Scale-up in Rwanda

Eileen Babbit

Assistant Professor of International Politics, Fletcher School of Law, Tufts University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: The scale up issue the scaling up issue is as you know incredibly challenging in the context of this HCR project, there was only one organization that was dealing with it explicitly and this was Oxfam Great Britain. Their project in Rwanda is stunning. And in and of itself is a case study that needs to be written. Oxfam at some previous point before we got there in 2001, they had already decided that their poverty reduction programs in Rwanda were not working. And to their credit, and I don't know whose decision this was if this was the country director or the regional director, they literally stopped what they were doing for about six months which is quite amazing or dramatic to do an assessment.

Why was what they were doing not effective and what was really at the heart of the poverty issue in Rwanda and what they came to was an understanding of the power dynamics within the country such that for reasons both political and historical people do not feel confident and able to handle anything on their own. It's a sort of a learned passivity. And it's not just post-genocide and it's not even post-colonial. It actually is even further back in Rwandan history and culture. What Oxfam decided is that they needed to be working to create more confidence, skill, and I guess incentive for people to begin to learn to make decisions at the local level to not expect or look for people higher in the hierarchy authority figures to do it all for them.

Q: Sort of anti-paternalist, patron-client breaking mold.

A: Exactly. Exactly. And the way they decided to do this was two-fold. One was to piggy back onto a decision by the Rwandan government to institute a decentralization structure. Now, cynics would say and maybe not even cynics maybe realists would say that the real reason that the Rwandan government was doing this, was to get their people installed at every level from the cellule which was the village all the way up so that this devolution of power looked like it was a giving away of responsibility but what it was what it might actually become was a way for the government to exercise control all the way down to the level of the household basically. However, Oxfam decided to take it at it's to assume that it had constructive, positive goals and to use this decentralization structure to provide training and support for projects at the very smallest level of this devolution, which was the cellule.

The cellule is a collection of households making up usually a very small village. So they decided to work at the very smallest unit, number one, but they also decided but number two was the skills that they wanted people to get at that very smallest level were not only decision-making skills, but conflict management skills. The idea was and this is what we all believe of course, if people could learn to manage the daily conflicts, that it would give them confidence to manage conflicts at higher and higher levels. So those were the two foundations of their work.

They began a process of training at this grass-roots level. People nominated by their communities to come to these training programs, which did a remarkable thing. It first of all got the skills out but secondly it invested people with authority in these communities that the community people trusted. So they would send people who they felt would well represent their community to these training programs and then when these folks came back with these conflict management skills-negotiation, mediation-people listened to them and they became local authorities on these topics and people began going to them with disputes. Family disputes, community disputes, husbands against wives, you know before they used to go to the mayors. And people in the authority positions and now they would go to these community people who had been trained so that was the first contribution but I'm getting to the scaling up. They also realized that in order for this to work they needed to be training people at the very most local level but all the way up the hierarchy to the national level so that there would be support for this empowerment process all the way up the chain to the I've forgotten now what the different rings of the Rwandan social structure are, there's the cellule and there's the prefect and there's the province and whatever. And they did these trainings at all levels. They did them separately. Initially, they tried to bring everyone together but the people who were the officials of the provincial level were not so happy about coming to the trainings at the grassroots level with the people who didn't wear shoes. So they realized the trainings had to be hierarchical but they were giving the same skills at all levels. And they were informing the people at the higher levels what kind of work they were doing at the grassroots.

So their goal throughout was to make this process completely transparent and to get the people at the higher levels to see the benefit of creating skill and empowerment further down in the hierarchy. It worked incredibly well, incredibly well. And the most important things I think that it did were at the grassroots level it got people involved. What they did is they gave each of these cellules an amount of money. I don't know how much, a small amount, I don't know $5,000. Very little, but in Rwandan terms, significant. But the only way they would get the money would be if there was a community decision on how to spend it. It couldn't just be the leadership, it had to be the whole community. And it had to be beneficial to the whole community it couldn't just all go to one person and so what it did was it energized a community decision-making process and the people who were trained, the newly-trained people in negotiation and mediation, became the facilitators of those community decision making processes. Not by imposition, but simply because they now understood what had to happen in order for a discussion and a consensus to be built. And they stepped forward and said, "You know I can help you do this." And since the community had sent them to the training and felt invested in their new knowledge they said, "Oh yeah, of course." So they took over and facilitated these meetings. And they at one point would look around and say, "You know there's none of the women in the community at this meeting and I think probably at the next meeting they should come." And the next meeting the women came. And they'd look at in communities where there was this third group, the Twa, and say, "You know, they're not here. Twa not here, need to be here. They're part of this." And the next meeting, Twa were at the meeting and it was quite an incredible thing. This just never happened before, not happened.

Q: And this all related to the reconciliation and the re-entry of refugees? I mean this is all with that in mind?

A: Well, what this was doing from Oxfam's point of view and this was a little bit of a point of tension between Oxfam and HCR, because HCR kept saying, "What does this have to do with refugees?" And Oxfam kept saying it has to do with everything. Because if these communities can't function, then whatever the issue is that's on the table whether it's refugee return, economic development, healthcare, education, they're hopeless, they're lost.

They're completely at the mercy of manipulative leaders, and they will just passively sit here and wait until somebody does something for them. And what we're trying to do is give them a set of skills and a set of perspectives on their ability to affect the quality of their own lives that will help them no matter what the issue. And they commissioned an independent evaluation, which is quite wonderful and it's on-line and you can get a hold of it, where they looked at whether the processes that they put in place were actually helping at the local level and also to what extent they were creating any consciousness up the chain. It's a very long process, the scaling up. It's very very long as it is to do it at the interpersonal and inter-group level, it's even more time consuming and it's even a more protracted process if you're trying to start at the bottom and have it move up.

What they were trying to do was at least create the consciousness, the awareness and the acceptance at the higher levels of what they were doing and what positive benefit it would be. So that the people at the higher levels, at least, would not be getting in the way and would not be undermining what they were trying to do. Their hope is over time to be able to move these skills and this consciousness up in the community from the grassroots, progressively up. And they've gone back to their headquarters in England to continue to get financial support to do the work in that way. They have a long-term plan, but they see it as a 10-year process