Kagame Roots for Citizen-centred Dev’t

Rwanda President Paul Kagame has reiterated the need to involve citizens in planning and execution of development programmes.

“Development is what happens when citizens are convinced about the logic and pace of change. When citizens are on board, for sale they do the work themselves, abortion unaffected by the many generalisations made about them out there,” said President Kagame.

President Kagame this week spoke to over 800 students and faculty at the International Conference for Sustainable Development held at Columbia University.

Themed “Implementing the SDGs: Getting Started,” the conference brought together various stakeholders to discuss the sustainable development goals.

Speaking on three factors forming the triangle of development, President Kagame emphasized the importance of citizen involvement:

“Sustainable development is not about what “we”, all of us here, do for them, but about the choices they make each day, over and over.”

Rwanda used what was known as Gacaca Courts in a people-centred judicial system to resolve cases that arose from the 1994 genocide.

On the last Saturday of each month, millions of Rwandans come together to improve their communities. The program is called Umuganda (meaning ‘coming together in common purpose’) and has been crucial for reconciliation and building Rwanda anew.


Umuganda typically begins at 8am, at which time the community meets to work on a project.

This might be building a road, rehabilitating wetlands, fixing erosion or building houses for vulnerable people or constructing houses for the needy.

This is followed by a community meeting to discuss national and local issues. The concept is related to the idea of solidarity and a communal sense of living.

Sharing the approach chosen by Rwanda to achieve development, President Kagame pointed to citizens as key to any achievement to date:

“For Rwanda, there is nothing casual about the term “lessons learned”. We have been changed by real learning from our experiences and circumstances,’” he observed.

“Therefore we have had to do things differently, earning us different results. At the core of our political mobilisation work, are the principles of inclusiveness, taking responsibility and building consensus.”


With the upcoming SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), President Kagame called on a less theoretical and more citizen centred approach to development.

He said the SDGs are the next chapter in global collaboration on development and hopefully, a new opportunity to move away from the ‘business as usual’ mode.

“Let’s work to complement the new SDG framework, with a genuine effort, to objectively assess the degree of citizen buy-in and involvement, in decision-making and accountability. It is up to us, to make the most of this new opportunity,” said Kagame.

The two day International Conference on Sustainable Development brought together leaders in various fields to identify and share practical, evidence-based solutions that can support the SDGs, which will be agreed upon at the United Nations immediately following the conference.

Introducing President Kagame, Professor Jeffrey Sachs described him as the MDGS President and defined Rwanda as having made more progress in MDGs than any other country in the last 15 years.

Concluding the conference, Professor Jeffrey Sachs announced Rwanda as the location for the Sustainable Development Centre for the African continent.

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