February 23 was the last Saturday of this month. And in line with tradition, it was community work day (Umuganda) and allover the country, Rwandans who still cherish this custom picked their tools and headed to work.
I say so because many more citizens, especially the ones, who call themselves "corporate," have absconded from this national call leaving it to elderly community leaders and domestic servants.
A friend of mine, a journalist by profession, once cunningly told me that his neighborhood is neither dusty nor overgrown. So the place does not need sweeping or slashing--it is simply fine. Therefore, instead of "wasting time" cleaning the already clean place, he uses the time to catch-up with some reading--reading those books that he has not found time for during his busy schedule.
Another friend, a young lady who works with a distribution company, said she uses the time to clear the backlog of sleep on her head. When I asked her when she exercises this civic duty, which she actually agrees is very good for the community and the country, she said she often sends the house help to represent her household.
That to me sounds not realistic because as a citizen in her own right, the domestic worker has her own role to play in community work and therefore cannot stand in for another person.
The real problem is therefore not about certain neighborhoods being too clean to require my journalist friend's participation in Umuganda. It is not even about catching up on lost sleep and dispatching a house help to represent. The problem seems to be with the way the younger citizenry--the corporate class--perceives its role in community work.
Why do I say so?
There is a noticeably high rate of alcohol consumption on the eve of Umganda. Younger women and men, often having been paid their monthly salaries already (since umuganda is towards/ at the end of the month) flock to bars. The drinking goes on until the early hours Saturday when they either drive back home or hope onto motor bikes straight into their beds.
As the rest of the communities are working, the corporate class is drunk and asleep. Generally speaking, they have sacrificed national development at the altar of booze! When the younger generation, whose mandate is to carry forward tradition, abandons duty, there is good reason to worry.
There are many advantages why the corporate class should keep sober during the night of the last Friday of the month and participate in Umuganda.
First of all, Rwanda has already set very high standards in as far as cleanliness is concerned and the country has indeed distinguished it self having the cleanest streets and cleanest environment in this region and beyond. The sustainability of these standards will largely depend on the participation of the younger generation community-based initiatives such as Umuganda.
Secondly, the foundation for community cohesion and unity already set by Umuganda needs to be developed further by the-so-called leaders of tomorrow. This can only be possible if the youth embraced it now. In other words, time is now for the younger generation to start engaging in discussions on how to incorporate new aspects on social and economic development in the philosophy behind Umuganda.
It will be absurd and several steps backward if this innovation disappeared with the ageing population of current community leaders as the future leaders while away and swim in alcohol in bars.
And when the corporate class chose to take part in Umuganda, it should be for a mere photo opportunity for publicity purposes as some seem to often do. They pose for the pictures and as soon as the cameras are gone, they all jump into their cars and head to bars.