This week, Rwanda will participate in a High Level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation, commonly known as BAPA40, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Discussions are expected to revolve around everything from knowledge management and knowledge sharing, adjusting to new context and global sustainable development frameworks as well as institutionalisation and capacity building, among other topics.
The conference comes right after Rwanda established an independent publicly-funded institution, Rwanda Cooperation Initiative (RCI) whose core business will be the management of south-south cooperation, and is expected to work with countries to find solutions to development challenges.
The New Times’Julius Bizimungu caught up with the Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Cooperation Initiative, Antoine Muhire, who shed light on what the Government intends to achieve with this newly created institution.
Why is it important to have such an institution?
It was very important because it is well aligned with our seven-year government programme, the National Strategy for Transformation.
On the transformational governance pillar, when it comes to strengthening diplomatic and international cooperation to accelerate Rwanda and Africa’s development, Rwanda has to put in place a mechanism to raise awareness of Rwanda’s home-grown solutions, locally and internationally, to support the development.
You can see this is precisely part of our strategy to transform our country, but also because in Rwanda we don’t like doing things in a disorganised way.
We had to find a way to structure the way we share whatever we have achieved with others in a way that follow up can be done properly, but also in a way that we have to tell our own story.
There are books [currently] written on Imihigo, Gacaca and other initiatives by others with their own perspectives. Today, if we don’t put up an institution or mechanism that can codify these initiatives, someone else will do it.
I think many societies in Africa, things go wrong after new generations come and they are not able to understand what others did because no documentation has been produced, and no books at all.
It was, therefore, very important to have an institution that is clearly going to scan and identify what can be called home-grown solutions and of course produce didactic materials, books or even other audio-visual materials that explain what Rwandans did to recover from the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Are these the same reasons that informed the decision by the Government to establish Rwanda Cooperation Initiative?
First of all, there was a trend in the last five years where different African countries wanted to come to learn how on earth, in 20 years, you can go from a failed state to the state we live in.
For example, last year alone more than 200 delegations came to Rwanda.
In a way, this was posing a challenge to public institutions in terms of logistics and management of the visits, where for instance, a senior manager in an institution would spend about five days in a month receiving delegations.
That is a lot for Rwandan institutions. It means those are five days that you are not working for Rwandans, but also the cost [to take care of those delegations]. We saw a significant amount of money was spent on delegations last year alone, some Rwf600 million.
In a sense, we needed to stop that. There was a thought of how we can, in a structured manner, share what we have achieved.
This is what drove the conversation to start this initiative.
What are you expected to deliver on as the most important business that is in line with South-South cooperation?
Over the past 24 years, the Government has developed and implemented several initiatives commonly known as home grown solutions. These have been key in addressing some of Rwanda’s major post genocide challenges.
These initiatives are informed by Rwanda’s local, historical and cultural values and have been equally central in addressing social, political and economic challenges.
Some countries have been requesting Rwanda to send experts to teach them on how to decentralise programmes or to start initiatives like Umuganda [back in their own communities].
The way those experts were sent wasn’t organised, and when it came to how they are paid, they were not paid on the level they should be paid for. They would be paid as technicians when they are actually doing the job of experts.
Today, RCI really is coming to make sure that if you send an expert outside Rwanda to teach another country they are paid properly, worth the value of work they are doing.
However, the core business is to set a centre of excellence [among other things] to coordinate the logistics and management of study visits where people meet the right people and also get the right materials that facilitate their learning.
Similarly, we shall conduct online trainings. At the moment, there are universities abroad that require their students in order to get a diploma in reconciliation to first come to Rwanda to learn.
Now instead of them spending a lot of resources coming here, we are looking at partnering with these academic institutions so they can connect to our online training platform and get whatever details they want on those initiatives.
Another task that we have here is to protect these [home-grown] initiatives that Rwanda has managed to build and today that can be shared with others, without ignoring that some efforts have been invested to develop these initiatives.
Here, we are talking about copyrights. Whatever materials RCI is going to produce – didactic materials, documentaries and other content – when you share them with universities the copyrights have to be considered, which is not the case today.
We know the case of sweets in Nairobi; a company is producing sweets and is calling them ‘Ndi Umunyarwanda’ but is it really fair having anyone making money off trademark of Rwanda without at least giving back to the people that came up with that idea?
That is another thing we are trying to look at.
