Rwanda – A Snapshot of its Journey against Corruption
Rwanda’s score on the Corruption Perception Index has declined slightly in the last few years, but the country remains among the top five high-scoring countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
A high level of political and social will plays a crucial role, which is evident when comparing findings from Transparency International’s 2019 Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) for Africa and its Rwandan chapter’s 2021 Rwanda Bribery Index (RBI). For example, according to the 2021 RBI, 72 per cent of Rwandans thought their government was effectively fighting corruption. This is a much higher percentage compared to the rest of the continent where, according to the 2019 GCB, only 34 per cent of people across Africa hold the same opinion. Corruption targeted public campaigns are frequent in Rwanda, and though the rate for reporting this crime remains low – at just over 10 per cent – it still has the highest rate compared to other East African nations (6 per cent).
A strong legal framework
Rwanda was among the first countries to sign and ratify the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) and has made significant progress in implementing a legal framework dealing with corruption. Nonetheless, corruption is still widespread and is most common in the private sector (20 per cent), traffic police (15 per cent) and local government (10 per cent), Though corruption cases are frequently prosecuted, the RBI 2021 states that prosecutions rarely include high-profile individuals.
The African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption
The AUCPCC is a shared roadmap for member states to implement good governance and anti-corruption policies and systems. Under the TEA-CAC project, Transparency International’s Rwandan chapter (TI Rwanda) conducted research into the status of implementation in 2018, looking at money laundering (Article 6), illicit enrichment (Article 8), political party funding (Article 10), and civil society and media (Article 12). Based on this research, TI Rwanda has since undertaken a number of advocacy efforts to strengthen the convention in Rwanda.
Corruption is one of the main obstacles for people to move out of poverty and live better, healthier and freer lives, and advocacy is an important tool for driving action against corruption. A strong civil society and media has the power not only to inform and inspire the public but to engage decision-makers and hold them accountable. Under the TEA-CAC project, TI Rwanda has made invaluable contributions towards these goals over the past couple of years.
Protecting Rwandan citizens to expose corruption
Corruption harms the general public the most, but ordinary citizens are also among the most valuable resources in detecting and preventing corrupt behaviour. To encourage whistleblower reporting, it is vital that systems are in place to protect the individuals who bravely come forward, and that people are aware of whistleblowing channels and their rights as citizens.
Research by TI Rwanda in 2020 revealed that the main institutions that investigate and prosecute cases based on whistleblowing did not have focal persons to securely and properly receive whistleblower reports. In response to this, TI Rwanda drafted a policy paper highlighting the need for nominating and training such personnel to ensure respect for the legal process for receiving and processing whistleblowers’ disclosures.
It shared the paper with relevant institutions in the justice chain and advocated for its recommendations through a series of high-level engagements, ranging from private meetings to webinars and townhall style events. This advocacy appears successful – at the time of writing, a draft presidential order on how to protect and reward whistleblowers, which TI Rwanda has helped write, is pending before the Rwanda Law Reform Commission.
While working to strengthen the institutional side, TI Rwanda engaged the media directly through radio and TV talk shows that helped increase awareness of whistleblower protection and rights among the public and reduce fear of reporting cases of corruption.
Empowering civil society and the media to take action
A strong civil society and informed media have the power to fulfil two important roles in the fight against corruption: to inform and motivate the public and to engage institutions and hold them accountable. TI Rwanda ran a series of workshops and webinars to provide information on the AUCPCC to encourage reporting and engagement around implementation of the convention, as well as on the key issues it covers, such as whistleblower protection. There has, in recent years, been a marked increase in media coverage of whistleblower issues and more focus on high-profile individuals’ cases.
I have attended some of Transparency International’s training sessions and conferences where we get access to information, especially around understanding laws around corruption. As journalists, we gain capacity to work on complex cases. This is really important because how can you report on something you don’t fully understand? Journalists are not experts in the ABC of corruption. Because of this relationship, I’ve since written a lot about the subject. This reporting is really important because it helps people get justice. If you report about a case where local leaders are eating money that was meant to build a road, that means you’re helping the citizens to claim justice, to have their voices heard. Corruption hurts a lot of people’s lives. You’re talking about people not being able to get access to roads, infrastructure, housing… simply because people diverted the resources to themselves. Even for those who are involved in corruption, to a certain extent, I think these stories being out there acts as a deterrent.
Bringing the fight against financial crimes to the forefront
The legal framework on financial crimes such as illicit enrichment and money laundering is clear in Rwanda, but a better understanding of the roles of various institutions and improved cooperation is needed to investigate and prosecute these offences more efficiently.
TI Rwanda has held meetings and workshops with members of the criminal justice sector, discussing the importance of effectively tackling illicit enrichment and money laundering, and to introduce plea bargaining mechanisms to improve investigations, prosecutions and the recovery of funds – plea bargaining mechanisms were introduced in the new criminal procedure law in 2019 in an effort to encourage defendants to disclose where and how illicit assets are concealed, thus ensuring swifter and more effective asset recovery.
In December 2021, TI Rwanda and the Rwanda Investigation Bureau co-hosted a two-day workshop on illicit enrichment and money laundering. Participants included 40 key actors and stakeholders from civil society and the media, and from the criminal justice chain – including the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman – reflecting the high level of political will among Rwandan policymakers.
This workshop is crucial because it allows the line institutions to share information. It is very important to have constant training on these crimes because their nature keeps changing and the perpetrators always come up with new tricks to hide evidence.
During the workshop, TI Rwanda presented its 2021 study Integrity and Transparency of the Public Procurement System in the Infrastructure Sector in Rwanda. It clarified the role of the ombudsman in combating illicit enrichment and outlined investigative and prosecutorial challenges and recommendations. The importance of civil society and the media was also highlighted and acknowledged. Workshop participants agreed to increased collaboration across institutions and national, regional and international levels, and recommended further training of the media to increase reporting on financial crimes, which TI Rwanda will take a lead in organising.
I would say things are changing in Rwanda because there is increased awareness around corruption, people are getting to know their rights. That’s what I see, people being more aware of their rights. At the same time, the government has been trying to enforce anti-corruption laws and policies, even institutions that are dedicated specifically to fighting corruption. With that, the landscape is really changing, people are coming out every other day to report these cases. I would say over the last five years there are more laws to protect people than before. That is a really great thing, a really big change.