As part of continuing efforts to rebuild Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, the government of Rwanda has drawn on a set of home grown initiatives to enrich its development programs. These are all drawn from Rwandan culture and traditional practices.
One of such initiatives is the National Leadership Retreat, also known as Umwiherero. The concept of Umwiherero refers to a tradition in Rwandan culture where leaders convened in a serene place to reflect on issues affecting the society. The objective of such a convention was to identify problems with clarity and come up with their solutions.
It is within this spirit that the Government of Rwanda came up with the Umwiherero initiative. For a few days every year, leaders from all arms of Government come under one roof to collectively look at the general trajectory the country is taking and seek remedies to outstanding problems.
Provided for under the constitution, Umwiherero is chaired by the Head of State and during this time, presentations and discussions centre on a broad range of development challenges including but not limited to the economy, governance, justice, infrastructure, health and education.
Initially, Umwiherero had been designed exclusively for senior public officials but it has evolved to include leaders from the private sector as well as civil society.
Since its inception, organizers of Umwiherero have adopted numerous innovative initiatives to expedite the implementation of resolutions agreed upon at each retreat. Since then, the results are quantifiable. These efforts have resulted in noticeable improvements in planning, coordination, and accountability leading to clearer and more concise priorities.
From February 24th – March 2nd 2017, Government leaders will convene for the fourteenth edition of Umwiherero and as usual will be deliberating on ways of improving the wellbeing of Rwandans. Unlike before where the retreat lasted for only two days, this year’s retreat will see leaders camp in Gabiro Combat Training Centre for five days to allow ample time for in-depth discussions and audience participation.
This year’s retreat will focus extensively on key governance, social and economic sectors and programs. These will be theme-based and will include topics on vision 2020 progress, improving service delivery, enhancing citizen’s satisfaction, settlement and urbanization as well as human capital development. Constraints to delivery under each topic will be discussed in details with an emphasis on accountability and improved service delivery.
To the readers out there, the leadership retreat in Rwanda may sound like any routine government workshop where officials take a few hours to discuss substantive issues and use the big portion of it to chitchat.
I can assure you this is a totally different case; the format and setting of the retreat keeps participants focused. It is purposefully designed to put their time at the retreat to good use. To begin with, officials leave the comfort of their SUVs and board buses to the retreat, which normally takes place outside the capital.
Although the ride to Umwiherero is characterized by occasionally cracking jokes, you will also notice that some of the officials will be busy perusing through printed slides of presentations they are supposed to share while others will be in deep thought asking their inner side if they have delivered on their mandate and goals as set from the previous Umwiherero.
The environment at the retreat is natural and tranquil. In fact, participants are obliged to attend an early morning physical workout, which ignites the spirit of teamwork and generates positive energy before they begin discussions. Inside the meeting room, minutes before the retreat starts, participants chant patriotic songs and slogans. The mood then becomes quite intense once discussions begin.
As discussions go deep in exposing matters affecting the wellbeing of the people of Rwanda, poor performers are reprimanded and those who delivered on their mandate will be recognized.
Umwiherero provides a platform for candid talk among senior officials. For example, an official will raise a hand to mention his/her superior who is obstructing a shared development agenda. The said superior is then given a chance to explain to the meeting how he/she intends to resolve this deadlock.
The retreat sets a scene for every leader to be held accountable. Ultimately, this provides an opportunity for leaders to forge a better future for Rwanda. The organization, implementation and outcomes of Umwiherero have vastly improved and significant achievements recorded. The focus has been to make number of key priorities that makes it easier for meaningful discussions and effective implementation.
The retreats are also credited with significantly improving coordination and cooperation between government ministries and agencies. This time round, priorities might not be just small in number, but much more challenging and tougher.
This year’s retreat comes at a time when the Government is preparing for the next presidential election in less than six months. The challenges on everybody concerned to deliver on a smooth, peaceful and nationally accepted outcome cannot be gainsaid.
Rwanda has made remarkable development strides built on strong governance credentials and Umwiherero is with no doubt one of key catalysts to these strides.
Kim Kamasa is The First Secretary of Rwanda High Commission to Kenya.