Generally, it is not a mechanism that is necessarily for that only, rather it is part of our strategy to make sure that the Rwandan perspective in home-grown initiatives is also considered through the south-south cooperation.
How has Rwanda been managing exchanges of ideas and experiences with other countries?
It was a traditional way where country to country sign memorandum of understanding (MoU) and sometimes institutions to institutions, and then they would send delegation to that country or institution.
The delegations would come, listen to whatever presentations they have to listen to and go back to their countries, and sometimes they would ask local institutions to send someone to help them.
The problem with that is that you are not sure whether the person who made a presentation [to the delegation] did the right job because you asked him on spot. This means if you change the individual the message maybe different.
That traditional way of doing things is that it is not easy to maintain that momentum and making sure that what this person will present to this delegation is the same exact presentation another person will make to a different delegation.
In simple, there was no proper documentation and that cost us a lot in the end.
What kind of work are you going to do to change the way you do business and what does that tell us when it comes to knowledge management and sharing?
Usually countries send their requests for study visits to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but today they are required to send them directly to us.
That is a big change because that request you send is different from other requests sent to foreign affairs ministries when you are going to embark on a political visit. You are coming here to learn.
On the other hand, this is no longer heavy for the ministry to handle and at the same time response is very quick. You send a request and within four days we are able to come up with tentative agenda for your trip to Rwanda and whatever you should consider when you come to learn in Rwanda.
The logistics and bureaucracy is no longer the way it used to be.
Equally, we are trying to make our cooperation with other countries sustainable. When a country sends a delegation of five people to Rwanda, they spend money. And when Rwanda does send people, the experience is the same.
It is important to manage these experiences and make sure what we are doing is sustainable without necessarily wasting time and money – money that many countries in Africa don’t have.
Most importantly, this makes room for us as an independent institution to quickly react faster into this south-south cooperation momentum. The people you want to work with sometimes are on a different level that if you use traditional schemes of public systems, it may not be possible for you.
You mentioned that Rwanda received over 200 delegations last year alone, but there are more delegations the country has received over the years. Do these numbers signal anything?
From the numbers we have analysed there are about five top topics that people are interested in and most countries come to learn.
Peace building and unity and reconciliation of Rwandans are on top. Nobody believed we were to become a united country ever again.
Cleanliness and management of the city is another thing. Many people ask why this city and the country are so clean.
We also have [people coming to learn about Rwanda’s journey of] empowerment of women and young people, public finance management, as well as security.
What this tells us is that the western model is not the only one that is necessarily working. There are alternatives to what have been taught to developing nations as the way to go.
When they come here they come with that curiosity of saying, I don’t understand how in New York you cannot walk after midnight without fear of assault, yet in Rwanda you walk anytime you want without anyone threatening you.
They come to see how perpetrators are now working with survivors. They come to see young people without experience are trusted to lead institutions.
It is important to transfer those realities into tangible materials.
It is clear that home-grown solutions continue to attract countries. What is expected of the institution to protect these culturally owned programmes?
It is not just about saying we are going to protect Umuganda. You cannot protect Umuganda, but what you can protect is the book that gives a glimpse into the whole process of that initiative.
Umuganda is part of the whole ecosystem. It cannot work if you don’t consider decentralisation, community policing, and empowerment of traditional leaders.
Again, we are talking about protecting names. Today one can go and protect the name ‘Umuganda’ worldwide. The problem is that if someone gets the copyright before I do it as RCI, it will be hard to get it back.
There is need to quickly protect these names that belong to us – Ndi Umunyarwanda, Umuganda, Gir’inka, and others.
Definitely, you cannot protect the principles of these initiatives, like stopping someone to conduct community work every last Saturday of the month. But you can protect what it requires to achieve that – the book, the online training, etc.
But there are books written by outsiders about these same initiatives and sometimes they are twisted...
Our mission is to produce the Rwandan perspective on that. You can’t prevent people from writing whatever they want to write. That is their right. But if you want to learn you will want to go to the person who initiated that programme.
What we cannot afford not to do is to not have our own perspective available out there.
Do we know how many initiatives can be classified as home-grown at the moment?
Not yet. We have, however, identified about 20 initiatives that we can confirm are home-grown solutions so far.
Nevertheless, we believe there are more than 100 initiatives that work at the district level and other public institutions that can be classified as home-grown. These have to be considered because they are part of the ecosystem.