August 16, 2019

Constant “Urgent Orders” From Kigali Undermining Imihigo

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September 9, 2016: President Paul Kagame speaks to District Mayors, some of whom had been awarded for good performance, at the signing of Imihigo (Performance Contracts) for 2016-2017

Local officials do not get time to implement agreed government programs due to unending directives from Kigali that keep changing priorities, says campaign group Never Again.

In a two year study on the government’s performance contracts or Imihigo signed by district mayors annually at a high-level event presided over by President Paul Kagame, various officials cited by Never Again say “urgent priorit[ies]” change all the time.

“The local government receives many urgent orders with requests for immediate implementation from central agencies. Everything has become urgent and this is happening in every field…,” said a councilor from Kayonza district.

The study points out that there is “a lot of work in the local government, which affects the time allocated to the imihigo process”.

This latest study comes in the wake of a surprise decision by President Kagame to cancel the signing of the 2019-2020 Imihigo that had been scheduled for this past Tuesday. It is the first time such a cancellation has been effected.

At an impromptu press conference the same day, the tone from government ministers who communicated the cancellation suggested their boss was not impressed with what the mayors were going to sign.

A day earlier, UK business newspaper Financial Times had also published details of how the government of Rwanda allegedly fakes numbers on poverty levels.

Kagame has reacted angrily at the FT report calling it as “humorous, with a tinge of sarcasm”, but he himself has in previous speeches complained about the performance numbers promoted by local officials.

During the signing of the 2018-2019 imihigo around the same time last year, Kagame spent much of his speech denouncing the practice – what is called in Rwanda “gutekinika“.

The study from anti-genocide campaigner Never Again says that the implementation of imihigo faces serious challenge.

An unnamed Senator is quoted in the study as saying: “When people are constantly under pressure to deliver, the most difficult question becomes how to set people-centered local priorities. [Local leaders] are requested to urgently do ABC, etc. in order to materialize, let say, presidential pledges and other ambitious government-led development goals. In so doing, some local leaders fall short in considering and paying attention to local priorities as defined by local populations.”

Local officials are also labelled in the study as having a “culture that patronizes [their] citizens” whereby they are not consulted by the district yet the programs are implemented in their villages.

Although citizens are fully engaged in the implementation phase of decision-making processes, Never Again says they are “totally absent in the planning phase”.

For example, this how one of the vice-mayors for Nyamagabe district spoke: “We still have a population that strongly believes everything comes from the state. Our first job is to change the mentality of the population. To do this is a process. We organize lots of meetings with the population … to tell [them] what [how] we wish things to be. We also do home visits to verify that what we have said is being put into practice.”

The Never Again study was done in 15 of the 30 districts, and also spoke to individuals and groups.

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning is also said to be giving districts a very short period of three weeks between when it issues budgeting instructions, and the stage where districts are expected to have come up with imihigo.

Local governments reportedly use this limited consultation timeline “as a ground to legitimate why [citizens’] inputs on imihigo are not solicited”.

Budget constraints is another explanatory factor for low citizen participation in the imihigo process. District mayors fear that citizens have so many needs in that asking them for what they want will bring a list that is impossible to meet.

A councilor from Gatsibo district said: “I ask for facilitation from the executive committee, but the response is ‘there is no budget for that’. In such a situation, citizens end up not getting expected feedback. This is the reason why sometimes I fail to consult citizens before representing them in the council.”

Another finding from the study is that citizens themselves are facilitating a scheme by officials not to highlight the bad things happening in their communities.

When media visit particular areas, Never Again says journalists “meet pre-selected people who have possibly been briefed on what to and not to say,” and they will often say exactly that to avoid being targeted by officials.

Those who say good things are considered the noble citizens, as illustrated by this interviewee: “One day the media people came to our village, our local leader instructed me what to say in response to their questions. I said a lot of things to make the sector feel good. I became famous in my neighborhood; and whenever people saw me since that interview, they would say that I disclosed the truth. You cannot just say that things are not
going well, you would not be able to get any service from the local leaders, you would end up being isolated…”

However, most interviewees also accused media organizations of limiting their coverage to scandals, reason why officials tend to ensure they control who they interview.

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