Reflections on Rwanda – 50 Years after Independence

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This year Rwanda celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence from Belgium and 18 years of peace since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Part of the celebration was the International Conference on Governance and Democracy: An African Perspective, held in Kigali from June 28 – 30. Participants from around the world, including Singapore, the U.S., Caribbean and across Africa, came to discuss Africa’s development in the 21st century. 

The conference centered on a number of topics pertinent to Africa’s growth, including state citizenship, nation-building in Africa, elections and election management, measuring governance and democracy in Africa, media development and governance, the contributions of the African Diaspora, democratisation, integration, the role of think tanks and networking for partnerships in Africa. The conference also introduced and enforced the idea of home-grown initiatives to problems experienced in Rwanda after independence, marking a drive for African solutions to African problems. The silver thread running through each panel addressed the key question of corruption and how corruption can be rooted out in Africa and, perhaps more importantly, the extent of and response to economic corruption in Rwanda.

Global Integrity was invited to attend and present on technology for transparency in Africa, focusing on the role of innovation in engineering governance for the 21st century. Our panel discussion, titled “Greasing the Governance Cogs: Innovations for 21st Century Governance in Africa,” relied on Global Integrity’s use of technology for development in Africa, with a focus on measuring democratic governance. We also participated in an impromptu panel on Networking for Development in Africa.

One of the ideas that we found innovative in Rwanda is the unique approach that local governments take in dealing with problems in communities. Rwanda’s reputation for being one of the least corrupt countries in East Africa and having effective ways of dealing with poverty and community leadership might be attributed to its homegrown approaches to dealing with leadership and community problems – namely ubudehe and imihigo.

Ubudehe, previously an ancient practice of communal agricultural and house building activity, has now evolved into the participatory process of communal management and planning to address problems within communities. Community members are all held accountable for problems or policies that develop. Imihigo, or “performance contracts,” allow local governments to develop objectives that integrate and reflect the priorities of the local population and to create workable, accountable strategies to achieve these objectives. Both concepts were developed to address the rate and quality of execution of government programs and to make public agencies more effective and free from corruption. It is difficult to imagine paybacks and bribes occurring when each leader is also subject to the community accountability processes they created.

The Rwandan approach of innovating with unique traditional methods that fit the local needs and context may be an effective model to emulate for other African local governments seeking to root out corruption and create effective governance.

— Erica Penfold

— Image Credit: Rwanda Governance Board

Global Integrity
Global Integrity

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