EDPRS: The Experience of Social Forums Against Poverty

BY GODFREY NTAGUNGIRA The Decentralisation Policy of 2000 emanates from the commitment of the Government of Rwanda to empower its people to determine their destiny.


The Decentralisation Policy of 2000 emanates from the commitment of the Government of Rwanda to empower its people to determine their destiny.

Decentralisation constitutes an opportunity to create new incentives for collective action by the poor around shared livelihood interests that cut across more personal (including ethnic) identities.

The fiscal decentralization policy ensures a more predictable source of funding for services and development programmes.

The EDPRS as a program has a supreme goal which is to transform Rwanda’s economy from a subsistence-based towards increased commercial based form of production.

This transformation has to be undertaken through the process of tackling extreme poverty through improved food security and targeted schemes of job creation and social protection at more localised levels.

Ubudehe: Processes to strengthen collective action

Social forums refer to spaces where poor men and women come together to discuss poverty alleviation and the challenges they are facing, and make informed decisions based on understanding their rights and duties as citizens as well as their place within the society.

This can be achieved by building on successful experiences.

As part of its overall strategy of poverty reduction, the Government of Rwanda developed a new approach to fight poverty known as ubudehe.

The objective of this approach is to revive and foster collective action at the cell level.

It is designed to work with and reinforce the on-going political and financial decentralisation process and to provide a direct injection of financial capital into the rural economy, aimed at overcoming one of the main obstacles to pro-poor economic growth.

By targeting communities at the cell level it penetrates right down to the lowest decentralised structure. 

Ubudehe, a form of traditional mutual assistance, operates at the lowest administrative unit, the Cell or village, and brings together all members of the community to assess their socio-economic conditions while giving members a platform to define their priorities and decide on what to do in order to improve their well being.

As was done, under the Participatory Poverty Assessment, each cell goes through a process of collectively defining and analyzing the nature of critical challenges facing  their community.

The key strength and innovation of this intervention is the process of self-evaluation (social mapping) which allows communities to identify for themselves what their needs and priorities are.

Bringing communities together like this enhances community spirit, which was destroyed by the history of hate and divisive ideologies that led to the genocide.

Through the process, the population previously used to receiving and obeying orders is now being given political space to decide for themselves what their needs and aspirations are.

This is a necessary first step in building up the confidence of the Rwandan population so that they can realize the pivotal role they play in the affairs of the nation, and what democracy can mean for them.

Approach in identifying chronic poor groups

The poor themselves at the cell level as well as those at the household level identify the causes of poverty and their consequences.

Once the people have assessed their problems, they come together in a village council meeting where they map out solutions for their problems.

After coming to a common understanding, they work out a project that best suits their needs, and financial support is granted to them through the Ubudehe unit at CDF.

Every Cellule (village) has two persons who have been trained to facilitate a self-managing problem-solving effort.

From an operational perspective, there is a virtual organization that can be mobilized to facilitate community led processes to deal with water, education, and health - basic needs linked with poverty.

The creation of a bank account for every ubudehe effort has created a network for resource flows, from the center to the cellule, which can be the backbone of a micro-finance system.

Consequently the Ubudehe poverty programme has attracted  a lot of financial support from various organizations such as the European Union and the Belgian Technical Cooperation.

Donors and various NGOs are now using the ‘Ubudehe approach’ in different sectors. For example, the Ministry of Health is using this approach  to identify the poorest people trough ubudehe mapping so that they can receive an insurance health card.

Preliminary discussions have also been initiated with Burundi, a neighboring country, which intends to replicate this new approach.

Poverty Reduction strides

Ubudehe aims to emphasize poverty reducing interventions at grassroots levels.According to official statistics, the Government of Rwanda has been quite successful in poverty reduction strides.

The proportion of individuals in moderate poverty declined from 60.4 to 56.9 percent between 2000 and 2006.

Extreme poverty and the proportion of the vulnerable population living has also declined. 

Citizen empowerment
A host of  Rwandan cultural setting mechanisms have been mainstreamed into this drive to promote citizen empowerment. The main intention is to reinforce accountability at sub-national level.

These mechanisms can be classified into three broad categories. Here are mechanisms to promote the national psyche  by establishing accountability links between firstly, the citizens and national policy makers and secondly, between the citizens and local government officials.

Thirdly, mechanisms to assist citizens to demand good service from service providers are being put forward.

These mechanisms are complemented by a contractual performance approach between services providers and local governments or national policy-makers.

Furthermore, the accountability links between local governments and national policy-makers work through inspections, audits and imihigo.

The Government of Rwanda has allocated substantial budgetary resources to the Ubudehe program.

Consequently a number of projects were funded through Ubudehe both at village level.Implementation of the EDPRS is largely targeted at local level so that the targets set for decentralization, citizen participation and empowerment, transparency and accountability are of particular significance.

In contrast with most other sectors, many of the targets are defined with respect to citizens’ opinions.


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