Umushyikirano! National Dialogue delights Rwandan Women.

Kigali, Rwanda

It has been 24 years since the world experienced one of the most horrendous but internationally disregarded killings in what is now called the Rwandan genocide. Memories of the 100 days of the1994 genocide are still fresh in the mind of 53-year-old Aannencito Mukafulika of Gasabo District; Jabana sector.

Annencito was only 29-years-old at the time and had just given birth to her second child. She says that it was the most difficult time in her life because she had to run from one place to the other looking for refuge in the bushes. And seeing some of her family members slaughtered before her devastated her even more.

She is however thankful that women have remained resilient in the quest to make Rwanda a better place. "Even during the time of the Genocide, some women stood tall and safeguarded the lives of those who were being hunted down,” she says.

Among the women who Annencito remembers is Zura Karuhimbi who is said to have saved the lives of over 100 Tutusi by hiding them in her home in Ntongwe, Gitarama.

According to the information in the Rwanda Genocide Memorial, Zura was a traditional healer and was a 70- year-old widow when she hid Tutsi in her animal shed. She is said to have had a reputation of being possessed by evil spirits and she used that to scare the interhemwe (Hutu militias) from her home during the time of the genocide.

Annencito, a mother of eight, now wants to go down in the history of Rwanda as one of the women who helped rebuild the country through her hard work. She is a farmer and owns half an hector of land which she has divided into two and grows vegetable and Amasaro ayu-rwanda loosely translated as beads of Rwanda (pictured below).

As an artiste she used to find difficulties whenever she wanted to use the indigenous beads for her artwork and had to import them at a cost of ($11.42) 10,000 Rwandan franc per kilogram.

Annencito says this was too expensive for the growth of her business and that’s why in 2015 she decided to start growing them on her own. She adds that she now supplies beads to those who want them on wholesale at 5, 000 Rwandan France for the raw ones and 8,000 RF per Kilo for the refined ones.

She feels that her business is contributing to rebuilding Rwanda by not only supporting her household with the basic needs but by also empowering others through offering them employment.

"I have three permanent workers and I do employ at least five seasonal workers when the need arises. They are able to earn an income for their families and together we are adding to the development of our country," she says.

However her contribution to the process of rebuilding Rwanda does not just end at that, she is one of the women who are not afraid to hold her leader accountable.

She views the government’s approaches of holding the Umushyikirano, as one of the wealthiest events. The word Umushyikirano translates to a meeting where participants are able to exchange ideas, share experiences and question each other. Today Umushyikirano is known as the National Dialogue Council.

The first National Dialogue Council took place on 28 June 2003 and has been held each year since. The just-concluded 16th National Umushyikirano in 2018 was also well-celebrated.

Opening day of the 16th National Umushyikirano. Photo: Courtesy.

"It is an opportunity for those in the grassroots to interact with the leaders and ask questions pertaining to their welfare, it is time to hold them accountable to their promises and above all it is time to share my ideas with them, I say its wealth because the leaders listen and the President is always in attendance to give guidance," she says.

The Umushyikirano has become a symbol of national pride and every year as Rwandans from all walks of life, gather Umushyikirino, they look forward to a new vision. The forum is provided for by the Rwandan Constitution and issues related to the state of the nation, functioning of the decentralized structures and national unity are discussed.

With a population of about 12 million people of which 56 percent are women, the people of Rwanda are determined to use National dialogue to unify their country and achieve inclusive development.

Annencito was among at least 2000 delegates who include members of cabinet and Parliament, representatives of the Rwandan community abroad, local government, civil society organization, local and international media and the diplomatic community who attended the 2018 Umushyikirono at the Kigali Convention center.

She was joined by 73-year-old Edith Mary Ariko, a Rwandan, resident in Uganda. She also believes the Umushyikirano is a wonderful event that fosters unity among the Rwandans and creates a vision for development and healing of the nation.

‘The way is still long but the journey is promising, a lot of positive things are happening and the national dialogue is the way to go because even people of the lowest standing in society are given a platform to express themselves,’ Edith said.

She notes that women empowerment and promotion is real in Rwanda as can be seen by women like Annencito who have been empowered and are empowering others to contribute to rebuilding Rwanda through promoting the Rwanda Brand – made in Rwanda.

The Made in Rwanda promotion falls under one of the topics discussed at the Umushyikirano under Connected Communities; partnering for growth. The discourse encourages citizens to seize opportunities and address existing challenges, which include lowering the cost of production, improving the quality of locally made products and improving consumer perception about locally made products.

Other Rwandans followed the proceedings through video links in centers setup in all the 30 districts dotted around the country.

And as part of the resolution to promote their own Rwandan language and culture, the entire session of the dialogue is conducted, in Kinyarwanda, with aided translations provided in English and French.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, delivers his opening speech. Photo: Courtesy.

Delivering his address to the Umushyikirano in Kinyarwanda, Rwanda President Paul Kagame said whenever Rwandans come together and do their best, they always accomplish more than they through possible and faster.

‘We owe all the good results we have achieved towards social – economic transformation to your hard work ‘I thank every Rwandan for what has been achieved, we are better off than we have ever been and we are on the right path’, said Kagame.

The Rwandan President however notes that from experience, the people of Rwanda know that they have the power to multiply the speed and scale of progress. He says leaders should do more that of what they are already capable of, using the resources available and doing it now and not later.

Ruth Kanyanga Kamwi is a Zambia Journalist and a GMT member. She was invited to attend and cover the Rwanda National Dialogue Council (Umushyikirano) by office of the Governments Spokesperson.