By Olive Mukahirwa
Umushyikirano, known as the National Dialogue Council, was established after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi as part of the nation’s efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity. The first Umushyikirano took place in June 2003. Umushyikirano includes Rwandese from all walks of life, who can ask questions of their leaders either in person or through remote means. After three years on hold due to the pandemic, the 18th Umushyikirano took place in February 2023. According to the official website, Umushyikirano translates as “a meeting where participants are able to exchange ideas, share experiences, and question each other.”
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who chaired the proceedings, opened the council by underlining the importance of working hard as a nation to ensure that the culture of dependency on foreign aid is eradicated.
“Rwandans, Africans cannot be assisted forever. God did not put this great African continent and its people – over 1.3 billion – and decide that they will go to waste just to live in poverty, fed by others, pitied, abused, assisted. … There is no dignity in it,” Kagame said.
The discussions focused on problems that are facing Rwanda. Most questions related to the increase in food prices, the high cost of raising a family, youth behavior, and school dropout rates.
During Umushyikirano, the government released the results of the Fifth Population and Housing Census. Some news was good; for example, life expectancy rose from 51 years in 1992 to 69.5 years in 2022. And the population has grown to 13 million – a 2.3% increase in the past decade. Women make up 51.5% of the population; men 48.5%.
But all is not good news. The primary school dropout rate rose from 5.6% in 2017 to 9.5% in 2020; the rate for secondary school dropouts increased from 4.4% in 2017 to 10.3% in 2020. Death from noncommunicable diseases is at 44% and, in 2020, 33% of children under age 5 suffered from child stunting, according to the Ministry of Health. The high cost for internet, transportation, and food was raised as a common challenge throughout the country, but especially for those living in the capital city of Kigali.
Umushyikirano concluded with recommendations to improve the welfare of citizens.