Africa meets the New World
Sunday, 17 January. Today, our long-awaited Learning Route to Peru finally started. Having flown into Lima from Rome the night before seemed like a long haul, but when I met the 6 Rwandan participants in Amsterdam they had already spent more than a night flying. In Lima, they would have had every right to look like zombies, but surprisingly they didn’t. As we kicked off, there was some excitement in the air in getting to know the project staff from the New World. It’s not the fault of the Malawians that to “us Africans” Colombia and Venezuela are more exotic than they are. Anyway, I had the impression that we did the introductions with more curiosity than normally on such occasions.
Soon it became technical, and more participative than some had thought. As Rwandans, we were to come clear on not only our objectives from the route, but also what action points we would put in practice upon return. Very refreshing to move quickly beyond presenting project objectives and activities, and to do some actual thinking about what we had come here for. Janvier, the project coordinator, knows all too well that the concept of community competitions had been integrated in the Kirehe Community-based Watershed Management Project (KWAMP) on the basis of the experience in Peru. This is what we wanted to see in action. The core phrase in his presentation brings out what we believe to be the key to making it happen in Rwanda: to assist the communities in developing confidence for their own initiatives. Confidence, of course, has many facets, but I’m not going into any of that now.
The PROCASUR team confirms my impression of professionalism in organising this multicultural multilingual tour. They are firmly in control. In fact, the effective air with which Ariel solves the teething problems of the audio system and the relaxed simultaneous translators who go through hours of translating into English and French without a break (little Rwanda can be demanding with its two international languages) were finally topped by the hassle-free departure to the airport despite running half an hour behind schedule. And this first day, which I thought risks being quite boring with a couple of dry presentations, wasn’t that at all. Despite our jetlag, we were riveted by the series of presentation that felt more like erudite university lectures that gave answers to questions it seems we had carried around with us for a long time.
When the head of Agro Rural of the Ministry of Agriculture kicked off, it didn’t take long to dawn that what we’re about to visit is backed by an institutional might we are not used to, at least us Africans are not. The monitoring capacity Agro Rural established to track its investments is simply impressive, and a ministry desperate to give away its spending power to local committees is also not easy to find. Can this work in Rwanda?, I think to myself. But Rome was also not built in a day, what’s important is to start.
The other speakers were not less sure of being on the right track, which is probably the most convincing position a presenter can have: Juan Moreno of PROCASUR outlined his philosophy of development through professional visits. Roberto Haudry, whose PDT recommendation of building community competitions into KWAMP had gotten us here in the first place, gave us the historic context in which the CLARs (Local Resource Allocation Committees) slowly evolved to an approach now fully adopted by government, plus his concept of citizens with democratic and social rights instead of a herd of beneficiaries, and the mistakes they had made of initially not letting the CLARs finance small investments. Finally Ricardo Vergara, a consultant, outlined that the social monitoring by communities is in fact still more valuable than its highly effective allocation of funds. His argument of why a poor farmer is the best decision maker when it comes to investments concerning his livelihood was so clear: because he has a real interest in improving the lives of his family. And that the same farmer is perfectly capable of passing judgement when supervising the implementation: just like anybody can tell whether a doctors’ treatment works or not. It was quite clear, at least in a conference room in Lima, thus no questions for which we also didn’t have any time, honestly, as it was now a quick rush to the airport to catch the flight to Arequipa in the southern highlands. Tomorrow morning it’s breakfast at 6, so we quickly fall into the luxurious beds of the Hotel El Lago.
So far, it couldn’t be more promising. I’m most curious for tomorrow. To be continued.
Claus Reiner, Country Programme Manager for Rwanda