Rwandans very satisfied with their governance

What is the state of governance in Rwanda today? The short answer is it’s good and effective. You may ask: how do you make that assessment? There are various measuring tools and citizens’ feedback. But first, an understanding of what governance is.

Any time a group of people come together (in this case a state) to accomplish an end (their collective well-being and progress) they need a system that enables them to achieve it. That system sets out goals and strategies for their attainment, responsibilities and tasks to be performed by each, and means of evaluating performance and accounting to each other. Broadly that’s what is known as governance.

And so, governance is not an abstract concept but a practical means of achieving agreed aims. It is obvious then that the most appropriate model of governance is that which reflects the local context, answers citizens’ needs and produces results. To that extent, there cannot be any one correct model, but many of them depending on the specific context.

The effectiveness of any governance model is measured by how far it meets what the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) identifies as the five pillars of good governance.

First, it must be participatory and consensus oriented. The level of citizens’ participation in decision-making on what is in their best interest gives them a voice and legitimacy to the system.

Second is the direction or strategic vision and the citizens’ role in determining these and working towards them.

Third is accountability where leaders and institutions in both the public and private sectors are accountable to the public and where decisions are arrived at and implemented in a transparent manner.

Fourth is performance or responsiveness to citizens’ needs, which determines whether it is effective or efficient.

Finally, there is the principle of fairness measured by equity, inclusiveness and the rule of law. All must feel they have a stake in the affairs of their society, that none is excluded.

Given this broad framework, how does governance in Rwanda measure today? It meets to a very large extent these principles and is therefore effective. And from a historical perspective, it is radically different from what it was pre-1994.

This departure from the past was both a conceptual and practical shift as the language of governance today shows. The operative word today is to lead (kuyobora), which suggests a collective vision and goal, with leaders only providing strategic direction.  All participate in moving to and in an agreed direction. There are leaders and citizens.

In the past, the word was to rule (gutegeka), which means some people had arrogated to themselves the right to decide for others and then decree that things must be done in a certain way. There were rulers and subjects.

Talking about the state of governance in a country must necessarily be from the citizens’ point of view, and that means dwelling on the structures of governance nearest to them – local government.

This shift from the past was effected through a series of reforms.

The first was that of administrative units and involved consolidation of formerly fragmented units into larger and more viable ones. And so, more than a hundred communes were reduced to thirty districts. The lower units of sector and cell were equally reformed, and a new one, the village or umudugudu created.

This was followed by decentralisation of services (agriculture, health, education, settlement, etc) from central government ministries to districts and sectors.

Reform of administrative structures went together with an increase in the role of citizens in their own governance.

There were elections of leaders at all levels of local administration, which meant they were accountable to the people. Previously, they had been political appointees, only answerable to the appointing authority.

Councils and citizens’ assemblies were established at all levels from the village to the district level through which citizens exercise oversight and increase their participation in decision-making.

Governance open days were also set up, again to raise participation, but also to ensure transparency and accountability.

All local authorities have to set development targets and enter into performance contracts (imihigo) with levels above them, up to the president of the republic.

The purpose of these reforms was to consolidate resources and streamline services, improve efficiency, and raise the professional capacity of public service providers, and increase participation and accountability.

And so the question now is: have these been effective and how can we measure their effectiveness?

A number of national and international surveys, and other social and development indicators, have confirmed their effectiveness over the years.

One of them is the Citizens’ Report Card of the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) that measures their level of satisfaction with different institutions and delivery of services. The latest score for 2018 has the average level of satisfaction across a range of services at 69.3%. However, the scores are high for some of them. Security for instance is at 88%, governance and respect for human rights at 87.5 %, Justice at 76.4% and citizen participation at 76%.

Others like the World Economic Forum Government Effectiveness Index, the Gallup Poll, the Mo Ibrahim Governance Index, and others report equally high scores.

Other indices show a similar upward trend. Life expectancy has tripled in the last thirty years to 68%. This is in part a result of the reduction in all kinds of mortality rates and an improvement in the provision of healthcare and an improving standard of living.

Better settlement has led to more access to such basic amenities as water, electricity, education and healthcare.

All these reports not only measure the level of performance, but also give feedback from different stakeholders to providers of public services and lead to improvement of delivery of these services.

As can be judged from citizens’ satisfaction, the state of governance in Rwanda adequately responds to their needs.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.