KIGALI, 8 July (IRIN) - In 2001, the government of Rwanda started a programme to give local communities interest free money. The aim is to use it to implement locally designed projects aimed at slashing the country's high level of poverty. The initiative, dubbed 'Ubudehe', initially began in Butare, one of the country's 12 provinces. It has now been rolled out nationwide. The coordinator of the ubudehe policy, Fidele Kayira, told IRIN on 6 July how this system works. Here are excerpts.
QUESTION: What is the ubudehe initiative all about and where are the roots of this policy?
ANSWER: The name ubudehe was chosen as a reminder that collective action and participatory development are very rooted in Rwandan society. The aim is to build on the positive aspects of this history and complement it with modern participatory techniques, which have proven their worth in Community development.
The ubudehe process nurtures citizens' collective action in partnership with a government committed to decentralisation. This policy has its roots in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and the Participatory Poverty Assessment (PPA).
It is a policy designed to increase the level of institutional problem-solving capacity at the local level by citizens and local government. It seeks to put into operation the principles of citizens' participation through local collective action.
The word ubudehe was selected to present a quick mental image of people working in collective action; action to solve problems of local people, by local people, for local people; with support from local government, NGO's, local resource people and donors. It sets out to strengthen democratic processes and governance starting from the people's aspirations, ability and traditions.
The ubudehe process seeks to create deliberate opportunities for people at the cellule level [the lowest administrative level of local government] to interact with one another; to share world-views; and to create institutions of their own which assign duties, benefits, responsibility and authority. It is through such processes of local interaction for mutual benefit that trust between individuals will increase, as will reciprocal relationships.
The assumption is made that strong social capital creates high trust and communication within a group and opportunity for the formation of economic co-operatives. If such a group faces a conflict situation they [its members] will attempt to resolve the conflict through local institutional means without resorting to violence. Consequently, the ubudehe process, through encouraging local collective action is building a foundation for reducing poverty, vulnerability and the potential for division and conflict.
Q: So how does it help reduce poverty levels?
A: Ubudehe was set up as part of the Participatory Poverty Assessment. The overarching goal of the PPA was to help community groups and some poor households to create their own problem-solving experiences. As such, information gathered at the cellule level by the population helps to understand people's experience of poverty and the key priorities needed to be addressed in order to fight poverty.
Q: So support goes to local cooperatives or individuals?
A: Because of government's programme on decentralisation, we do not go in for cooperatives. We focus on local government.
Ideally, ubudehe is made up of two distinct processes, one at the community level and one at the household level. At the community level, with the help of facilitators and trainers, we determine the poverty profile as perceived by the people themselves and also establish the causes and consequences of poverty. Thereafter, we draw up the social map of the cellule, which includes the names of heads of household, their social category - different categories are again decided by the people themselves - development infrastructure.
At the household level, the idea is to have some kind of model in the community that shows that poverty can be overcome if one is determined to fight it. For the household, the methodology consists of analysing and identifying the household's survival strategies. [We] analyse these strategies in order to come up with a strategy favourable to the promotion and improvement of the living conditions within the household.
A pertinence test is then carried out by wise men in the cellule to make sure that the retained strategy is appropriate and will be of good use to the household. The household members finally accept and sign for the funds that are accorded to them. They agree that the funds supporting the execution of their strategy will have a rotating character.
Q: And speaking of funds, how much do you have for this initiative?
A: We started off in 2001 in only one province, which was Butare, and we had ?1 million [US $1.19 million] but after examining the progress done with the one million in one province, the donors decided to extend the programme to all parts of the country. We now have ?10 million [$11.9 million] running for a period of one year and set to cover the entire country.
Q: On average how much does each cellule get?
A: We have more than 10,000 cellules in the country and on average each cellule takes ?1,050 [$1,254]. But the most important element is not the money we give out, we mainly treasure that spirit of people coming together to design their own strategies that will solve their day-to-day problems. So the funds just come as an addition to their small contributions.
Q: What mechanisms have you put in place to monitor the money?
A: We sensitise the beneficiaries on how they have to solve their problems. We make sure that each cellule opens up its own account in the local cooperative bank and then money is sent to that account.
They put in place their own committee that is charged with implementing the desired project. It is this very committee that evaluates, monitors and is responsible for accountability issues. They also put in place some laws that guide the utilisation of the funds. Therefore, there's a provision within their own laws that punishes all those who embezzle the funds.
When money gets into their accounts then three people are chosen from that committee to become the signatories to the bank account. The money has [to] be spent on the identified project and they must show the local population what the money has been spent on.
Q: Which economic sector is given most of the money?
You see most Rwandans depend on agriculture. Whenever you ask them their major problem, they will always say we are poor because of low agricultural output, which is again caused by poor soils and small plots. They say they need fertilisers and some farm inputs. Many again go for small livestock like goats, pigs, which again they argue is a good source of fertilisers for their farms. The biggest group of people seeking our support is the farmers.
We also see people come in asking for support on the health insurance policy and also some request money to establish clean water in their area.
Q: Do you charge interest for this money?
No, this is a grant and the money has no interest charged but we insist that the money given should multiply itself to have a greater impact on larger numbers of people. We have seen a big impact in terms of poverty reduction as a result of this initiative. This is why the donors decided to increase the amount under this programme.
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