As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, the Government of Rwanda drew on traditional practices in Rwandan culture to adapt its development programs to the country’s needs and context.
Imihigo is the plural of the Kinyarwanda word Umuhigo and is derived from the root, Higa, and the verb Guhiga, which means to vow to deliver, as well as Guhiganwa, which means to compete among one another. Imihigo was a pre-colonial cultural practice in Rwanda in which an individual would set targets or goals to be achieved within a specific period of time, most often, leaders and chiefs. The person would have to complete these objectives by following guiding principles and was expected to be determined to overcome any possible challenges that arise. In the event that leaders and chiefs failed to achieve their stated objectives, they would face shame and embarrassment from the community. However, opinions vary on what constituted a traditional Imihigo. Some have recalled it as having a basis in war, whereby warriors would throw a spear into the ground while publicly proclaiming the feats they would accomplish in battle.
In 2000, a decentralization program shifted the responsibilities of all levels of government, requiring a new approach to monitoring and evaluation. Local levels of government were now responsible for implementing development programs which meant that the central government – as well as the people of Rwanda – needed a way to ensure accountability. In 2006, the Imihigo system (referred to in English as performance contracts) was reinstated by Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, as a result of concerns about the speed and quality of execution of government programs and priorities.
Today, Imihigo is used across government as a system of performance contracts and to ensure accountability. All levels of government, from the local district level to ministries and embassies, are required to develop their Imihigo and have them evaluated. Members of the civil service also sign Imihigo with their managers or head of institutions.
Whilst Imihigo is now widely used across government, it first began at the district level. When developing its Imihigo, each local government administrative unit determines its own objectives (with measurable indicators) taking into account national priorities as highlighted in the national and international policy and strategy documents such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Vision 2050, National Strategy for Transformation 1 (NST1), District Development Strategies (DDSs) and Sector Strategic Plans (SSPs).
The Imihigo, are presented to the public for the purpose of accountability and transparency, during both the planning and reporting phases. The mayors and province governors also sign the Imihigo or performance contracts with Rwanda’s President, which commit them to achieve certain agreed objectives.
Since its introduction, Imihigo has been credited with:
- Improving accountability,
- Increasing the pace of citizen-centered development activities and programs,
- Ensuring the full participation and ownership of citizens because priorities are developed at the grassroots level.