December 17, 2019

Umushyikirano 2003-2018: Without President Kagame, There Is No Umushyikirano

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The annual national dialogue or Umushyikirano opens this Thursday is Kigali. It is time the country is treated to dramatic scene of accountability and embarrassment. Away from these however, as The Chronicles details here, it has shaped the country today since it was first held in 2003.

2003: Beginning of The IDEA

In accordance with Article 168 of the new constitution which had just been adopted in May 2003, government organised the first ever ‘National Council of Dialogue’ or Inama y’Umushyikirano. The event held June 30-31, brought together Rwandans representing different sections of society. The first dialogue was held in the Parliamentary chambers, where it was for many more. The 2003 event was to discuss national issues ahead of multi-party president elections two months later.
President Kagame told delegates leaders that dependency on foreign assistance should be uprooted. “How do you call yourself a leader yet you depend on begging?” Kagame asked.

Unusually though, the event was opened to exiled politicians. Faustin Twagiramungu called in from Brussels. Those who were there then remember explosions of laughter and anger in equal measure from those in the hall. He dismissed the dialogue as cosmetic and RPF ploy to look out legitimate opposition. The organizer have never committed that mistake again.

2004: All-powerfull brothers missing

Over 800 participants attended the Conference held December 21-22, 2004 in Kigali. In both the opening and closing remarks, President Kagame criticizes nation’s officials for allowing misbehaviour and lack of accountability. Little did people sense he was slowly detaching himself from two brothers who had been the deciders in Rwanda.

The country had weeks before witnessed the disgraceful departures of Supreme Court Vice President Gerald Gahima, who had previously been Prosecutor General, and Gahima’s brother, Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa, who abruptly announced taking a leave of absence from his position as the President’s chief of staff. It was start of painful chapter in their lives. The rest is history!

2005: First local elections

The 3rd national dialogue held December 14-15, 2005 with attendance of over 800 people reviewed progress on what had been recommended at the previous two sessions. At the session, speakers raised concerns over the implementation of dialogue’s decisions. The 2005 dialogue came following the first local elections from village level up to the district which were result of reform of names of all local units. These units were touted at Umushyikirano as a solution to poor service delivery.

2006: Diplomatic corp not invited for first time

The Fourth Dialogue held December 18-20, 2006, was perhaps the most dramatic. It took place following months of international scrutiny of government. On day one the three-day session, President Kagame dismissed, in long speech, the western values of political space and freedom of press. The following hours saw speaker after another lambasting foreign donors and campaign groups which preach good governance to Rwanda.

Either by design or coincidence, envoys accredited to Kigali had not been invited.

2007: Diaspora invited for first time

Unlike the previous year, this time ambassadors were invited to the Fifth National Dialogue December 27-28, 2007. As a new innovation, Rwandans living abroad were invited – which has remained the norm ever since, reason why Umushyikirano is held in December to fall in the international holiday calendar. Hundreds of diaspora descend on Rwanda for Christmas.

The Ministry of education also came under fierce criticism from delegate after delegate for doing too little amid the worsening problem of genocide ideology in schools. The Education Minister at the time, Dr. Jean d’Arc Mujyawamariya missed the event – reportedly sick. But rumours circulated in the conference hall that she expected fire so she stayed away. Her deputy Joseph Murekeraho was booed several times as he presented his Ministry’s plans for the future.

MINEDUC was accused of failing to settle the status of UNILAK. The conference recommended it be submitted to cabinet – another thumbs down for MINEDUC. UNILAK status has since been rectified. Dr Mujawamariya last month bounced back to cabinet as environment minister, after years in the Russian cold.

2008: Sovereign Development Fund

There were vigorous campaigns promoting the Fund. Today, government employees have a small portion of the pay cut to out in the fund. Private entities also supposed to do so. Basically, an entity facing a PR disaster, will likely organize a handover of a cheque to Agaciro. It is good publicity

The Sixth Dialogue held December 18-19, 2008 saw the usual issues being raised – instead delegates calling for intensification of efforts. Among the 24 recommendations was the establishment of a Sovereign Development Fund as part of the strategy to wean Rwanda off donor aid. Today, it has reached about $210m, a remarkable journey indeed.

The controversy happening today over English or Kinyarwanda began at this event. It is at the 6th Umushyikirano that the planned transition to English as the language of instruction in Rwanda’s schools was announced. All schools now teach in English. But the conference also recommended the Kinyarwanda be preserved as a national language. A French-Kinyarwanda dictionary has since been born.

2009: “One Cow per leader” instead of “one cow per poor family”

For the 7th Dialogue held December 10-11, concerns were raised by speaker after another over issues that keep coming back – suggesting there were weaknesses in the implementation.

The event was broadcast live on the internet as well as on national television and radio. Rwandans at home and abroad participated through unscreened call-in questions and SMS texts which were projected on a large screen and read out loud.

The high end to the event came when President Kagame public grilled different officials over the Gira Inka program (‘One cow per poor family’) where it emerged the cows had instead been taken by officials. The issue was discussed for several hours. At some point, President Kagame directed that he wanted a report in not more than a month on how the problem had been solved. And indeed, hundreds of supposedly well-off people lost the cows they may have acquired illegally.

