Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Umuganda Day

Last week when I was in Rwanda I noticed something HIGHLY unusual for Africa.  This:
Do you see it?  No?  Ok, here, look again:
Seriously? You don’t see it?  Ok, let’s try this one more time:
You STILL don’t see what I see?  Maybe I should have said, “Look what you don’t see in Rwanda.”  Here, let me give you a point of comparison.  Take a look at Nairobi, Kenya:
Or, in an effort to be very direct, here is Congo:

Now look back at the Rwanda pictures. Can you see the difference?  There is no trash in Rwanda!  NONE!

I actually didn’t realize the lack of trash in Rwanda initially until a friend was driving me around and all of a sudden I said, “Why is it so clean here?”  According to the guidebooks Windhoek, Namibia is supposed to be the cleanest city in Africa.  Having visited both Windhoek and now Rwanda I must disagree.  Kigali is the cleanest city in Africa, and Rwanda is the cleanest country, hands down.  

Typically in Africa when something breaks there is no attempt to repair it.  Is sits where you leave it until it disappears, which may be never.  If you are finished using something and don’t need it anymore, you do the same thing, toss it out without any attention paid to where it lands.  Thus, Rwanda is a very unique case study in this “all the world’s a trash can” culture across the continent.  I asked my friend about the unusual cleanliness of Rwanda and he said, “We adopted a shift in attitude and belief system and now everyone takes part in it.”

Apparently a few years ago the President of Rwanda decided to create Umuganda Day which takes place from 8am to 11am on the last Saturday of each month.  During these three hours all citizens are expected to participate in volunteer community service in which they clean streets, manicure green areas and repair public facilities.  It took about four years for everyone to really adopt the practice, but it has become so ingrained in the culture that people now make an effort to keep their community tidy on a daily basis.  I think there is a good possibility that the creator of Umunganda Day was a form Disney cast member as all the Rwandan residents have embraced the walk and scoop.

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