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Governance and Home-Grown Solutions

1. Rwanda Governance Board (RGB)

The Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) is the country’s centre of excellence in governance policy and research, application of innovations and provision of highest quality services geared towards fostering accountability in governance, democracy and decentralisation for sustainable development.

RGB promotes the principles of good governance and decentralisation, conducts research and policy analysis related to governance, monitors the practices of good governance, coordinates and supports media sector development, registers political organisations, provides policy advocacy to Government, and enhances citizen participation in the implementation of various governance initiatives.

One of the key missions of RGB is to document and assess home grown initiatives. Below is a brief overview of the main home grown initiatives that have contributed to Rwanda’s journey of transformation in the last decade.


2. Home Grown Solutions

As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, the Government of Rwanda drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programs to the country’s needs and context. The result is a set of Governance and Home Grown Initiatives (GHI) - culturally owned practices translated into sustainable development programs.

Some of these policies and programmes are explained in this fact sheet:

a. Abunzi – Community Mediators

The word Abunzi can be translated as ‘those who reconcile’ or ‘those who bring together’ (from verb ‘Kunga’). In the traditional Rwanda, Abunzi were men known within their communities for personal integrity and were asked to intervene in the event of conflict. Each conflicting party would choose a person considered trustworthy, known as a problem-solver, and who was unlikely to alienate either party.

The purpose of Abunzi system was to settle disputes and also to reconcile the conflicting parties and restore harmony within the affected community. Abunzi was institutionalised in 2004 and has since been facilitated by the Government of Rwanda. As an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, Abunzi can be seen as a hybrid form of justice combining traditional with modern methods of conflict resolution.

The reintroduction of the Abunzi system was motivated in part by the desire to reduce the backlog of court cases, as well as to decentralise justice and make it more affordable and accessible for citizens seeking to resolve conflict without the need to go to court.  In 2012, 30,768 Abunzi were operating across Rwanda.

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b. Gacaca – Community Courts

The word Gacaca refers to the small clearing where a community would traditionally meet to discuss issues of concern. People of integrity (elders and leaders) in the village known as inyangamugayo would facilitate a discussion that any member of the community could take part in. Once everyone had spoken, the inyangamugayo would reach a decision about how the problem would be solved. In this way, Gacaca acted very much as a traditional court. If the decision was accepted by all members of the community, the meeting would finish with sharing a drink as a sign of reconciliation.

In 2002, Gacaca courts were revived as a way to process the millions of criminal cases that arose following the Genocide against the Tutsi. Contemporary Gacaca draws inspiration from the traditional model by replicating a local community-based justice system with the aim of restoring the social fabric of society. In total, 1,958,634 genocide related cases were tried through Gacaca. The courts are credited with laying the foundation for peace, reconciliation and unity in Rwanda. The Gacaca courts officially finished their work in June 2012.

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c. Girinka - One Cow per Poor Family Programme

The word Girinka can be translated as ‘may you have a cow’ and describes a centuries old cultural practice in Rwanda whereby a cow was given by one person to another, either as a sign of respect and gratitude or as a marriage dowry.   

The Girinka programme was initiated in response to the alarmingly high rate of childhood malnutrition and as a way to accelerate poverty reduction and integrate livestock and crop farming. The program is based on the premise that providing a dairy cow to poor households helps to improve their livelihood as a result of a more nutritious and balanced diet from milk, increased agricultural output through better soil fertility as well as greater incomes by commercialising dairy products.

Since its introduction in 2006, 200,000 beneficiaries have received cows. Girinka has contributed to an increase in agricultural production in Rwanda - especially milk products which have helped reduce malnutrition and increase incomes. The program aims to provide 350,000 cows to poor families by 2017.

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d. Imihigo – Performance Contracts

Imihigo is the plural Kinyarwanda word of Umuhigo, which means to vow to deliver. Imihigo also includes the concept of Guhiganwa, which means to compete among one another. Imihigo describes the pre-colonial cultural practice in Rwanda where an individual sets targets or goals to be achieved within a specific period of time. The person must complete these objectives by following guiding principles and be determined to overcome any possible challenges that arise.

In 2000, a shift in the responsibilities of all levels of government as a result of decentralisation required a new approach to monitoring and evaluation. Local levels of government were now responsible for implementing development programs which meant that the central government and people of Rwanda needed a way to ensure accountability. In 2006, Imihigo, or performance contracts, were introduced to address this need.

Since its introduction, Imihigo has been credited with improving accountability and quickening the pace of citizen centred development in Rwanda. The practice of Imihigo has now been extended to ministries, embassies and public service staff.

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e. Itorero - Civic Education

Traditional Itorero was a cultural school where Rwandans would learn language, patriotism, social relations, sports, dancing, songs and defence. This system was created so that young people could grow with an understanding of their culture. Participants were encouraged to discuss and explore Rwandan cultural values. The tradition of Itorero also provided formative training for future leaders.   