Engagement with the diaspora introduced two years earlier was paying off. Figures presented showed that Rwanda earned more from remittances – an estimated $175m in 2009, than it did from coffee and tea exports.

Those who remember the event can recall the embarrassing answers given by then Agriculture Minister Dr Agnes Kalibata. Today, she has moved on to become an international citizen. Yesterday, the UN Secretary General gave her a new high profile global posting.

2010: More than 100,000 follow event online

The Eighth Dialogue taking place December 20-21, 2010 came with its own innovations. Various other events were organised on the sideline of the main conference.

Streamed live ( and, 70,000 people followed proceedings via the Internet for day one. On the second day the number rose to 100000.

It was decided in resolutions that Kinyarwanda language would be given more hours in schools. Encouraging all Rwandans still in exile to return home and “see” with their own eyes the “new Rwanda” and thereafter consider returning home.

2012: Renting electricity meters halted

Held December 13-14, the Ministry of infrastructure came under scrutiny when a call asked why there is monthly Rwf 500 fee paid by everyone who has an electricity meter. The poorest Rwandan was paying same fee as the richest. The fee had existed for years and became a normality. However, on that day, for everyone following the Umushyikirano on the conference hall, state TV/rado and online, it became such a bad idea. Kagame, added more oil to the anger, when he wondered whether he also paid Rwf 500.

That marked the death of the meter renting fee, as Umushyikirano recommended it be phased out by 2013.

2013: Year of “Ndi Umunyarwanda”

Around mid 2013, President Kagame spoke so candidly about what being Rwandan meant at a function organized by the First Lady’s Imbuto Foundation. It is the time Rwanda was introduced to a young man called Edouard Bamporiki. He had an initiative in which people from families of genocide convicts ask for forgiveness from survivors and Rwandans as a whole. It sparked fire that has been burning to today, and may never die away. When Umushyikirano came in December, it was the talk!

You will never get bored listening to Edouard Bamporiki even if he spoke for hours. He has this rare command of the Kinyarwanda language. Ever since the First Lady introduced him to Rwanda, it has been a rollercoaster ride to the top: Parliament, heading a major government body, and last month elevated to cabinet as State Minister for Culture.

2014: BBC Untold Story documentary

On the night of October 1, British broadcaster BBC aired a documentary titled “Rwanda’s Untold Story”. To cut a long story short, the world was introduced to well crafted narrative that what has been said by the government of Rwanda, President Kagame himself, has been false. A counter movement was launched in Rwanda led by young genocide survivors. It remains extremely influential in Rwandan discourse today. In December that, the main topic of discussion at Umushyikirano was how to counter the global genocide negationist movement. A lot has happened since then.

2015: Vision 2050 is born

The biggest moment was set on day one of the 2015 national dialogue with Kagame’s speech. Government statistics showed the country had exceed some indicators of the Vision 2020 ahead of time. So Kagame, announced move from Vision 2020, to Vision 2050 and offered strategies to get there; high quality education, technology, etc.

For first time, Umushyikirano moves from Parliamentary building to the new Radisson Blu and Kigali International Conference Center.

2016: Kagame “deadline” to wean Rwanda off aid completely

Kagame’s state of the nation address became the first and final big moment. Kagame had come from a tough previous years of donor countries holding back on their cash. Fed up, he said: “….among decisions of this dialogue, we should resolve to set a deadline which should come sooner rather than later after which Rwanda will no longer be waiting for what others have handed out to us.”

From entirely depending on donors from 1994 for several years later, for the 2015-16 budget, the country’s resources were contributing 66% of budget. In current budget issued in June this year, donor aid is down to 14%.

Aid dependence is a theme Kagame also highlighted in the first Umushyikirano in 2003.

2017: Catholic Church propose change in national school calendar

Catholic Church asks, through its representative, the Bishop of Byumba Diocese, Silverien Nzakamwita, calmly explained to government the disadvantages of the then school calendar to take into consideration the dry season.

Clerics argued that July and August and September are months where it is too hot for students to concentrate on studies while the long holidays start end in October and almost stretches to beginning of January.

Besides studies, he added that there is water shortage in some areas and students are required to first fetch water hence delaying to attend classes. The calendar, now operational, is only testament to the power the Catholic Church still wields

2018: Kagame state of the nation address on teleprompter

Indications of worsening Rwanda-Uganda relations were on clear display in Kagame’s speech. He accused unnamed regional neighbor of supporting people who want to destabilize Rwanda. He warned he wouldn’t tolerate “provocations”. Reading from a teleprompter, for the first time, and all signs of statesman on display, he said efforts of regional integration are suffering setbacks because leaders in the region are involved in bad mouthing, beating war drums, and continuously engaging in arguments about petty and trivial matters.

The current situation is there for everyone to see.

TAKE AWAY – Increasingly over the years, President Paul Kagame has taken center stage at Umushyikirano. He drives the agenda and it seems he is very aware of that. During the sessions, when he moves out, most likely for a short personal break, the whole conference room goes dull. As par the official political hierarchy, the President of the Senate takes on guiding the proceeding. But it is clear to all that no serious business is taking place, until Kagame returns.

Kagame has tactfully mastered how to identify an issue that provokes tempers. It can be a call from ordinary person, proposal from inside the conference hall. Sometimes, its just a statement made by an official.

In short, without President Kagame, there is no Umushyikirano!

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