Part 4 of 7
An interview with Apollinaire Mupiganyi
[Editor’s Note: This week, R4D in partnership with FieldWorks is highlighting the obstacles faced by local civil society organizations around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic — and the unique and innovative ways that local organizations are at the forefront of response and prevention in low- and middle-income countries. As international organizations and donors adapt to their new reality, we want to amplify the experience, voices, and perceptions of those on their own frontlines — of how the ripple effects of the pandemic are felt by the world’s most vulnerable people and what can be done to “build back better.” In this post, we share our conversation with Apollinaire Mupiganyi, the Executive Director of Transparency International Rwanda.]
Morgan Benson: How would you describe your organization to someone unfamiliar with your work?
Apollinaire Mupiganyi: Transparency International Rwanda is a local NGO founded as Transparency Rwanda in 2004 to promote good governance in the country by bringing an independent, non-partisan voice to national engagement, especially focusing on corruption. Since corruption touches on all sectors of a citizen’s life, the founding members had the objective of bringing a critical mass of citizens to be the drivers of change in the area of fighting corruption and promoting good governance in Rwanda. The founders also had the objective of extending their collaboration to other actors at the regional and international levels, so this is why Transparency Rwanda expressed interest in becoming a member of Transparency International (TI), the global anti-corruption movement with headquarters in Berlin and which is present in more than 100 countries all over the world.
In terms of activities, we are focusing our work at the national level, so mainly we use evidence to convince policymakers to engage and to take citizens’ concerns to another level for redress and systemic change where required. As a research-based organization, we have recognition by national and international actors, civil society colleagues, media, and citizens in general in Rwanda. TI Rwanda is one of the most trusted and recognized civil society actors in Rwanda.
At the regional level, we have collaboration with our TI member colleagues in Uganda, Kenya and Burundi. We also have connections and collaboration with other partners beyond even the TI family. At the international level, we are connected to the TI global movement as a chapter, and we are also recognized as one of the active chapters who are making an impact at the national level through our publications, our stakeholder engagements and, of course, the trust that we’ve managed to build since the organization was created.
Morgan: What are some of the effects that you have seen the COVID-19 pandemic have on CSOs and NGOs in Rwanda?
Apollinaire: When COVID-19 appeared, civil society and all actors, government, private sector, and particularly citizens within those vulnerable groups were highly affected. Because the government took emergency measures to prevent the spread of COVID, all citizens were confined at home and there was limited engagement of civil society or private sector in the response.
So far, there is no comprehensive study that has looked at how civil societies were affected in terms of how many CSOs closed their doors, who did not manage to pay their staff, and so on. But, from TI Rwanda’s experience, we were affected in delivering our services to the citizens. We have been able to negotiate with our donors to have no cost extensions on some projects, as two projects were postponed until December (when we will re-assess).
Another one of our key projects known as Advocacy and Legal Advice Centers, where citizens come to report corruption, get legal advice, and be supported by our lawyers, was not possible to be implemented as was planned due to suspension of physical contact with service seekers. So, this heavily affected our usual way of doing business, but we were lucky because since 2015, we have started to introduce ICT tools to manage the growing situation of our organization.
We wanted to avoid creating additional offices in various areas of our country, so we started to introduce ICT tools, such as an online reporting tool which has been operational for almost five years and which extended somehow the way of doing business. We have volunteers since 2015 who are ordinary citizens and who are connected to and get support from TI Rwanda especially capacity building so they can be informants. They are the first contact for their neighbors when they are a victim of injustice or any form of corruption, so since we had such infrastructure, when COVID came, we reactivated or increased the use of those ICT tools and the citizens who are connected to us. Of course, it was not the same as what we need, but we were lucky.
As I said, TI Rwanda is very well-known and trusted at the national level because we try to be non-partisan and well-connected, and some public institutions trust us very highly. So, we received some cases of corruption during the lockdown and were capable to assist the victims through direct contact with our focal persons in the Rwanda National Police, the Office of Ombudsman, and the local government institutions. Our work was affected only in the way we were used to doing business, but we kept working.
Morgan: How has the pandemic affected your ability to collaborate and connect with the people and organizations you need to reach to be successful?