Itorero was reintroduced in 2009 as a way to rebuild the nation’s social fabric and mobilise Rwandans to uphold important cultural values. The culture of an intore (a person who has received the teachings of Itorero) is regarded highly. Itorero creates opportunities for participants to enhance positive values, build a sense of responsibility through patriotism and gain professional knowledge.

The National Itorero Commission is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the program and of ensuring that Rwandans from all walks of life have the opportunity to take part. Between 2007 and 2012, Itorero ry’Igihugu (the National Itorero Commission) trained 284,207 Intore including teachers, executive secretaries, farmers, community policing committees and members of the Rwandans abroad community.

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f. Ingando – Solidarity Camp

The word Ingando comes, from the verb ‘Kugandika’, which means going to stay in a place far from one’s home, often with a group, for a specific reason. Traditional Ingando referred to a retreat during which elders, leaders or young people left their homes and stayed in a place where they would meditate and share ideas on how to solve problems affecting their communities or the nation. Those attending Ingando might have discussed the development of a strategy for war or overcoming problems of food security.

The term Ingando has evolved to describe a place where a group of people gather to work towards a common goal. Today, Ingando trainings serve as a way to share ideas and provide a space for young people to build a better future in which negative ideologies area thing of the past. During Ingando camps, participants learn about history, current development and reconciliation policies and are encouraged to play an active role in the rebuilding of their nation. Over 100,000 Rwandans from all around the world have taken part in Ingando.

Many Rwandans living abroad take part in Ingando in their host countries while others return to Rwanda to complete the week long course.

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g. Ubudehe – Social categorisation for collective action and mutual support

Ubudehe refers to the long-standing Rwandan practice and culture of collective action and mutual support to solve problems within a community. The practice was reintroduced into Rwandan life in 2001 as way to better involve communities in their development by setting up participatory problem solving mechanisms. The program was seen as a way to strengthen democratic processes and good governance through greater community involvement in decision making. Ubudehe creates opportunities for people at all levels of society, especially the village level, to interact with one another, share ideas, create institutions and make decisions for their collective development.

Ubudehe is one of Rwanda’s best known Home Grown Solution because of its participatory development approach to poverty reduction. In 2008, the program won the United Nations Public Service Award for excellence in service delivery. Today Ubudehe is one of the country’s core development programs.

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h. Umuganda – Community Work

The word Umuganda can be translated as ‘coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome’. In traditional Rwandan culture, members of the community would call upon their family, friends and neighbours to help them complete a difficult task.

On the last Saturday of each month, millions of Rwandans come together to improve their communities. The program has been crucial for reconciliation and building Rwanda anew. Umuganda typically begins at 8am, at which time the community meets to work on a project. This might be building a road, rehabilitating wetlands, fixing erosion or building houses for vulnerable people. This is followed by a community meeting to discuss national and local issues. Rwandans between 18 and 65 are obliged to participate in Umuganda. Expatriates living in Rwanda are encouraged to take part.

Today close to 80% of Rwandans take part in monthly community work. Successful projects include the building of schools, medical centres and hydroelectric plants as well as rehabilitating wetlands and creating highly productive agricultural plots. The value of Umuganda to the country’s development since 2007 has been estimated at more than US $60 million. Umuganda has been introduced around the world by Rwandan peacekeepers serving in place like Haiti and the Central African Republic.

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i. Umushyikirano – National Dialogue Council

The word Umushyikirano translates to a meeting where participants are able to exchange ideas, share experiences and question each other. Today Umushyikirano is known as the National Dialogue Council.

Governed by the Rwandan Constitution (Article 140), Umushyikirano is a forum where participants debate issues relating to the state of the nation, the state of local government and national unity. The Office of the Prime Minister is responsible for the overall co-ordination of Umushyikirano. The first National Dialogue Council took place on 28 June 2003 and has been held each year since.

Umushyikirano is an annual event chaired by the President of Rwanda that gives Rwandans from all walks of life the opportunity to ask questions directly to their leaders.  The event is attended by members of the Cabinet and Parliament, representatives of the Rwandan community abroad, local government, media, the diplomatic community and others invited by the President. Those unable to attend in person at Rwanda’s parliament building can participate via telephone, SMS, Twitter and Facebook as well as follow the debate live on television and radio.

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j. Umwiherero – National Leadership Retreat

Umwiherero, best translated as “retreat”, refers to a tradition in Rwandan culture where leaders convene in a secluded place in order to reflect on issues affecting their communities. Upon return from these retreats, the objective is to have identified solutions. On a smaller scale, this term also refers to the action of moving to a quieter place to discuss issues with a small group of people.  

The Government of Rwanda is drawing on this tradition to reflect on, and address, the challenges the country faces on an annual basis. Umwiherero is organised by the Office of the President in conjunction with the Office of the Prime Minister.

The President chairs Umwiherero during which presentations and discussions centre on a broad range of development challenges, including economics, politics, justice, infrastructure, health, education and others. Since its inception, organisers of Umwiherero have adopted numerous initiatives to improve the implementation of resolutions agreed upon at each retreat.

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