Umwiherero: Rwanda’s most frank platform

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If self-assessment lets a person know their strength and weaknesses, the National Leadership Retreat commonly called Umwiherero offers the perfect platform, analysts say.

“Umwiherero is important. The most frank platform for self-assessment. It deals with challenges unlike other platforms that deal with achievements,” Lonzen Rugira, a researcher and commentator on public affairs, told Nation Magazine.

The 17th National Leadership Retreat that ran from Feb.16 to19 at the Rwanda Defence Force Combat Training Centre in Gabiro, Gatsibo district, adopted 16 resolutions.

These include to assess the quality of education in existing higher learning institutions and review the current accreditation and licensing requirements for the new ones, to discontinue automatic student promotion practice in schools and reinforce a merit-based system to prioritize quality in education.

The policy of automatic promotion of students had been adopted in primary and secondary public schools in order to avoid repetition rate which led to school dropouts. The retreat also resolved to increase number of Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) schools and devise a strategy to make them more accessible and affordable.

“Umwiherero is essential for mobilizing sense of common purpose in leaders,” added Rugira.

 According to Ismael Buchanan, senior lecturer of the department of political science at the University of Rwanda the retreat helps to unite senior leaders in Rwanda including business leaders, foreign diplomats, donors, governors and Rwandan ambassadors among others.

“It offers the direction to take. Most of leaders are invited, including registered political party leaders, to discuss issues about their country, the challenges and how to overcome those challenges not only in governance but also in socio-economic transformation of this country,” he said.

The February event focused on ways to shape the country’s journey toward Vision 2050, where Rwanda targets to achieve an upper-middle-income status by 2035 and a high-income status ($12, 000 annual per capita income) by 2050.

To achieve its vision Rwanda just needs to stay the course of the sense of urgency that was seen in the delivery of vision 2020, said Rugira. “Identify key sectors and push for excellence in them and let them pull the rest.”

Officials from government and private sector attended the retreat

Emphasis on living standards

About 400 people from the government, private sector, youth and friends of Rwanda participated in the four-day retreat.

The scholar [Buchanan] underlined the need for the government to put emphasis on or continue to improve living standards, universal health care, education, construct and provide affordable housing, among others. In addition, gender equality must be part of this agenda. Buchanan argues that Rwanda needs to work toward reaching her vision 2050 targets by among others freeing herself from aid dependency and international pressure which comes with foreign aid.

Achieving the vision will require average annual growth of above 10% from the current 7.5% average growth over the last few years, according to experts.

 “There is a lot of work on to sustain what Rwanda has achieved. All these will happen if Rwandans work in collaboration, and coordination is the key,” Buchanan said.

In his remarks President Paul Kagame warned ineffective leaders to prepare to account.

 The President cautioned the government officials against treating their jobs and offices like their own. Reminding leaders that they were public servants who should work in the interest of Rwandans, Kagame challenged those who are not up to the task to do the honourable thing, quit.

No room for flattery

Asked whether the warning would drive impetus or send the leaders panicking, Buchanan said the message was a wakeup call.

“Praising people just to keep them happy is not a good approach to help the president in his job to build a strong and resilient team,” he said. “Praising them often makes them soft, that is why he needed to warn them.” Noting that this kind of accountability is more predictable, the scholar said the president’ approach will give more fruitful results in the future.

To Rugira, from the president’s speech leaders should be aware that no kind of corruption will be tolerated and that there won’t be impunity.

Other resolutions

Other resolutions adopted at this year’s retreat include developing a concrete plan to facilitate strengthening of private sector skills, reviewing mining sector strategies to improve diversification and value addition, supporting access to private equity funds as alternative to loans, and fostering collective investment schemes especially in high value-added industries and service sectors.

In addition, the retreat resolved to revamp Early Childhood Development Program and prioritize reduction of malnutrition and stunting among children, automate processes including medical records and billing to improve patient experience and service delivery in health facilities as well as regulate dual practice in public health facilities to improve service delivery.

The annual retreat has its genesis in Rwandan tradition where leaders would gather to reflect on issues affecting their communities. Since 2014 the forum draws resolutions so as to ensure accountability.

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