Rwanda: Efficacy of Home-Grown Solutions - Lessons From Rwanda Part 2

10 April 2020

A big thank you to readers for the enthusiastic and inspiring comments that continue to come my way. It is my hope that we will get inspired to emulate the great examples and accelerate progress towards our own successful development.

To recap, development programmes as well as the associated governance and public administration mechanisms in most African countries have consistently failed due to the use of inappropriate management strategies, based on foreign concepts and ideas.

This is primarily because such concepts and ideas are disconnected from contextual realities that configure change opportunities, cultures, values and principles associated with the target communities. Home-grown strategies and grassroots based approaches have made a huge difference in Rwanda, a nation that has been ranked as a global top reformer, least corrupt and fastest growing economy in the world.

The resultant systems have resonated strongly with the majority of the population who, sometimes with little formal education, readily understand and meaningfully participate in making decisions concerning their development interests.

Literature shows that successful policy-making and implementation mostly depends on placing the key stakeholders, notably beneficiaries, at the forefront, meeting them at their level as well plus empowering them to creatively build and improve on policies that shape their development.

Such enrichment and adaptation of systems and strategies to the country's needs and context, using the prevailing culture and traditional practices, has proved to be invaluable for making development programmes enduring, efficient, effective and sustainable.

In the same context, Rwanda has broadly embraced the African Ubuntu philosophy, which stipulates strong, closely knit extended family and community ties.

Within this set-up, stronger members are culturally expected to care and provide for the weak and vulnerable thus rendering most socio-economic facilities readily accessible to every member. Health care, for example, was traditionally a family and community affair with knowledge of medicines and therapies usually held by adults and traditional healers.

Services were provided virtually free of charge with tokens of appreciation given, upon recovery, but never demanded, hence making the arrangements highly practical and progressive.

Such practicality was demonstrated through the local experience during the strike by medical staff in hospitals in November-December 2019 when a traditional midwife from the suburb of Mbare in Harare, provided invaluable service to expectant mothers who were unable to access the same from formal institutions.

It can be argued that modernising and improving on such facilities can make a huge difference to the well-being of society.

In essence, the Ubuntu philosophy embodies camaraderie, commitment, sacrifice, honesty and hard work; elements that have been severely eroded and in some cases totally reversed. As pointed out earlier, the erosion can, to some extent, be attributed to some development strategies. A typical example of such negative impact relates to experiences with the community "Food for Work (FFW)" programmes that were implemented in Zimbabwe in the past.

First, the related activities were perceived to undermine civic pride as they were associated with the local denigrating concept of providing service for food, often signifying food insecurity within families, termed "maricho or kuruvira".

Payments in cash equally presented challenges notably a strong sense of entitlement to reward for every action taken. As one reader pointed out, morals have decayed to the extent that one believes and feels entitled to payment for helping a stranger with directions to a place that is merely a few metres away.

Furthermore, the associated lack of ownership of the programmes led to subsequent neglect of most outputs, notably roads and bridges, as communities believed that their responsibility ended with earning the rewards. Consequently, they made absolutely no efforts to maintain these deliverables and, instead, expected further rewards for effecting any form of repairs.

In contrast, the Government of Rwanda established systems and processes that focus on ensuring that citizens, rather than just government or other development community stakeholders, are held accountable for actively contributing to the achievement of development goals.

Accordingly, the Imihigo (performance contracts), an indigenous knowledge system and one of the innovative management approaches was introduced in the public service in 2006.

The concept is founded on a pre-colonial cultural practice where an entity publicly committed itself to achieving a highly ambitious goal, with the necessary determination to overcome any challenges that may arise along the way.

The name of the system is derived from the Kinyarwanda term, Imihigo, which means "to vow to deliver". The spirit of Imihigo embodies principles of setting ambitious goals obligating commitment to action and personal responsibility, reciprocity of obligations and mutual respect between higher and lower ranks, higher moral values and patriotism, competition to achieve the best results plus honest evaluation of the after-effects.

Such principles are undoubtedly invaluable assets for any community and thus worth emulating for purposes of development and promoting the well-being of society. Periodic evaluations were conducted during the course of the year with those who achieved their pledges publicly recognised and becoming role models in the community. On the contrary, failure to meet commitments usually led to dishonour of both the participating individuals and their entire community.

This cultural heritage was rehabilitated, with added efforts to promote harmony, reconciliation and reconstruction following the genocide, to beget the contemporary Imihigo, a key element of the nation's success. The system is used as a tool for planning, monitoring and evaluating the implementation of development programs while also ensuring that stakeholder fully assume the accompanying responsibility and accountability, as appropriate. It leads to increased transparency and also introduces a strong focus on results (real and measurable changes in people's lives).

It is credited for making public agencies more effective, curbing corruption as well and contributing to marked improvements in the socio-economic well-being of society. Accordingly, its introduction and use are considered as the nation's the most significant and successful efforts in strengthening the public service.

Binding annual performance contracts are drawn up at all levels starting from the national level, signed by the President. The contracts capture as much detail as possible about targets and indicators, to facilitate effective monitoring and reporting on progress. Typical examples of such detail include the targeted number of street signs to be posted in a given year and tons of pineapples to be harvested. These signing of contracts is cascaded down to household levels, all drawing their performance objectives from the higher levels thus ensuring that all objectives are linked to the national objectives.

At the end of each quarter, public accountability days are organised at the district level to disseminate information on progress as well as receive feedback from stakeholders.

Such feedback is used to inform actions aimed at sustaining improved progress. An annual evaluation, at the national level, is conducted to determine the district levels of performance, in terms of contributing to real changes in people's lives. Tokens of appreciation, are presented to top achievers while failure leads to sanctions ranging from warning to dismissal depending on the magnitude of poor performance. Moreover, challenges and measures for improvement, where necessary, are identified.

The Imihigo system thus heightening both accountability and transparency in business processes and increasing the potential for success.

Therefore, one of the profound lessons from the Rwanda experience relates to the immense utility of traditional, home-grown systems, notably the performance contract model, in promoting quality service delivery, fighting corruption as well as boosting investment and economic growth.

The functionality and effectiveness of Imihigo is also enhanced by the fact that it emerged through a process of problem-driven iterative adaptation aimed at addressing specific problems, faced in the early 2000s, that included poor service delivery and unclear accountability relationships.

Moreover, the contracts, written in Kinyarwanda and English, are readily accessible to the public, promoting accountability, transparency plus healthy competition among stakeholders.

Consequently, the Rwandan public service is renowned for having the most hard working personnel in the nation, ahead of the private sector and civil society.

Therefore, one of the profound lessons from the Rwanda experience relates to the immense utility of traditional, home-grown systems, notably the performance contract model, in promoting quality service delivery, fighting corruption as well as boosting investment and economic growth.

Dr Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba is an Author, development Project/Programme Management Consultant and Researcher with a special interest in Results Based Management (RBM), Governance and Leadership. She can be contacted via email: [email protected]

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