Rwanda’s clean streets and tidy pavements have attracted the attention of President Cyril Ramaphosa, finance minister Tito Mboweni and Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba — and for good reason. Its litter-free city centres, suburbs and informal settlements are the exception across much of Africa, winning plaudits from around the world. Yet on a recent study visit to the country it soon became clear to me that the lessons for SA go beyond external appearances and a certain fetish for cleanliness. Widespread participation in regular civic campaigns is the first important message. Once a month, every adult is expected to contribute to communal projects, from repairing roads to clearing choked ditches and maintaining public facilities. Everyone from top politicians and senior officials to ordinary citizens dons their overalls and pitches in. President Paul Kagame has built on a long tradition of umuganda to forge a sense of national cohesion through community service. Umuganda literally m...

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