Active citizen participation in governance is vital for the consolidation of a peaceful and inclusive Rwandan society.This is according to findings of a research conducted in 10 District and City of Kigali by a local NGO.
The research dubbed: “Governing for and with citizens: Lessons from Post-genocide Rwanda” was conducted by Never Again Rwanda – an NGO that was created in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in order to mitigate the consequences of the genocide.
The organization also aims to empower Rwandans and give them opportunities to become active citizens and ultimately become agents of change and work together towards sustainable peace and development.
The research study sought to examine the perceptions of Rwandans on citizen participation in governance, provide citizens a forum to openly analyse key issues regarding citizen participation including the efficacy of some of the existing mechanism for citizen participation, identify major challenges and suggest possible solutions.
According to the findings, both men and women appreciate the political goodwill and mechanisms put in place to facilitate citizen participation in governance. Moreover, Rwandans understand and value citizen participation as an important tool for governance. Rwandans believe that in a post-genocide context, citizen participation can be harnessed through tackling issues associated with trust and respect, access to information, citizens’ right to feedback, provision of safe spaces to interact as well as appropriate education and socialization.
In post genocide Rwanda, a number of national commitments have been made to set a foundation for citizen centered development. Such commitments include policies such as Vision 2020, Second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS 2) and the Decentralization Policy, among others.
Institutional reforms have been undertaken in Ministries, the Rwanda Defence Forces, the Rwanda National Police, and other government agencies and institutions. Governance-related institutions such as the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Auditor General, the Rwanda Public Procurement Authority, the National Human Rights Commission, the National Reconciliation Commission, the Rwanda Governance Board, have also been put in place to strengthen citizen participation. In addition, homegrown initiatives such as Umuganda (Community work), Ubudehe (social support), Girinka program (one cow per poor family) and Agaciro fund, concretize this political will for citizen participation in governance.
By and large, all state sponsored channels assessed in the research were found to have improved citizen participation in governance to some extent. However, women and girls were found to participate less due to the cultural legacy of confining females to positions and roles involving “soft matters.”
Key among the findings is that citizens appreciate most the Presidential outreach visits where H.E. Paul Kagame meets with the citizens to discuss matters that affected them in their specific communities. This approach challenges other leaders in central and local government to follow in the President’s footsteps in order to enhance citizen participation.
Regarding the non-state sponsored channels, media was found to be increasingly appreciated for giving citizens a forum to participate in governance although there was cited room for improvement. Civil Society Organizations on the other hand although appreciated for their role in service delivery, was challenged for less involvement in evidence based advocacy. Overall, despite some challenges, the existence of such mechanisms reflect the Government of Rwanda political will to enhance a citizen-centered governance.
Various issues that hamper the effectiveness of citizen participation mechanisms were identified by the research. To begin with, because citizens were historically socialized in a manner that made them depend on government, leaders who share the same history, may not prepare them well enough to ensure that they participate in governance hence making citizen participation inadequate.
Second, while the joint imihigo were recently adopted to synchronize planning at local and central government, there is need for more efforts to fast track the changes in order to smoothen planning and coordination at both levels. Third, citizens expressed that although MPs and members of local Councils represent them, more was needed from them. This was attributed to the fact that the representatives did not adequately collect their views for action, and do not provide them with adequate feedback. This is exacerbated by the acute gap in collaboration among citizens’ representatives. Councillors at the Cell, Sector, and District levels do not adequately communicate amongst themselves on matters affecting their electorate which may lead to uninformed decisions taken at those levels.
The research recommended that MINALOC continues to improve planning and coordination with Local Government in a way that considers citizens views and priorities. In addition to revisiting available mechanisms to monitor and evaluate them in order to enhance effective citizen participation.
In order to boost citizen participation, the Presidential Outreach visits should be emulated by local government officials. Similarly, challenges hampering the effectiveness of council members should be addressed. Councillors should also be required by law to attend meetings at levels other than the ones they represent, and required by law to regularly attend meetings with their electorates.
Second, the research recommended MPs to maintain close contact with citizens in order to give them an opportunity to voice their concerns. This is in addition to adopting participatory action research during policy formulation so as to include citizens’ views.
Third, CSOs were recommended to rebuild their services and invest in high impact programs informed by evidence based advocacy.
Lastly the Rwanda Media High Council was advised to identify opportunities for capacity building to improve professionalism as media houses enhance critical thinking among Rwandans. Broadcast media should continue to provide more space for citizens give feedback on public policies.
The findings of the research were validated during a national stakeholders meeting held on August 24 the Kigali Marriott Hotel. Present during the validation were Mr. Vincent Munyeshyaka the Permanent Secreatry at the Ministry of local government, Dr. Felicien Usengumukiza, from Rwanda governance Board, CSO’s and other government representatives together with the acting Chargé d’Affairesat Swedish Embassy in Rwanda, Mr. Mikael Boström . The Embassy of Sweden in Rwanda supports a joint program on Societal healing and participatory governance for peace in Rwanda which is implemented jointly by Never Again Rwanda and interpeace under which the research was conducted.