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Rwanda Culture

Dress, Punctuality & Formality
As a general rule, you should dress well at work, especially when you hold a position of power. You do not necessarily always need to wear a jacket and tie, but an unkempt appearance is often poorly regarded. Relations between superiors and their subordinates are more or less formal, call people by their titles (Director, Secretary-General, Prefect, etc.) and go through the secretary for a contact. Rwandans are indiscriminate in their use of peoples’ first or last name. The choice depends on which is easiest to say or what is common practice in the workplace. Moreover, it is to your advantage to note that most Rwandan last names are given to individuals and are not “family names” as in the West, where a child inherits his father’s name. Therefore, you will meet brothers and sisters (who have the same father) who have different last names. On the other hand, having the same “family name” does not mean that people are in any way related. Certain last names are popular.
People are not used to working under pressure and what is not finished today can be done tomorrow. Individuals also ask for days off for social events (burials, weddings, or family illness).
Preferred Managerial Qualities
Generally, it is expected that the superior has expertise in a key area of the organization, treats his junior employees fairly (especially if he is an expatriate), and reassures others about their job security. People also appreciate a director “who respects himself”, and this may be judged by his dress, his acquaintances, and the example that he sets at work. People also appreciate a director who establishes clear work guidelines. As well they appreciate the superior getting involved in extra-professional activities, especially by organizing them and contributing financially. It is not always easy for a superior to know how his staff perceives him. Some establish special ties with members of the organization in order to get feedback, but generally lose out since they may be manipulated and annoy the rest of the staff. The best way is probably to establish regular contact with people through extra-professional and social activities, thereby building trust.
Hierarchy and Decision-making
Decisions are usually made on a hierarchical basis. Frequently, the pride of many Rwandans prevents them from publicly expressing their ideas if they unsure that they are good ones or if they doubt that they will be approved by their superior. During meetings, especially those chaired by expatriates, some people will not speak, simply because they are afraid of speaking poorly in French or English and being the laughing stock of their colleagues.
People readily consult their direct supervisor when he is known for his skill and assistance. Consulting a direct supervisor is also an occasion to make him aware of what is happening and, in general, he will appreciate it.
Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender
Gender:
In organizations, men hold most of the higher-level positions even if more and more women are being promoted to them. Society is generally stricter with women’s deviant behavior than with men’s. In the workplace, women in positions of responsibility must be twice as careful as their male colleagues since their junior employees (including women employees, even perhaps especially women) may attribute their errors to the fact they are female.
Religion:
Most Rwandans have a religious faith, but religion does not interfere with professional life (although there are a few exceptions). Most people are Christian (Catholic, Protestant, Adventist) and others are Muslim (particularly city-dwellers).
Class:
Social classes, as we traditionally think of them, do not exist. However, it may be said that economic standing may define class: people acquire a certain status from their wealth.
Ethnicity:
A taboo subject. People only discuss their ethnic origin with people they know very well and do not feel comfortable discussing it with a “stranger”. Even if it is a taboo subject, people who work together know the ethnic origins of all of their colleagues. However, there is always the risk that favours granted to someone of one’s own ethnic group be interpreted as ethnic favouritism.
Relationship-building
It is not always important to establish close personal relationships with colleagues or business partners. However, in Rwanda, certain social gestures that, in North America, could be considered to be signs of a personal relationship, are not interpreted as such, but are not any less significant. When, for example, a close relative of a colleague or business partner dies, it is customary to go to the funeral. When he or a close relative gets married, it is essential for colleagues and/or business partners to attend the wedding. There is no fixed rule when establishing personal relationships with Rwandans, but generally such relationships begin by both individuals visiting one another’s families on a more or less regular basis.
Privileges and Favouritism
In Rwanda, it seems obvious that you should receive certain privileges as a result of friendship. This is particularly true when it comes to hiring family members. Having connections allows colleagues to demand things that they would not have been able to ask for in other circumstances. For example, if a person takes advantage of his connections to ask for a raise he generally will justify his request by stating that it will correct a situation that he deems to be detrimental to him.
Conflicts in the Workplace
As a general rule, Rwandans do not like direct confrontation and they avoid it as much as possible. They do not like their problems to be displayed in public, even if they are insignificant work-related problems. Most Rwandans are proud, or even arrogant. If a problem arises, it is best to confront it at the appropriate time, which means in a way that will not make the individual in question lose face in front of his colleagues. When a colleague is truly offended and, if he considers the insult to be serious, he will generally show it by changing his attitude toward the person who upset him by putting some distance between them, for instance. He will also talk about it with his other colleagues and meanwhile will avoid confronting the person who offended him. This avoidance means that most interpersonal problems in the organization remain dormant and continue to negatively affect teamwork until those involved officially recognize that a problem exists.
Motivating Local Colleagues
People are especially motivated by good working conditions. If it will get them a better salary, people will put forth the necessary effort to improve their performance. Job security is an important motivation considering how difficult it is to find a job.
As for music, typical Rwandan music can be heard in Cécile KAYIREBWA’s ballads, INTORE’s folkloric dances, and songs that are accompanied by the zither.
The average Rwandan believes that a Westerner is rich (implying that he shouldn’t be stingy), punctual, meticulous, impartial, but not even-tempered (implying that it is difficult to trust him) and that he usually has poor taste or does not show any interest in the way he dresses. They are normally quite idealistic, to the point that when they are confronted by the reality of the field they may be disappointed.