Rwanda – dubbed the cleanest country in Africa – has an interestingly sad history. Cleanliness aside, the country is perhaps best known for the ethnic cleansing events of the mid-1990s when a genocidal mass slaughter of the Tutsi by members of the Hutu majority reduced the country to ashes.
As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, government drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programs to the country’s needs and context.
The result was a set of home-grown solutions, culturally-owned practices translated into sustainable development programs. One of these home-made solutions is Umuganda.
Umuganda speaks of a ‘coming together for a common purpose to achieve an outcome’. Like Harambee in Swahili, it is a call for communities to come together to get a job done. It entails calling upon family, friends and neighbours to help complete a difficult task – usually in return for no payment.
Rwanda refined its Umuganda concept to achieve multiple key national targets – chief of which were nationhood among people with a checkered past, as well as using community work to rebuild the country from the pieces of one of the worst civil wars in the history of mankind.
Regarding community work, Rwanda used the Umuganda concept to clean up the country – propelling it to the pinnacles of cleanliness on the continent. Our own capital, Windhoek, was toppled by Kigali as the cleanest city in Africa, a status we have desperately tried to reclaim but in vain.
President Hage Geingob has declared tomorrow as a day to clean up the whole country – one of the best ever decisions by his administration as far as we are concerned.
We like the hype and commitment shown in the past couple of days by communities across the length and breadth of this wonderful country. Some communities were so excited they didn’t wait until Friday. Nations are built in exactly these seemingly small but important ways – as proven in Rwanda.
On the last Saturday of each month, Rwandan communities come together to do a variety of public works. This often includes infrastructure development and environmental protection. When the sun rises on the last Saturday of each month in Rwanda, it sets over a cleaner, and even more united, country.
Namibia must take a leaf from that and ensure tomorrow’s cleaning is not a flash in the pan or PR gimmick, but indeed the beginning of a sustained attack on filth and the germs that accompany it.
Public cleaning, as is the case with cleaning our homes, must be perpetual and regular. Rwanda, the smallest country in East Africa and the second smallest in Africa, has shown in more ways than one that human will is more powerful than thermal power.
A success of this campaign goes deeper than cleanliness. This is a recipe for national chemistry and nation-building. When Namibians leave their tribal cocoons and go all out to ensure the entire country – and not just the jurisdictions of their chiefs and indunas – the signs are clear this country is geared for greatness.