Rwanda's Governance Model: Why Home-grown solutions matter

In this column last week I pointed out that Rwanda’s governance model succeeds because it is authentic. By this, I meant that it was constituted to respond to internal challenges the country faced at the time, some of which were, as a matter of fact, existential in nature.

In this column last week I pointed out that Rwanda’s governance model succeeds because it is authentic. By this, I meant that it was constituted to respond to internal challenges the country faced at the time, some of which were, as a matter of fact, existential in nature. Serious matters called for sober and genuine reflection, which in turn gave birth to the governance model.

But why has the model thrived?  The short answer is that it has found a way to refashion itself over the years by remaining relevant – retaining the organic disposition – in the lives of Rwandans of all walks of life.

Most importantly, reform measures over the years have been preoccupied by something called “home grown solutions.” This preoccupation has reinvented and reinforced the conception of socioeconomic transformation and who the primary actors ought to be in engendering change.

As a result, it has promoted local ingenuity. This has also come as a social contract of sorts. On the part of the local communities, they are encouraged to search within for solutions to the challenges they face; on the part of the government, it is prepared to step in to offer support only for those areas where local resources have fallen short or where exhausted or local ingenuity has been exhausted.

In turn, the spirit of this arrangement also requires the central government to rely on external support only for those areas where it has exhausted its capabilities. In both contexts, the long-term objective is to inculcate a mindset shift away from dependence towards economic self-reliance, itself conceived as the only source of individual and national dignity.

Technical capacity

More than anything else, reinvention through home-grown solutions has meant an increased reliance on indigenous knowledge systems. These, it has been argued, are identifiable by the citizens and are also easier to implement because the beneficiaries understand the ailment for which they come to cure. 

Also important is that the design and implementation of home-grown solutions do not require any external ‘technical capacity.’ Because they are not based on copied ideas, no one is coming to teach anyone how this or that works.

When properly conceived, therefore, home-grown solutions have the potential to empower the locals as originators of ideas that shape their destiny while casting aside the image of a passive and destitute lot whose life chances are tied to a saviour, the saviour or both.

At some level this is a conversation about the relationship between modernity and traditionalism. It is about how societies faced with the fact of a citizenry with a strong sense of traditional ways of doing things can be brought into new, modern, approaches to which they barely identify, and therefore, carrying little meaning towards resolving the problems they face.

I content that this ought to be the purpose of education: to create systems that produce graduates who are able to make sense of indigenous ways of knowing and to help society think trough how to integrate them into modern life. However, this is a story for another day.

There’s a lot of work that still has to be done. Despite this, somehow Rwanda’s governance model has been able to turn to home-grown solutions as a way of integrating citizens as active participants in their own development processes.

It is worth pointing out that where necessary home-grown solutions have successfully borrowed from outside to create modern, hybrid initiatives. Gacaca is a case in point.

This has lessons. First, indigenous knowledge systems ought to be the primary place to search for solutions to our challenges. This implores us to get a firm grasp on the resources that exist in our surroundings and not to seek external ones before existing those we possess. In other words, seek external knowledge systems only when local ingenuity has been exhausted.

Second, there is a need to be careful about this thing we call capacity building. It may be needed here and there; however, it is important to be selective in this regard, to turn to it when it is truly needed. Indeed, failure to be selective has the potential to render local ingenuity dormant.

Going by the logic of home-grown solutions, it appears that capacity building ought to be limited to those areas where new, alien, technologies are required and a ‘technical expert’ is needed to help transfer this ‘technical know-how’ to the locals so that they may be able to operate the technology on their own in the future.

Finally, it is clear that Rwanda’s governance model lays out the contours through which to pursue the quest for self-reliance and dignity for Rwandans. Indeed, recent work by the Rwanda Governance Board in documenting achievements of home-grown solutions suggests a deliberate national vision is underway.

I suppose others with implied mandates of knowledge creation and its repository would also have roles to play: 1. Rwanda’s Think Tank 2. The National Capacity Building Secretariat 3. MINEDUC and its Institutions of Higher Learning 4. The Rwanda Institute of Administration and Management, etcetera.

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