(Image Credit: Twitter / Presidency | Rwanda)
Rwanda’s anti-corruption credentials were recently in the spotlight as it hosted the fourth edition of the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Awards (ECE). The country has been hailed as a success story for the region, rising up from 121st position in the 2006 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) to 48th in 2018. It now ranks as one of the five least corrupt countries in sub-Saharan Africa, behind only Seychelles, Botswana and Cape Verde.
In light of the pace and extent of Rwanda’s progress the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) has recently signed an agreement with Rwanda for the country to serve as a global centre for training on anti-corruption.
In order to replicate the success elsewhere there is a need to understand the reasons behind the county’s success. One of the major factors in this respect is political will. The Government has prioritised the fight against corruption and has developed a National Anti-Corruption Policy stance of good governance and zero-tolerance for both private and public sector.
A combination of donor government support and homegrown initiatives has been pursued since the mid-1990s. Central to its success is the institutionalisation of the fight against corruption through bodies such as the National Tender Board, the Office of the Auditor General and the Ombudsman’s Office.
Equally important, this has been matched with a cultural approach to promote integrity and reject corruption that is backed up by action, including convictions and the dismissal of officials who are found guilty of such offences. As a result the consequences of corrupt acts are evident for all to see.
Government has also deployed technology in the fight against corruption, for example by introducing e-procurement in 2016.
Whilst great strides have been made to date, Rwanda has not grown complacent. In September 2018 the country enacted new legislation to fight corruption. The law expands the definition of corruption to include bribery, sexual corruption, embezzlement, making decisions based on favouritism, friendship or hatred, influence peddling, illicit enrichment, use of public property for unintended purposes, abuse of power, and demanding or receiving undue or excessive money. It also includes provisions to support the reporting of corruption so that those who give or receive illegal benefit are protected as long as they report the bribe to the authorities before investigations commence.
Not only does the law now protect those who report corruption, but also because of the broader institutional and cultural framework created citizens feel empowered to tackle corruption themselves. For example, this year three Rwandan students developed a mobile App, the Anti-Corruption App (ACAP), to enable people to easily report incidents of corruption. Officials can review the reports submitted via the App, facilitating efforts to combat corruption and acting as a further disincentive to potential offenders.
Rwanda’s success has not all been plain sailing, however, and it is important to be mindful of its deficiencies as other countries look to learn from its example.
The 2017 East African Bribery Index confirmed that bribery is still a problem in the country, recording a 29 percent likelihood of encountering bribery when interacting with police to access a service. According to the 2017 Index 18 percent of respondents in Rwanda also reported paying bribes to access utilities (water and electricity). Perhaps more worryingly, critics of the Government say it is because Rwanda is a police state that it has been able to record such progress.
There is undoubtedly much to learn from Rwanda’s success. Countries in the region and beyond would do well to note that political will is essential and that no one single solution or approach is sufficient to effect substantial and lasting change.