President Paul Kagame this week resumed an in-person citizen outreach programme in the Western and Southern provinces, the first in three years and the second in his
During the tour, which kicked off on August 25 and will run until Sunday, August 28 in the districts of Ruhango, Nyamasheke, Nyamagabe, and Karongi , President Kagame is expected to interact with ordinary citizens and the focus will be on local government service delivery.
The citizen outreach programme provides a platform for active citizen participation as well as assessment of local service delivery. It is an opportunity for the president to see the reality on the ground compared to what he reads in reports. It is also an opportunity for him to get people's views of his governance.
The outreach is an opportunity for citizens to raise problems that have not been solved by concerned institutions or where justice has not been delivered or seen to be served.
The programme has proven to be effective because we have had problems raised by citizens being solved on the spot. However, the current Citizen Outreach Programme comes at a time when the country is still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic induced shocks including lack of employment and economic opportunities.
The World Bank estimates that thousands of Rwandans were forced back into poverty particularly during months of lockdown and restrictions of movement of people. In particular, those who are employed in the informal sector and live hand to mouth were adversely affected.
Worse still, the current wave of drastic price increments of basic household items has made life worse for those at the bottom of the pyramid. Given that the majority of Rwandans live outside of the city, the role of local governments is critical in improving living conditions, including creating economic opportunities.
Indeed, during the public engagement, it became clear that the majority of the complaints were brought to the attention of the president because local leaders had either done nothing about them or failed to resolve them.
Unfortunately, some of the complaints also included family disputes which should be resolved within a family setting. More effort is needed to mobilise at the community a dispute resolution mechanism that supports families to resolve disputes peacefully.
This can only happen if local leaders intervene in a timely manner before families stop talking to each other. But there were also complaints of court orders that were never executed, and no follow-up was done. Part of it is due to limited institutional coordination whereby the different government agencies work in silos.
We hope the visit by the president provides a platform for reinforcing accountability among local officials, and most importantly serve as an impetus to strengthen the functioning of local government to make it more responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens.