Saturday October 24, marked a decade since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched at the UN Headquarters, New York in the year 2000. Common to the UN celebrations is evaluation on how countries fair on implementing the eight MDGs.
There seem to be panic that many developing countries may fall below the targets of MDGs. Like the UN Secretary General said in his UN Day Message to the world: “This is a unique moment in world affairs. Multiple crises — food, fuel, financial, flu — are hitting at once”.
Pressure now seems to come from all angles; pushing UN to stop doing business as usual if targets of MDGs are to be achieved.
UN-Rwanda this year took a different approach to cerebrating the UN week. It organised a debate forum on: “How can UN better contribute to the achievements of the MDGs in Rwanda”, at Laico Hotel, Kacyiru on Friday October 23, 2009.
The forum which was well attended by participants from public and private sectors, civil society organisations, academic institutions, development partner institutions focused on visualizing UN operations and how it can perform better.
To guide the debate, the UN resident coordinator Aurélien Agbénonci, in his introductory remarks said: “We are committed to becoming a new UN for a new Rwanda”
There are eight MDGs, namely; eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.
Rwanda is on track on most MDGs. For instance primary enrolment rates are 97 percent, gender equality in primary and secondary education target has already been met…where women’s participation in parliament is now more than 50 percent (56% in 2008), the highest in the world, HIV prevalence rates fell from 13 percent (2000) to three percent (2006), malaria fatalities have reduced from 9.3 percent (2001) to 2.9 percent (2006 ), the access to improved water source increased from 61 percent in 2000, to 71 percent in 2006
Representing the Finance Minister at the debate forum, the Government Chief Economist, Kampeta Sayinzoga, said the challenge lies in achieving MDG1 (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger), MDG3 (reducing child mortality) and MDG5 (improving maternal health).
Her argument is valid because poverty rates have not fallen proportionately; declining only by 4 percentage points, from 60 percent in to 56.9 percent in 2006.
In 2007, the UN launched a pilot program dubbed “One UN” which advocates for bringing together all UN Agencies to “Deliver as One”. This was ideally done to improve the efficiency and coordination of UN activities. Rwanda was selected as one of the pilot countries.
Away from that, the big question remains; how can poverty reduction be accelerated in Rwanda?
Despite all government efforts and interventions by UN and other development partners, for now fifteen years since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, a big number of Rwandans are languishing below the poverty line. In line with this paradox, discussants were put to task to explain what UN needs to do differently.
Opening the debate, Panelist Prof Silas Lwakabamba, Rector of National University of Rwanda (NUR) went for MDG2; achieving universal primary education.
He applauded UN for the impressive enrollment figures but thinks support should go beyond this to supporting high education, tertiary and vocation institutions to address capacity constraints in the country.
He further urged UN to upscale the support in teacher enrollment, curriculum development, and education materials support.
Another panelist, the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR), Antonia Mutoro concurred with Prof Lwakabamba and was quick to add that to combat all the poverty and ignorance related MDG’s, quality education targeting the needs of the poor as well as the competitive labor market is critical.
She commented that it would perhaps make a difference if UN intervened in building sustainable development in critical private sector areas like agriculture value addition, entrepreneurship development and rural infrastructure development.
Elaborating on low levels of poverty reduction, she remarked Rwanda may have good policies but poorly implemented or unsuitable policies that need analysis to verify what works and what doesn’t.
Eugene Rwibasira, the head of civil society platform had different views on what UN should do to accelerate poverty reduction. He said UN should help government to address concerns like land fragmentation, private sector investment in agriculture, and management of national resources.
He urged UN to establish a platform at national level between UN team and civil society.
The President of Human Rights Commission, Zainab Kayitesi, too wants UN to engage civil society better by establish a platform for human rights. She recognised UN’s support in peace building and reconciliation in Rwanda, and specifically thanked UN for recognizing the day for commemorating the 1994 Tutsi Genocide.
Speaking on behalf of private sector in Rwanda, Robert Bayigamba the president of private sector federation (PSF) proposed UN-Rwanda should adopt the “Songai Village Model” of Benin—where private sector is empowered through encouraging innovations, establishing agriculture centre of excellence, farmers training centers, and private sector outreach programs.
He also urged UN to support cluster development in private sector development.
The Rwanda Development Board (RDB), represented by its Deputy CEO George Mulamula said they are thinking outside the box and wish UN to go beyond aid that comes in form of humanitarian assistance to direct support to trade and investment.
Complementing his views, Claire Akamanzi, the deputy CEO in charge of Business Operation Services at RDB said UN should go beyond aid to partnering with different facets of government, private sector and civil society to enhance economic development.
Representing the UK Department for International Development (DFID) in Rwanda Elizabeth Carriere remarked, “One UN” is already making UN system more efficient but was quick to caution “it is high time UN thought beyond aid (humanitarian assistance)”.
Donors have been widely criticized of giving “handouts” to developing countries, ignoring national priorities.
IPAR Director advised that UN needs to be on the same page with Rwanda…”understand where Rwanda is coming from, where it is and where it is going”. This would help UN own Rwanda’s development path better.
It was evident that UN-Rwanda is not creating enough awareness of its programs, especially the “One UN” pilot program. And, apart from the government bodies, it is also not engaging enough other components of the society like civil society, private sector, academic institutions and the media.
“UN-Rwanda is commitment to change, for if we don’t change will change us”, the resident coordinator finally pledged.
The Writer works with- Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR)-Rwanda.