Decentralization policy promoting reconciliation
These consultations resulted into our country’s long term development vision: the Vision 2020 that reflects the aspirations of Rwandans of transforming the country into middle-income nation in which Rwandans are healthier, educated and generally more prosperous.
The process that led to the formulation of the Vision 2020 brought to the surface a people’s desire to shape their destiny. It seemed to us that people’s desire for voice and participation, demand for accountability and transparency are inherently natural and engrained in the human genetic construction.
As such, the first pillar of Vision 2020 is good governance and an effective State, including rule of law, security, accountability and transparency and citizen participation. In view of the challenges facing the country and the aspirations of Rwandans, the Government had no choice but adopt a decentralisation policy in 2000.
[A young boy speaks during one of the many reconciliation conferences in Rwanda.] The main thrust of the policy was, and is, to ensure equitable political, economic and social development throughout the country, and to be a building block to fight poverty increasing people’s participation in the planning and management of the development process. The policy main strategic objectives were to empower the local communities and promote participation, strengthen accountability and transparency; enhance sensitivity and responsiveness to the local needs, develop sustainable economic planning and management capacity at local levels and enhance effectiveness and efficiency in the planning, monitoring and delivery of services.
In the last ten years of implementing the decentralisation policy; the government of Rwanda has emphasized accountability, transparency, and efficiency in deploying resources and delivering services. Equally important has been citizen’s empowerment and participation through the decentralisation process whereby local communities have been empowered to participate in making decisions over issues that affect them most, including pro-poor development strategies and initiatives that have led to people’s socio-economic transformation both in mind and livelihood.
It through these decentralized pro-poor poverty reduction programs, that citizens have fully participated and engaged each other in creating an inclusive, interactive, transparent playing field for all players (beneficiaries) to decide and choose priorities that meet their needs. Hence it has been the basis of their unity and reconciliation.
Most of these pro-poor programs that have helped Rwandans develop themselves from poverty and unite for a common cause of development and State rebuilding include but not limited to Vision 2020 Umurenge Program (VUP), Ubudehe, Umuganda (Community Work), One Cow per Family (Girinka), Social Protection Programs and Agaseke Women.
The Vision 2020 Umurenge Program (VUP) one of the flagships of the EDPRS is an explicit recognition of the role and importance of the decentralisation system to implement the national policies and strategies in order to achieve the MDGs and the objectives of Rwanda Vision 2020. This is an integrated Local Development Program to accelerate poverty eradication, rural growth and social protection with focus on the poorest geographical areas to ensure broad-based and inclusive growth and development and its positive impact to targeted area beneficiaries.
This is done through direct support – unconditional cash transfers, public works– paid employment on productive community asset development projects like watershed management, terracing, water harvesting, irrigation, feeder/access roads construction, building of classrooms, health facilities, training centers, business workshops, village settlements, etc and increasing access to financial services.
Besides posing a double impact of poverty eradication and even development, VUP has promoted unity and reconciliation among community members as a result of inclusive and decisive participation in selecting the real and target beneficiaries from VUP component areas.
[Rwandan leaders (L-R): Prime Minister Bernard Makuza, President of the Senate Vincent Biruta, President Paul Kagame and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Rose ] Close to the above, Ubudehe program also involves community planning and implementation, where local communities identify their number one need and priority and, work together to address it. The program helps citizens create social capital, nurture citizenship, and build a strong bondage as it creates space for citizen participation in self-governance and poverty analysis. It also helps citizens to engage in local problem-solving using their own locally designed institutions and at the end of it all embraces their sense of commonness, brotherhood and patriotism hence promoting unity and reconciliation among citizens.
The Community works (Umuganda) done on a monthly basis or when necessary, brings together communities mainly for rural infrastructure development and environment protection. It also gives place for social cohesion, conflict mediation and sharing their developmental priorities through consensus thereby forging unity and reconciliation within community members as a result of this participatory community development approach.
