The Civic Education Program, also known as Itorero, is one of Rwanda’s Homegrown Initiatives (HGI). Itorero was reintroduced in 2009 as a way to rebuild the nation’s social fabric and mobilize Rwandans to uphold important cultural values and spur a sense of dedication to their country.
The Civic Education Program, also known as Itorero, is one of Rwanda’s Home Grown Initiatives (HGI).
Traditional Itorero was a leadership and cultural school in which Rwandans would learn the language, patriotism, social relations, sports, dancing, songs, martial arts, and leadership. Itorero was reintroduced in 2009 as a way to rebuild the nation’s social fabric and mobilize Rwandans to uphold important cultural values and to spur a sense of dedication to their country. The culture of an Intore (a person who has received the teachings of Itorero) is regarded highly. The modern Itorero program creates opportunities for participants to enhance positive values, build a sense of responsibility through patriotism, build a culture of volunteerism and hone professional abilities. Through Itorero and similar initiatives, the Government of Rwanda sought to reintroduce the culture of serving the country at no financial reward to encourage selfless service – attributes that contribute to accelerating progress and promoting social cohesion, peaceful cohabitation, and public integrity.
Itorero ry’Igihugu, the National Itorero Commission, is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the program and of ensuring that Rwandans from all walks of life have the opportunity to take part. By June 2017, the National Itorero Commission trained more than 1,700,000 Intore from various sectors including teachers, health workers, executive secretaries, farmers, community policing committees as well as students from Rwanda and the diaspora.
Traditional Itorero sought to form complete and distinguished leaders mastering the various aspects of the country’s social, cultural, political, and military life. Young people were sent to the Itorero care from early adolescence until their early twenties.
Itorero trainers planned daily activities according to different priorities and every newcomer in Itorero had to undergo initiation, known in Kinyarwanda as
gukuramo ubunyamusozi. The common belief was that the people who had been trained in Itorero, stood out from the rest of the community, especially in matters of expression and behavior, because they were expected to be quick thinkers, experts in social relations, and knowledgeable individuals. Each Itorero included 40 to 100 participants of various age groups and had its own unique name. The best graduates would receive cows or land as rewards.
The tradition of Itorero provided formative training for future leaders. These community leaders and fighters were selected from Intore (individuals who took part in Itorero) and were trained in military tactics, hand-to-hand combat, jumping, racing, javelin throwing, archery, and endurance. They were also taught economics, ethical values, Rwandan cultural values, management of men, eloquence, hunting, and loyalty to the army.
Traditionally, Itorero was found at two levels of the traditional administration: at the regional chief’s court and the king’s court. Training in Itorero was preceded by training within the family. At the family level, both girls and boys would be educated on how to fulfill their responsibilities as defined by the expectations of their communities. For example, the man was expected to protect his family and the country, while the woman was expected to provide a good home and environment for her family. Adults were also asked to treat every child as their own in order to promote good behavior among children.
At the chiefly level, a teenage boy was selected by either his father or the head of the extended family to be introduced to the chief so he could join his Itorero group. The selection was based on good behavior among the rest of his family and his community.
At the king’s court – the highest level of Itorero – the person selected to join could either be the son of a man who went through the king’s Itorero or a young man who distinguished himself while in the chief’s Itorero. The king could also select the young man who would join his Itorero based on his own observations of the candidate in action.
Both the chief-level and king’s court-level Itorero training lasted for long periods of time to test the perseverance of the participants. Those who performed well would be rewarded with cows, allowed to return home and get married, or nominated to various national duties. Intore who distinguished themselves were called “Intore zo ku mukondo”, which translates as the “first-rate Intore”.
During colonization, traditional Itorero gradually disappeared because the values taught there opposed the structures imposed on society by colonization. In 1924, the colonial administration prohibited classic Itorero and introduced western-style schools. During and after the colonial period, the Itorero became purely cultural institutions, focusing on song and dance.