By any standard, Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in the world with an area of only 26,338 square kilometers (10,169 square miles) according to the United Nations Statistics Division. According to 2015 figures, more than 12 million people call Rwanda home or 472.5 people per square kilometer – ranking it 24th amongst world nations for population density.
Rwanda has a scarcity of forests and other natural resources. Nonetheless the government has put in place effective mechanisms to ensure good governance for the forests and the environment at large. According to Rwanda’s Permanent Secretary for Agriculture and Animal Resources, this is a result of the political will of His Excellency President Paul Kagame.
President Kagame not only selected a competent team to lead in environmental and related sectors, he also made forests and the environment a part of national development goals. As a result, managing forest resources is not taking place in isolation but as an integral part of the vision and the mission of the nation.
Policies in harmony
Initially, each sector – wildlife, forest, tourism, environment, agriculture, inter alia – had its own policies and regulations to guide its practices. But while systems and policies were the keys for sustaining forests in Rwanda, it was recognized that the components within the legislative frameworks didn’t talk to each other. Policies often confused the technical people who were responsible for implementation as well as citizens – the consumers of those policies. To eliminate the confusion, policies on the environment and its related sectors were harmonized.
Harmonization of policies helped all sectors to “speak in one voice” – from the national to sub national levels – and made it possible to enhance coordination of resources and programs. With competition and duplication eliminated, the nation was able to move forward to implement goals that promoted sustainability of the environment.
The Rwandan experience demonstrates that policy effectiveness often requires a champion. President Kagame demonstrated his commitment to results delivery in the context of environmental sustainability by putting in place a system to ensure timely reporting. He also introduced a mechanism of accountability and incentives to ensure that those who do well are rewarded and those who do not deliver are held accountable.
But what is truly unique about forestry governance in Rwanda is that implementation and real assessment is done at the community level. Once a month, communities across Rwanda meet to discuss their development objectives, including forest management. They receive information and updates.
In addition, they demand answers from leaders related to trends and actions in the context of their annual plans. More importantly, they ask themselves if they are on the right track regarding their environment and forest goals. They discuss any problems, and seek solutions and actions to move forward.
Good environment and forest governance in Rwanda is characterized by an approach that emphasizes mutual accountability from top to bottom, for even the policy makers, including the President, cannot ignore citizens’ voices when it comes to the forest and environment. Rwandan citizens are empowered to demand accountability and transparency and everybody has a role to play. Thus citizens are the main doers to ensure that their environment, hence their country, is sustained for the next generations.
Responsibility is mutual: as citizens demand results from the authorities and policy makers, leaders at all levels call on the citizens to set and achieve realistic goals in their own communities to preserve and enhance the forests and the environment.
Blogpost by Jasson Kalugendo – jassonk(at)empowermentafrica.org
Picture courtesy – BanyanTree