Rwanda Association of Local Government Authorities (RALGA) officially closed the Deepening Accountable Local Governance in Rwanda (DALGOR) project end of last month, January 2019. The overall objective of the project was to “contribute to improved capacity of local governments to confidently and effectively respond to upward, horizontal and downward accountability demands”.
Among other activities the EU supported project conducted a study, “State of elected local councillors & constituency interactions in Rwanda: implications for accountable local governance”. The project has been implemented in the Gasabo, Ngoma, Burera, Nyamasheke and Nyamagabe; districts with low performance in accountable governance before.
As the study aimed to assess the state of interactions between Elected Local Councillors (ELC) and Constituencies and its implications for accountable local governance in Rwanda, RALGA organised policy dialogues basing on the findings, to share the findings and discuss the way forward.
This study found it was important to discuss accountable governance drawing on the fact that citizens‘ participation through decision making and demanding for accountability from leadership has been dynamic.
The project had a significant impact
On his side, Mr Ladislas Ngendahimana, RALGA’s Secretary General finds that the project largely attained its objective. He refers to the 2018 Citizen Score Card report by RGB showing a significant improvement in accountable governance in DALGOR beneficiary districts compared to the one of 2014.
The report shows that districts scored high, from 2014 to 2018: Nyamasheke (from 50.7 % in 2014 to 82.83 % in 2018), Nyamagabe(from 61.3 % to 78.94 %); Gasabo (from 63.2% to 89.31%); Burera (from 79.9% to 88.44%); and Ngoma(from 89.31% to 90.53%).
Before, interviews emerged pessimistic enough, the argument made read as follows: “I don’t truly see ELC interacting with citizens. You instead realize that local Councils interact with the Executive much more than with citizens. For example, nowadays we assess performance contracts; when we are evaluating the performance contracts you eventually also plan others, and it is at this level that the local Council should interact with citizens and inform and request them to express their priority needs; I have never witnessed ELC inviting us and requesting us to express our needs. Local Councillors should interact with citizens who elected them.” (informant from Civil Society)
Though, there was more need to be done, as different Constituencies consequently entrusted Elected Local Councilors with power to decide on their behalf. The new the idea was that elected representatives will in principle represent the interests of their Constituents more effectively, then net levels of satisfaction by citizens became optimistic and encouraging.
Via the project, Elected Local Councillors and citizens agreed upon the fact that there have been considerable improvements as to the help by Elected Local Councillors to constituents in the collection of priority needs.
“The day where officials listen to citizens‟ problems was decided upon. Actually, this is the secret [for the improvement]. In the past, things could not move effectively because people couldn‟t know when or on which day people‟s problems would be heard. Nowadays, a specific day for that [listening] is well known. Everyone knows when to express his/her problems or ideas in the presence of [Elected Local] Councillors.” (A citizen of Mugesera Sector, Ngoma District).
Their different reasons, with hidden agenda
As the study stated, some councilors were elected for their own interest (political) rather than representing citizens.
Different factors that drove them into competition for councillorship, but only 49.5% of Elected Local Councilors revealed they were „willing to represent citizens”, a reason confirmed by 51.6% of citizens.
Others, 50.2% of ELC said that they were requested by citizens to represent them, which was however only confirmed by 38.7% of citizens.
Addition to this, the fact that 5.6% of citizens indicated that some candidates compete for councillorship „while targeting other higher positions‟; bears an empirical explanation.
This was boldly emphasized by one representative from the civil society, who contended that “most of people strongly fight to become [Elected Local] councilors as a strategy to access higher political positions; because chances of accessing higher political level increase if one has gone through lower positions of governance.”
All in all, “During the electoral period, some express their desire to compete and you could realize that they truly wanted that….uncertainty the major factor behind citizens‟ initiatives requesting their fellows to represent them. Citizens prefer to request, or to keep, the person who so far has served them satisfactorily or whom they know and trust. They are thus hesitant to replace him/her by, or to listen to, someone else whom they are not sure about his/or her potentials for future performance”.
So, “When constituents encourage and elect the councilors of their choice, it is a sign of improvement in democracy in Rwanda. The constituents feel genuinely represented. As a result, [Elected Local] Councilors feel happy and much concerned with the development of the constituents.” (A citizen of Gihombo Sector, Nyamasheke District).
Jean Baptiste Karegeya