Rallying call for local leaders to jumpstart anti-poverty efforts

The Government has called on local leaders to scale up efforts designed to reduce poverty and accelerate sustainable development.
Residents of Nyamagabe line up to pose questions during President Kagame’s visit to the district on Tuesday. Village Urugwiro.

The Government has called on local leaders to scale up efforts designed to reduce poverty and accelerate sustainable development.

Local Government minister Prof. Anastase Shyaka issued the rallying call yesterday, three years after the last general local elections were held.

“In the remaining two years, we urge you to put emphasis on initiatives that accelerate anti-poverty efforts and sustainable development,” he said in a tweet. 

Shyaka’s appeal came in the same week President Paul Kagame paid a visit to Southern Province where he met opinion leaders from across the region before addressing and interacting with residents of Nyamagabe District, using both occasions to challenge leaders to work harder to help uplift people’s living standards and transform the country.

The President also called on residents to leverage the different government initiatives in place to change their lives for the better.

Speaking to The New Times yesterday, Shyaka said his tweet was echoing Kagame’s message earlier in the week, and cited agriculture and livestock; social protection programmes; and governance and accountability as three key areas that need urgent attention.

“We need to see major improvements in the way we deliver on such initiatives as VUP-Umurenge (a special scheme designed for the most vulnerable members of society), in agriculture, we need to see improvement on extension services, availability of fertilisers, we need to update systems in view of the current ambitions and enforce accountability at all levels,” he said.

EICV5, Imihigo stats

The minister alluded to the fifth Integrated Household Living Condition Survey (EICV5) released in December 2018, which indicated that Rwanda had made little progress in tackling poverty. Figures showed that poverty had dropped by just 0.9 per cent, from 39.1 to 38.2 per cent – between 2014 and 2017.

The EICV 5 also showed a marginal 0.3 per cent drop in extreme poverty, from 16.3 per cent down to 16 per cent over the same period.

Shyaka drew comparisons between the EICV 5 and the findings from the assessment of the implementation of the 2017/18 Imihigo (performance contracts), saying the two instruments arrived at similar conclusions and complemented each other.

“This is not something we take for granted,” he said, adding that both the last Imihigo figures and EICV 5 showed that districts in Southern Province were largely laggards.

Southern Province had six districts in the worst ten performing districts countrywide, according to the 2017/18 Imihigo assessment, while the EICV 5 also showed that 4 of the 10 worst performers were districts in the south.

“Figures have indicated that most of the challenges, such as malnutrition, are mostly concentrated in Southern and Western provinces,” Shyaka noted.

These are regions that need special attention, he said.

While he acknowledged local leaders’ contribution toward the country’s impressive economic growth rate last year (over 7 per cent), the minister warned them that if nothing significant changes in the way they deliver on their mandates they may fall short of the country’s development ambitions.

At the moment, Shyaka said, “our ambitions are a little higher than the pace of delivery and we need to work harder.”

The slight progress made in the fight against poverty over the last four years or so pale in comparison to the significant strides made previously. For instance, the EICV 4 showed that poverty levels had reduced by 5.8 per cent from 44.9 per cent in 2011 to 39.1 per cent in 2014, which consequently saw some 660,000 people graduate from poverty.

Extreme poverty also dropped from 24.1 per cent to 16.3 per cent in the same period.

Even greater progress had been made between 2006 and 2011 which saw the country register a 12 per cent poverty drop from 56.7 per cent to 44.9 per cent. This saw a million Rwandans beat the poverty trap.

Remarkably, poverty fell by 18.5 per cent between 2006 and 2017, with extreme poverty dropping by 19.8 per cent.

The slow progress of anti-poverty efforts in recent years can be blamed on both local leaders and residents, according to Prof. Eric Ndushabandi, the head of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace, who has recently authored a paper on political culture in Rwanda.

‘Dependency mentality’

“There are notable deficiencies in political communication, civic education and civic engagement on the part of leaders, and this has resulted in a situation where many citizens have abandoned their role of social responsibility,” said Ndushabandi, also a professor of political science at the University of Rwanda.

He said that while social protection programmes are noble and have had a positive impact, they have helped grow a culture of dependency and entitlement. “Why don’t people want to graduate from one category to another (of Ubudehe stratification)? You just can’t be dependent on government forever.”

“You have seen mothers being invited to health centres to give milk to their babies because there is a concern that families end up selling all of their milk, leaving nothing even for the baby,” he said.

He also cited cases where smallholder farmers are given seed varieties subsidised at 50 per cent but the farmers are still demanding 100 per cent subsidy, or businesses that have benefited from Business Development Fund (BDF) guarantee of up 75 per cent but have since defaulted on their loans.

This is, however, not a matter of resistance, he said.

To change this dependency mentality, Ndushabandi said, there is need for leaders to revisit how they engage and relate with citizens.

“Political communication is everything,” he said. “How you communicate new initiatives to the people matters, the opening statements matter, leaders should be in a position to allow people to influence their thoughts instead of being seen to be imposing their own thoughts and agenda.

“You can’t reduce political participation to question and answer,” he said.

The don advised local leaders to ditch the “high table syndrome” and embrace horizontal relationships with those they lead.

It does not take away your authority, he said.

Understanding poverty dynamics

Asked why many districts are seen to be generally disappointing with regard to targets, he said there are several factors, including the growing political culture (on the part of citizens, which comes with changing attitudes and behaviors that shape anticipation), failure to reconcile ambitious political agendas and the ever-growing public anticipation, competition instead of collaboration and teamwork (among local leaders), and confusing public office with an ordinary job.

“Serving the people calls for sacrifice, patriotism and loving those that you lead, you can’t treat it as any other job,” added the scholar.

He also questioned the role of district advisory councils, which he said have in a way lost legitimacy in the eyes of the ordinary people because they don’t seem to relate with them. “The councils should probably have their own Imihigo,” he said, adding that these forums should be able to detect and fix challenges before the executive at the central level could intervene.

On her part, Eugenie Kayitesi, the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR)-Rwanda, a not-for-profit policy think-tank that has conducted assessment of Imihigo delivery over the last five years, local leaders need to first understand poverty dynamics and the underlying causes.

She also said local leaders need to improve on prioritisation and focus on interventions that guarantee outcomes over the long term.

“From our analyses, there is also need to involve citizens more, both during planning and implementation, and to constantly measure the impact,” she added.



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