New varieties of climbing beans, developed by the Rwandan Agricultural Research Institute in collaboration with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, have been introduced to Rwanda and are being grown in place of traditionally grown bush beans. A formal assessment of the impact of the improved beans is under way and the results are expected later this year.
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In 2008, President Paul Kagame was deeply frustrated with his government’s inability to move Rwanda forward after civil war and genocide decimated the African nation in the early 1990s. Four years earlier, concerned about his government’s lack of progress in improving services, he had launched yearly retreats to help Rwanda’s top leaders develop ministerial priorities and shape plans for service delivery. While the concept seemed simple, implementation was not. Early national leadership retreats, some a week long, failed to meet expectations. Poor planning and fast-changing agendas left ministers uncertain about their roles. Reflecting the disorder, retreat participants set hundreds of objectives, and post-retreat implementation lagged. In 2008, frustrated by service delivery failures, public sector inertia and duplication across ministries, Kagame took steps to enhance coordination at the top levels of government. He created two units, a Strategy and Policy Unit within his own office and a Coordination Unit in the prime minister’s office.
In 2010, President Ernest Bai Koroma struggled to implement his development agenda for Sierra Leone, unable to count on consistent follow-through by his own ministries. Early in his presidency, Koroma had established an advisory group called the Strategy and Policy Unit (SPU) in a bid to monitor ministries’ progress on major projects and to hold ministry staff accountable. During 2008–09, the SPU had made a few notable gains, but by 2010, major elements of Koroma’s development agenda had faltered, and the president knew he had to improve coordination and accountability at the center of government in order to address Sierra Leone’s daunting challenges. He hired a chief of staff, Kaifala Marah, and charged him with overhauling the SPU. Rather than spreading its efforts across all of the president’s priorities, the unit targeted a handful of flagship projects. The revamped SPU held regular coordination meetings of the president and ministry officials that strengthened monitoring and accountability and identified logjams and bottlenecks that required presidential intervention. By late 2011, with support from the Africa Governance Initiative, the United Nations Development Programme and other partners, the SPU had increased interministerial coordination and significantly improved progress on priority programs.
When Ernest Bai Koroma assumed the presidency of Sierra Leone in 2007, he promised to run his government as efficiently as a private business. Koroma launched an ambitious agenda that targeted key areas for improvement including energy, agriculture, infrastructure and health. The president faced mounting pressure to reduce maternal and child death rates, which were the highest in the world. In November 2009, he announced an initiative to provide free health care for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five years of age, and set the launch date for April 2010, only six months away. Working with the country’s chief medical officer, Dr. Kisito Daoh, he shuffled key staff at the health ministry, created committees that brought ministries, donors and nongovernmental organizations together to move actions forward, and developed systems for monitoring progress. Strong support from the center of government proved critical to enabling the project to launch on schedule. Initial data showed an increase in utilization rates at health centers and a decline in child death rates.
MLI was originally about building leadership. We found there are many truly effective leaders in ministries of health. Our work was less about building leadership, but more about unleashing that leadership and finding ways to help ministry leaders convince donors and development partners that their priorities should be supported. Their priorities, informed by civil society and local partners, had the greatest chance for success and for national impact.
Political will is said to be able to move mountains, bringing about unlikely reforms in countries desperately needing them. Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma is a prime example of this phenomenon. In power since 2007, Koroma fought skeptical donors to bring free health care to pregnant and lactating women and children under five in Sierra Leone after a 1 in 8 maternal mortality rate created a human rights emergency. While the system is not yet perfect, preliminary results have pointed to more women and children getting the life-saving treatment they need.