the one dollar campaign that raised millions of francs for building houses for survivors of the genocide.
Now, the action of the business people is uniquely Rwandan. It would not happen in many other places. Supporting government efforts is sometimes regarded as near treason in some countries. Subversion of those efforts actually gets lauded as patriotic. Here self-help and helping others is increasingly getting ingrained in the culture.
What they did is carrying umuganda to another level. Incidentally umuganda is not only about sweeping streets and keeping the neighbourhood tidy, important as these are. It is more about work on community projects – be they schools, roads, houses for the vulnerable, water wells, and so on. Everyone brings their contribution, which is what umuganda means – adding your bundle to a collective contribution.
The business community last week – and others before them, and many more to come – were responding to another popular slogan among Intore. Intore does not simply lament about difficulties; s/he looks for solutions to whatever challenges they face. That is the spirit within which they raised so much money to provide a solution to the question of poverty.
So the slogan you are likely to hear at national celebrations is not for keeping awake slumbering officials. Nor is it for keeping the people entertained. Of course, it does these things, and more. But it also mobilises people to action for individual and collective good. As President Kagame noted when he met the Rwandan diaspora in Paris on Sunday, every citizen deserves a better life and can get it given a little support.
Seeking solutions rather than lamenting inability to do anything is also becoming part of the national culture. Increasingly a can-do attitude is taking root. And that can only be good for the country.