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Dr. Herman Musahara is an Associate Professor and the Director of National University of Rwanda’s Consultancy Bureau. NUR was one of the six institutions selected to participate in the new Talloires Network twinning program, and Dr. Musahara is one of the principal staff members involved in the partnership. Here he speaks with the Talloires Network about NUR’s current civic engagement activities, working in a post-conflict setting, and his hopes for the twinning program.

TN: What are some of NUR’s principal civic engagement activities currently? What is your role in managing these activities?

Civic engagement is embedded in the triple functions of the National University of Rwanda which are teaching, research and community services. Under community services NUR has deliberately been proactive in making the University more relevant to the people. In this regard each faculty and school has invariably tried to engage the Rwanda community. Just to mention the most visible engagements at NUR: the Faculty of Agriculture in collaboration with American universities has engaged  local communities in cooperatives in adopting innovative ways of enhancing of value chains of coffee and other cash crops. The Centre for Conflict Management of the National University of Rwanda has been the single research facility of conflict management in Rwanda and provides civic education to communities. The Faculty of Law has been providing free legal advice and that of Medicine has been proactive in community health and education. The Faculty of Medicine has very active student initiatives of assisting survivors of Rwandan genocide especially widows in select villages near the University. NUR has a ‘Radio Salus’ which has developed into a formidable bridge between the University and Community. The Faculty of Economics and Management has organized an annual solidarity camp where students will be spending some days working with communities in the neighborhood of the University. Students in each of the faculties at NUR have one association or more usually formed around what their discipline can contribute to Rwanda community. Students from the same locality of Rwanda usually have formed associations that link them with communities in their home districts. And many more organized occasionally by individual departments, lecturers, or student groups. These can for the moment be tracked on our website.

Our role as a new Team looking at Community Service at NUR has been to facilitate a coordinated approach to Community Service offered at NUR. These have been offered by faculties and students bodies liberally and voluntarily.  In the near future we plan to set up a Centre of Innovation for Community Development. The Centre will build on a USAID/SPREAD project that is winding up in 2011. The USAID/SPREAD project has been the community engagement mentioned wherein NUR in partnership with American universities, grassroots cooperatives and Rwandan NGOs have worked with communities in producing quality coffee that has found valuable markets in the US and UK often via online auctions. SPREAD stands for Sustainable Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development. I am privileged to chair a committee to oversee the evolution of the Centre managed by NUR by 2011.

TN: How does Rwanda’s post-conflict context affect NUR’s civic engagement activities?

Research, community services are greatly shaped by the post conflict needs and efforts in Rwanda. The genocide of 1994 resulted in massive destruction of human beings and their embodied capacities. The post conflict capacity needs have shaped the ‘raison d’être’ of what NUR can do in the period after genocide. Taking the University to the people has been an effort of bridging the knowledge we generate and skills we impart with the needs of the community of alleviating poverty and raising productivity in the aftermath of the genocide. But underlying all the efforts has been taking part visibly in the reconstruction and reconciliation of Rwanda. NUR as the premier and major University in Rwanda has played a proactive role in the social recapitalization of Rwanda –of restoring a collective spirit, trust and networking and especially  taking on board  the ‘train  of reconstruction and development’ the cream of the Rwandan intelligentsia. NUR staff and students by civic engagement also get the opportunity of promoting active citizenship in a post conflict context of reconstruction and reconciliation.

TN: Tell us about the proposal you submitted to the Talloires Network Twinning Program.  

We proposed firstly looking into what we have and what we need in terms of community services at NUR. This can be facilitated by a needs assessment presumably by using knowledge available with prospective partners.  Second is a proposal of defining a structure of managing community services through setting up infrastructure, institutionalization and giving a home to all the useful functions loosely administered from faculties. The latter objective is part of an objective of putting community services in the University curriculum and putting in place procedures and manuals that will make civic engagement add value that is measurable to what we are doing and minimize duplication. Then thirdly in the Talloires Network proposal we have an objective of engaging our stakeholders very closely in the process of revitalizing community services. The latter objective would be based on a corporate level identification and mapping of the stakeholders and their needs.

TN: What do you think NUR will gain from a partnership with Brighton? How will the twinning program help NUR achieve its goals of further institutionalizing civic engagement?

We look forward to gaining from their experience with institutionalization, how civic engagement is programmed into curricula and the nature of staff and student participation at institutional level. We are anxious to learn from their experience in Bosnia. With resources mobilized it would be possible for NUR to secure the support of capacity already created at Brighton. Even at this stage we have already been invited to the good social networking facility, CUPP. Thanks to Juliet and Dave of Brighton and of course to Talloires Network that has brought us together this far.

TN: How will the partnership be mutually beneficial? What exchange activities do you hope to engage in with Brighton?

Brighton will hopefully widen its scope and network of experience to Rwanda along Bosnia and Senegal and NUR will tap on their previous experience in institutionalizing and networking with the communities. We want to learn how feedback from communities can be monitored and our members of staff will most definitely participate in the academic and research activities that will be stimulated. [S]ubject to successful fund raising it would be a good opportunity for staff and students from Brighton to learn about Rwanda through physical exchange of study visits.

TN: Ten years from now, what do you hope NUR’s civic engagement work will look like?

A successful model of knowledge transfer and networking.