One-cow-per-family (Girinka) program
Based on the principle that Rwandese should be in the forefront of solving their own problems, the President of the Republic, His Excellency Paul KAGAME, initiated the One-cow-per-family (Girinka) program where people donate cows to be distributed to poor families in their communities to supplement the government budget. The off-springs are then passed on to other families and the process continues for all the needy community members to benefit from the program. This has strengthened the existing social fabric and created strong bondage among donors and beneficiaries of the donated cows.
Economically, this social protection program of distribution of cows to poor families allows creation of wealth – production asset, for poor families while reducing malnutrition of their children, it has also made beneficiaries ably cater for their health insurance, pay school fees for their children and economic empowerment as a result of regular source of income that enable them access other economic needs to improve their general welfare and standard of living as a basis of unity and commitment of Rwandans for the success of the program.
[Top: President Paul Kagame waves to his supporters during the last presidential election campaigns. Democratic elections are one of the key pillars in promoting reconciliation in a country previously ruled by regimes that were not accountable to the people.] Government effectiveness had been improved by strengthening the role of performance contracts “Imihigo”, increasing the autonomy of local government and ensuring that local authorities are accountable and responsive to the citizens. The performance culture-based initiative “Imihigo” which is a translation of local priorities into performance contracts; involves the setting of priorities through a participatory process at all decentralised administrative entities. Participation, formulation, inclusion and coordination in setting priorities and implementing them is ensured through the Joint Action Development Forum that brings together, citizens representatives (Councilors), local authorities and all stakeholders involved in the development of a decentralised administrative entity (District, Sector, Cell & Village level).
It should be understood that, performance based contracts have been initiated to drive community development, social welfare and good governance. As a result, citizens are empowered to participate in decision making and formulation of Imihigo priorities and other issues that affect them. It is through such empowerment that citizens strive to decide and achieve what is best for them in developing their decentralized entity through unity and collaborative efforts to achieve the set priorities.
Besides citizens voice, participation and empowerment in decision making in driving the course of pro-poor development initiatives, decentralisation promoted democratic values through participatory democracy where citizens are empowered to contest for leadership, vote for their leaders in their respective decentralised administrative entities and most important duly elect the President of the Republic. Therefore, Citizens participation in electoral process to elect or be elected basing on merit and ability to represent the electorate has created unity and reconciliation and done away with sectarianism, regionalism and ethnicity that characterised the past regime.
The Ministry of Local Government has also introduced dispute resolution mechanisms in local governments, where community members, regardless of their social status or ethnic backgrounds, resolve amicably all complaints raised, before going to the courts of law. Indeed, this pre-judicial process and mechanism promotes social cohesion as well as unity and reconciliation.
[A young lady holds a candle during one of the genocide memorial events in Kigali.] Citizen scorecards and citizens report cards have been introduced to assess the level of satisfaction of our people, and quality service delivery has significantly improved. Open Accountability Days have been institutionalised in all decentralised entities for citizens to question and account for what their leaders do for them. This is in line with promotion of transparency, fight against corruption, service delivery and accountability of leaders to the population and creating trust and confidence of Leaders before their subjects (citizens).
To strengthen unity, reconciliation, national values and common understanding of national programs and priorities and be able to defend and promote national interests, the Government of Rwanda reinstated Itorero ry’Igihugu. This brings together different categories of people to share development initiatives and challenges, values and set priorities for national sustainable development built on the unity of Rwandans.
The Rwanda Reconciliation Barometer of 2010 indicated that Rwandans live in a reconciled nation, they trust each other, and they are confident in their institutions including security organs. Up to 98% of Rwandans prefer to be called Rwandans and not Hutu, Tutsi or Twa.
The 2010 Legatum Prosperity Index highlighted that “95% of Rwandans are confident in their national government, placing the country fourth highest on this variable. Rwandans are satisfied with their country’s efforts to address poverty”.
In general, Rwandans believe that, decentralisation is a tool for democratic governance and national socio-economic transformation. It was clear to us that we had no choice but decentralise if we were to energise local economies, create jobs, enhance economic activity, and reduce poverty in our country.
Rwanda is now in its third phase of decentralisation and will continue making steady progress and solid gains in ensuring unity and reconciliation of Rwandans and their prosperity.