Imihigo, homegrown solutions, power to the people

I recently had the opportunity to represent the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR), a leading Rwandan think tank, at the presentation and signing of the Imihigo performance contracts, which took place at the Parliamentary building in Kigali on July 26.
Lonzen Rugira
Lonzen Rugira

I recently had the opportunity to represent the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR), a leading Rwandan think tank, at the presentation and signing of the Imihigo performance contracts, which took place at the Parliamentary building in Kigali on July 26.

Imihigo is a Kinyarwanda word with roots in the term guhiga, meaning the setting of goals upon which guhigura (evaluation) will be necessary at a future point.

I had heard of Imihigo, but witnessing it was, to me, a fascinating experience. It was a moment of pride and excitement; I was hopeful for my country.

Homegrown Solutions

Rwanda is making a name for itself as a country with big ideas.

The reason for this growing reputation has a lot to do with its broad range of homegrown strategies. It has a vision and philosophy that it wants to use to reach its political and development goals. The leadership imagines that the best way to sustain both objectives is through the pursuit of homegrown solutions.

This has given rise to the idea of participatory governance, where the citizen is at the center of the development discourse.

Politically, the initiatives are underpinned by the belief that a framework of dialogue and consensus is most useful; while development strategies can best be sustained if and when ordinary people are empowered and moved from the margins to the center of development processes.

There is room for outsiders too. Largely, theirs is a supportive role, where they facilitate initiatives designed by the ordinary people, through a participatory process. Where failures arise, as is expected of complex development processes, the people can devise corrective measures, having learned from any mistakes made along the way.

This way, they are expected to share in their own progress through a sense of ownership, setting in motion a truly authentic development trajectory.

Imihigo as an Evaluative Exercise

Umuhango w’oguhigura imihigo (the evaluation exercise) is where theory meets practice, where the rubber meets the road.

With vision 2020 and the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (EDPRS) as the guiding principles, mechanisms are put in place to evaluate the extent to which a set of objectives aimed at improving the general welfare of Rwandans was met.

These objectives are captured in four broad categories: justice, social welfare, good governance, and economic development. This result-oriented exercise pays particular attention to the key issues of public service delivery and accountability, among other measures of socioeconomic progress and competent public accounts management.

In practice, each of the district leaders presents an auto-evaluation of the initiatives achieved in the previous year and makes promises for the next.

An ad hoc committee representing diverse social groups – civil society organizations, churches, the government and among others – conducts an independent assessment to ascertain the achievements claimed by the respective mayors.

The 30 Rwandan districts are then ranked based on these indicators.

The top ten mayors get a chance for a photo-op with the chief guest, President Paul Kagame. The top three receive trophies symbolizing their competence and excellence. They, of course, also bask in their glory and glamour and enjoy the bragging rights that come with victory. The others are advised to sit up or risk being sanctioned for non-performance!

To be sure, imihigo in its present form is a tool for internal accountability; that is, the contracts are between the central government and the governors and mayors. It is yet to become a set of promises between the government and the people – therefore, leaving room for a need for a systematic assessment of its relationship to the direct beneficiaries, the people. Results of such a study might provide an avenue for reform.

A Research Agenda to Evaluate Impact

Rwanda’s development trajectory has at its fulcrum a broad range of policies in line with the pursuit of authentic, sustainable development, and participatory governance. These include Umuganda (community works) Ubudehe (development programs), Abunzi (community mediators), advisory councils, women councils and youth councils, among others.

My impression is that there is a reasonable level of confidence in the evaluation exercise of Imihigo. There is more to be done, however, beyond an ad hoc committee to evaluate the works of these district leaders. People with expertise in carrying out systematic studies must examine the extent to which these programs are not only perceived by their primary beneficiaries but also the impact that these programs are having in their lives.

This is where IPAR comes in, to add value to the evaluative exercise, especially at the grassroots level. As I write, this is in the works. IPAR is in the process of conducting an extensive research that assesses the level and quality of citizen participation in policy and decision-making in Rwanda.

Very soon the results will help shed light on who really earned that photo-op with the President!


The writer is a researcher at Rwanda’s Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR-Rwanda).

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