Apollinaire: The pandemic was not predicted, and there were no plans to face the challenges that came with the virus. But as I said, we were lucky to have ICT tools. We also use social media, Twitter, Facebook and of course radio stations who contact us on a regular basis to interview or share some key messages. We have equipped some of our volunteers with telephones that they use to contact us, and we also have a toll-free number that citizens can call without paying anything because the charges are supported by TI Rwanda.
Of course, we see positive results, but the challenge is that sometimes citizens need to come and see our staff and express their feelings. But with a phone call, that aspect of emotion is missing, and it can even affect the service that you provide.
For networking between us as civil society, really things are going well because there is such mutual support and understanding. However, COVID has presented a big challenge for policy engagement because in our culture, face-to-face interaction is more important than telephone or online discussions. Experience shows that policymakers are more convinced when you work together and manage to talk beyond the ICT tools, so engaging with the policymakers remotely will be a challenge. With online interaction, it is not easy and assured to have high-level commitment as we used to do before.
Morgan: Is there anything that you are doing now to help other CSOs in Rwanda and beyond combat the pandemic — or consequences of the pandemic (like food access, corruption or closing civic space, economic inequalities)?
Apollinaire: During the lockdown, we assisted citizens who complained about service delivery especially food distribution. The government organized food distribution to some categories of people who were mostly affected by the lockdown, such as those who eat when they worked. When the lockdown was instituted, most of them could not get food, so the government organized a relief program. But we received some citizens who were calling us saying that they were ignored in the distribution or that some local leaders misused resources, so we are working with local administration to address various cases we are receiving.
Now we are about to start a broader project, a research-based intervention using social accountability tools to explore how the government responded to COVID-19 and how vulnerable groups were affected. We are now in the procurement process for that. We will look at those who get direct support in a non-pandemic situation and use the tools that we learned from our collaboration with R4D. We will use the Expenditure Tracking Surveys (PETS) and. Quantitative Service Delivery Survey (QSDS) to see how money was channeled to final beneficiaries as well as to see if services were provided to the citizens’ level of satisfaction. Those are the tools that we developed jointly with R4D in the framework of our TAP (Transparency and Accountability Program) project.
And after the research, we will have intervention actions to support our volunteers to monitor and raise awareness on COVID effects and preventative measures in their localities. This is probably one of the big interventions that we are planning to do at the end of this year, and we are supported in this project by GIZ from their headquarters in Berlin. We are very highly concerned by COVID effects, the government’s actions to address the effects and how different categories, especially the most vulnerable people, were affected.
Morgan: What support could other partners/countries provide to help Rwanda “build back better” after the pandemic?
Apollinaire: The government of Rwanda is doing a very good job in reality because we hear from other countries that they are hesitating to enforce the mask mandate, but, here in Rwanda, we are aware that having mask is a must. And it’s helping to protect and limit the spreading of COVID, but the country was heavily affected.
So far, the big hotels have not yet opened; although the government has authorized it, they have not opened because we rely on foreign tourists. So, all levels of the economy were affected, and the vulnerable groups were most affected. The government is doing a lot in that area. Collaboration support is needed.
Collaboration and sharing experiences especially within the civil society community, and all non-state actors, is highly needed, including knowledge sharing on best practices. I think we need mutual support, and of course for that, we need funding.
Various project proposals ask, “What is your organizational contribution?” I think of course the organizational contribution will always be needed, but in this period, I think we need emergency support which can be used for direct support to those who were most affected, as well as for enhancing transparency and accountability in the recovering funds that government receives. We need to work together in a networked approach, collaborate, share information, and where possible, share opportunities of funding to be able to assist those who were mostly affected, the vulnerable groups, and to prevent any misuse of limited resources that are allocated to address the COVID effects.
Follow the 7-part series:
- Part 1: Introductory post
- Part 2: Actions pour l’Environnement et le Développement Durable
- Part 3: Commonwealth Housing Group
- Part 4: Transparency International Rwanda
- Part 5: Asocación Bienestar Progreso Desarrollo
- Part 6: Foundation for Civil Society
- Part 7: This-Ability
Photo © TI Rwanda