MDGs are a floor not a ceiling

'The MDGs are a floor, not a ceiling'

Prime minister of Rwanda, Pierre Habumuremyi, explains that success in reducing poverty is down to a having a clear national strategy and effective local implementation
MDG : Rwanda : General Economy And Banking In  Kigali
A mobile phone credit seller counts his Rwandan franc currency notes on a street in Kigali, Rwanda. Photograph: Will Boase/Getty Images
Whenever discussions turn to the millennium development goals, as they did at last week's UN general assembly, my colleagues and I are often asked: "How has the Rwandan government managed to make such significant progress?"
While it is gratifying to receive recognition for how far we have come, I am quick to point out the flawed premise of the question. While the government in Kigali plays a central co-ordinating role, Rwanda's success has been driven by the way services and programmes have been delivered at the village level through communities taking charge of their own lives.
Decentralisation has been a cornerstone of Rwanda's approach to economic development, disease eradication and poverty reduction – and is proving more successful than traditional top-down methods.
In recent years, Rwanda has developed numerous home-grown solutions. One such initiative is known as Girinka or One cow per family, created in order to accelerate poverty reduction and integrate livestock and crop farming. Girinka was introduced in 2006 to address high rates of childhood malnutrition, following the 2005 demographic health survey, which indicated that 45% of Rwandan children under five faced moderate chronic malnutrition.
By providing a dairy cow to poor households, Girinka enables them to improve their livelihood through a more nutritious and balanced diet from milk, increased agricultural output through better soil fertility and increased incomes by commercialising dairy products. Since 2006 more than 179,000 families have received cows, and the programme aims to provide 350,000 cows to poor families by 2017.
There are also 45,000 community health workers in Rwanda – about three per village – who deliver vital primary healthcare services, from vaccinations to family planning. The government has provided them with mobile phones which enable them to offer a range of services and information to their communities. The drastic reduction in maternal and infant mortality (pdf), as well as the decline in deaths from malaria and HIV-Aids (pdf) would not have been possible without the grassroots endeavours of Rwanda's community health workers.
Of course, for decentralisation programmes to work, the centre itself must be secure. That requires a sound and predictable regulatory environment, robust institutions and zero tolerance of corruption. It also demands transparency and accountability at all levels, from the minister down. In Rwanda, we have developed a system of 'imihigo' or performance contracts that binds officials at all levels to measurable policy outcomes. Success is rewarded, and failure never swept under the carpet. Evaluation takes place in full view of the communities whose lives are affected positively or adversely by the performance of their leaders.
Finally, in Rwanda's case, we place great emphasis on enlisting widespread citizen support for our national policy platform, known as theeconomic development and poverty reduction strategy (EDPRS). As president Kagame told the UN last week: "For Rwanda, the MDGs are a floor, not a ceiling".
EDPRS marked a distinct change in our approach to development. Created in consultation with stakeholders – from across the government and partners, including donors, civil society and the private sector – it prioritised accelerating growth, creating employment and generating exports.
The EDPRS is not a document that collects dust in ministerial offices nor does it contain vague or intangible commitments. Now in its second phase, EDPRS sets measurable and ambitious targets to help Rwanda achieve middle income nation status by 2020.
It was not by accident that 1 million Rwandans were able to lift themselves out of poverty between 2007 and 2012, and that it took place across the board, in rural as well as urban areas. It was in line with the EDPRS objectives and programmes that are understood, embraced and implemented at all levels of society. The dramatic improvement in health outcomes – Rwanda's average life expectancy has risen by 10 years in the past decade – is similarly the result of clearly defined national priorities backed by grassroots implementation. Through EDPRS, we are giving power to our communities to improve their lives and they are responding.
It won't be an easy journey though. We have set some very high benchmarks. Poverty and inequality remain serious challenges, population is rising and the growing youth population means we need to create 200,000 jobs every year to keep up with demand.
But I have faith that we will succeed in our ambitions. It is down to all of us – the government, civil society and private sector – to maintain and accelerate momentum and reach these goals. Our country's achievement so far – and the achievements to come – are a true national effort driven and delivered by our citizens.
Pierre Damien Habumuremyi is the prime minister of Rwanda.
EDPRS infographic
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