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National policy in local practice: the case of Rwanda

Journal article
Authors Malin Hasselskog
Isabell Schierenbeck
Published in Third World Quarterly
Volume 36
Issue 5
Pages 950-966
ISSN 0143-6597
Publication year 2015
Published at School of Global Studies
Pages 950-966
Language en
Keywords development, participation, Rwanda, decentralisation, accountability, ownership, local governance
Subject categories Political Science


Far reaching decentralisation reform has been launched in Rwanda, intended to contribute to socioeconomic development as well as to reconstruction and reconciliation. While the reform is well in line with the international trend of a 'local turn', the Rwandan government makes a point of not letting donors or other external actors set the agenda. Determined to formulate its own policies, thus claiming 'national ownership', it has, within the frame of decentralisation, launched several development programmes to be locally implemented and to promote local participation and downward accountability. However, the reform and programmes are designed and decided upon in a top-down manner by the central national leadership. This article analyses local experiences and perceptions of decentralisation and related programmes, and investigates whether and how such reform provides for local participation and downward accountability. It concludes that nationally owned reform is not necessarily an alternative to externally initiated and driven reform; neither local participation nor downward accountability was enhanced. The study builds on official policy documents and semi-structured interviews with Rwandan residents and local officials.

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