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Rwanda’s established social protection floor: Key pillar in fighting the impact of COVID-19

The initiative to support vulnerable families who have been affected by the lockdown amidst COVID-19 kicked off in Kanyinya Village, Gasabo District, on March 28. Dan Nsengiyumva

KIGALI – Rwanda has been and continues to be hit by the impact of coronavirus or COVID-19 like many other countries around the world.

According to the World Health Organisation and official figures from the Ministry of Health as of April 2, Rwanda’s coronavirus cases stood at 82, only second to Kenya within the region.


In Rwanda, the reported cases of coronavirus are mostly imported with only a few local transmission and zero death so far.


Following the potential damage that could be caused by COVID-19, the country’s response to the outbreak was probably among the most robust and aggressive actions to be taken in Africa.


The first identified case on March 14 was followed by a countrywide lockdown for two weeks. All international flights suspended, and borders closed.

Movements were restricted between districts and all other internal activities and unnecessary movements were frozen to allow the country to facilitate the prevention of the virus spread and control possible damage of COVID-19 on the socio-economic wellbeing of its citizens.

The robust and tightened measures of lockdown revealed Rwanda’s strong leadership in taking immediate decisions to respond to the challenges associated with early detection and isolation to providing solutions to people’s livelihoods.

These measures taken by the Government of Rwanda (GoR) remind us of the true definition of leadership in Rwanda as simply meaning “Doing what is best for Rwanda and its people and where there is confidence in the governance system, people will follow”.

There are a couple of reasons why the implementation of the COVID-19 measures becomes faster and effective in Rwanda:

1. A people-centered model

On March 27, President Paul Kagame addressed the nation and revealed a social protection plan set up in response to the economic shock related to COVID-19 outbreak and the effects of the country’s shutdown.

Rwanda with limited fiscal space of only 9 billion USD annual Gross Domestic Product reported in 2019 and it's per capita income of only 824.927 GDP per capita in the same year, stands out among many other African countries with much higher performances to implement a social assistance programme mainly designed as (in-kind) food security package to support its citizens affected with prolonged reduction in income and limited affordability to basic needs during COVID19.

The Government of Rwanda (GoR) realizes critically that COVID19 is not like any other normal times where each family can stretch to afford basic needs and cater for related health care costs.

Therefore, the GoR prioritised the wellbeing of its vulnerable citizens by catering for their basic needs.

The financing of this programme is directly funded from government’s operational Budget with consideration to re-prioritisation of projects and or delaying some projects in order to manage economic shocks that may result from COVID19 shutdown.

The private sector and individual Rwandans have also heeded the call and tonnes upon tonnes of food and other essential commodities have been contributed to help vulnerable families through these difficult times.

While responding to the health crisis, the government accounted for the heightened importance of free and equal access to treatment among all COVID-19 patients, including non-nationals.

This health care response is not a new effort since for many years majority of Rwandans have access to community-based health insurance.

Having a functional and effective universal health care programme in Rwanda therefore reduced any barriers to COVID-19 treatment services.

In addition, for the purposes of COVID-19 mitigation, all patients and suspected people (citizens and foreigners) are given free treatment during quarantine and isolation process.

2. A functional decentralisation system

The government has a functional decentralised system that support and offer all government services closer to the community. This system makes any form of support or communication channel less complex, faster and effective.

Having a functional decentralised system during the COVID-19 outbreak simplified the supply of all essential services with less or no additional administrative expense.

For a long time, an exercise of categorising households according to their economic status commonly known as Ubudehe Programme was done in household income categorisation where poverty mapping and profiling was documented at national level.

During this time of COVID-19 while many countries especially Sub-Saharan African countries are puzzled with the most appropriate procedure to target the poor, Rwanda is far head in knowing who is vulnerable and where to find them.

Decision being done at central level only had a few questions to respond to. What items to give and when? But other questions of who, where and how where already defined and classified using the decentralised channels.

3. An established social protection framework

Rwanda has a well-defined social protection floor with commendable success for years now. One of the social protections programmes in Rwanda known as Ubudehe is attributed to the Rwandan culture of identifying the needy in communities and lending support.

It is in the same line that Rwandans find it their responsibility to support each other during difficult times. The social assistance response approach to the COVID-19 crisis in Rwanda is happening at two levels.

The macro and wider approach initiated by the government was launched to be implemented through the decentralised system which makes the process easier and fast to track. In the last few weeks, families mostly affected by COVID19 were listed at village level accounting for reported job loss mostly among casual workers and other marginalised groups.

Local administrative leaders worked in collaboration with other partners to ensure efficiency in the distribution of the food products.

At micro level, Home Grown solutions have played an outstanding role in responding to COVID19 challenges. The traditional social structure of Rwandese society believes strongly in integrity, honour and accountability.

The current unique and effective governance model attributes its uniqueness to traditional governance values. In complementarity, the governance model today embraces citizen participation in defining sustained solutions to problems affecting communities.

During COVID19, strengthened resilience among Rwandans was reported across the country where at each village level community members contributed donate voluntarily in cash and in-kind to support the poor to cope with the shock.

While the government has set out this new social safety net package, Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP), the vast social protection cash transfer programme in the country is still operating providing cash transfers to the beneficiaries.

However, beneficiaries of public works programme since they are among the affected by the shock of the lockdown will benefit directly through the new system.

The existence of an effective social protection framework has attracted other actors like the private sector, civil society organisations (CSOs), religious-based organisations and individuals to join the government call to support the vulnerable people across communities before, during COVID19 and even after.

4. Strong governance framework with a corruption-free system

For over two decades, Rwanda has developed and empowered institutions of accountability which has increased efficiency in the use of public resources and delivery of services to the people.

Among other we can mention the OMBUDSMAN’s office, the Office of the Auditor General among others coupled with the strong high-level political will.

Other tools like the establishments and use of the e-service IREMBO have also increased efficiency of public resources and minimising levels of corruption in service delivery process.

This approach defines strong linkages created across planning and coordination efforts in responding to issues affecting community. The Zero tolerance for corruption and poor leadership practices and functional performance management systems such as IMIHIGO (Performance Contracts) have been key in achieving the accountability pillar.

These integrated solutions will in the medium-term and long term have a positive impact on maintaining the momentum of achieving the country’s National Development Strategy (NST1) and the Sustained Development Goals (SDGs).

Rwanda has been defined as a success story across the world. The credit goes to the leadership of HE Paul Kagame and the Rwanda people who are committed to run where others are walking and finding solutions to their problems even with the least resources available within their control.

Her response to COVID19 is unique and fast but replicable to other lower developed countries. By adopting Rwanda’s social protection best practice at the time when COVID19 is descending to the African continent, governments can some more lives.


It’s not surprising to see that in Rwanda the government was able to provide most essential safety nets to the most vulnerable people during COVID-19 where it has attracted other non-state actors and individuals to join the action.

These solutions are rooted in the country’s governance structures, social protection systems but also most importantly due to the confidence that people have in the government

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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