Indigenous social work practice in Africa: Telling our practice stories amid COVID-19 Interventions

16. November 2020
A man is standing in front of a lake and smiling into the camera.
APPEAR scholarship holder Charles Rutikanga participated in this online event and talked about the indigenous models of problem solving that are built on the Rwandan history and culture.

Social work scholars have argued that for a long period, there have been continued calls and efforts to rid social work education and practice of its largely Western orientation in order to make it more relevant to African contexts. The move has been informed by the realization that what is conceived and conceptualized for particular contexts in the Western world may not necessarily produce similar effects in other settings. This is due to differences in cultural orientations, different development stages that imply different sets and magnitudes of social problems, as well as differing social, economic, political, and spiritual realities. Other scholars also indicated that locally relevant cultural practices, indigenous knowledge systems, and African ethical concepts are very important elements for the success of social problem solving in the African context.

It is in the same frame work that, on 16th September 2020 our APPEAR scholarship holder Charles was invited for the online conversation on indigenous social work practice in Africa, organized by the International Federation of Social Workers, Africa Region.

In this conversation Charles talks about the indigenous models of problem solving that are built on the Rwandan history and culture. These indigenous models include Umuganda (community work), Gacaca (truth and reconciliation traditional courts), Abunzi (mediators), Imihigo (performance contracts), Ubudehe (community-based and participatory effort towards problem solving), Itorero (civic education academy) and Ingando (solidarity camps), Umushyikirano (national dialogue), Umwiherero (National Leadership Retreat), Girinka (One Cow per Family programme) were first presented as practical ways intended to overcome the immense challenges Rwanda was faced with at the turn of the 20th century. In this discussion, Charles shown that these indigenous models are a direct response to economic and social challenges and contribute to fulfilling the developmental vision of Rwanda. He further showed that some of these indigenous models were used to mobilize Rwandans for solidarity to help one another during coronavirus period Rwanda was also under partial lockdown. During this period, many people lost their jobs as most of businesses suspend operations. Due to restricted movement many casual laborers who earn a living on daily basis were out of work. A lot of contributions were in form of food stuff, money as some people gave their salaries to help those in need and some landlords decided to wave the rental fees to tenants who could not pay their rent during the lockdown period as part of this solidarity. At the end of the conversation Charles recommended the use of hybrid models where endogenous and innovative models of problem solving could be use to solve problems, he also called upon researchers, educators and social work practitioners to research, document and share among others the relevant and positive indigenous models used to solve people’s problems from different parts of the African region.

Charles Rutikanga is a PhD student at University of Vienna, Department of Development students, funded by APPEAR. He is also a lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Rwanda (UR) since 2009. He obtained his Master of Social Work Social Administration from Uganda Christian University and a Bachelor’s degree from National University of Rwanda. He served as a social work practitioner for 3 years in Health Poverty Action - Rwanda Chapter from 2006-2009 and coordinated the implementation of several research projects including PROSOWO projects I and II in 2011-2014 and 2016-2019, respectively (all funded by APPEAR). He was also involved in implementing other projects in his university and he has benefited from different lecturer exchange programmes from different parts of the world. His research interests include social work, childhood and child protection as well as social development.