While Rwanda has not relented in the modernisation of its public service, there are a lot for Nigeria to learn and to unlearn from this East African country. And everything boils down to an aggressive and committed attempt at modernising the structures and processes of the public service and making them more efficient for the challenge of nation building.


As it is to be expected, a conflict situation in any country is usually a devastating one that extremely undermines the institutional integrity of that country. During the Nigerian Civil War, there was an estimated 2,000,000 human casualties. In the space of four horrific months, from April to July 1994, Rwanda lost an estimated 800,000 citizens, Hutus and Tutsi alike. What is immediately obvious is that wars decimate the human capital of any state. In both the Nigerian and the Rwandan cases, those on whose shoulders the burden of national development ought to rest were lost to either death or forced migration from the theatre of war and conflicts. Recovering from a war situation takes acute commitment from the leadership of any country.

Nigeria’s road to recovery and reconstruction was due to the commitment of both its political and bureaucratic leaderships. The same commitment explains why, twenty years after the genocide, Rwanda now has become a poster boy for post-war recovery, reconciliation and reconstruction in Africa. Nigeria’s capacity to learn from Rwanda’s administrative experience derives from the fact that post-genocide Rwanda has made some spectacular advancements that have constituted a study in courageous policymaking and committed leadership. So, what did Rwanda get right about its commitment to institutional reforms that Nigeria needs to learn from?

The post-genocide Rwanda shared a fundamental administrative response to war with the post-civil war Nigeria. Since the war undermined the institutional capacity of the public service to function, it became logical that there would be a massive employment of personnel to redress the capacity gap that was bound to face the public services after the war. In both countries with ethnic compositions (with Nigeria’s ethnic map more complex than Rwanda’s), there were bound to be serious issues with who to employ and in what ethnic ratios. The results of the attempts at ethnic balancing were massive recruitments into the public services. It was soon to dawn on both countries that these massive recruitments were not tantamount to efficiency. And because the wage bills became too difficult to maintain, purges to the public services were only logical. This happened for Nigeria in 1975. Rwanda’s took place in 1999 and 2006. Central to these cases of retrenchment, and to retrenchment in other public services all across the world, was the fundamental issue of efficiency and making the public service systems capacity ready. But there was a difference between Rwanda and Nigeria that made one succeed and the other a massive failure.

Downsizing has always been a very thorny issue in the study of administrative efficiency. It has been found to be the first condition for institutional efficiency. This is because a bloated public service, most of the time, does not compensate for the competency and skills gaps that undermine the efficiency of systems. Thus, while it is recognised that there is need for right-sizing a system, the challenge becomes that of not only easing out the deadwoods, but also recruiting and retaining the best and competent staff. Before the first retrenchment in 1999, Rwanda had 14,000 civil servants. The first downsizing in 1999 took away 4,000 of this staff (more than 3,000 of who were ghost workers!). The second retrenchment effort took place in 2006 to further reduce the overall staff strength to 2,000. The important point in the downsizing reform, however, is that it was not just an arbitrary purge. The Rwandan government had to first think through the issue of a post-retirement package that would help ease the retirees into life after service. The post-retirement plan had two levels. First, there was a programme of retraining that would enable the laid-off workers to ease smoothly into post-retirement life. Second, the government made six-months’ salary and other incentives (like loans and scholarships) available to encourage the workers to be laid off.

Very critical to Rwanda’s institutional reform success is its adoption of a performance-based public finance management. This reform has two significant parts. The first is the adoption of a stringent procedure for budget formulation and reporting. Essentially, budgets are tied to sectoral policy objectives.


There is a deep insight here for Nigeria that is also struggling with a cost of governance burden, as well as a capacity gap arising from an overburdened and non-performing service. Nigeria’s case is even worse because there is an active and adversarial trade unionism that operates an industrial action that requires to be reconciled with performance and productivity indices. And there is a cruel logic to the stubbornness of the trade unions. And it is that they are ready to protect the post-retirement lives of their members. Yet the government has not put in place a post-retirement package, like Rwanda’s, that could enable the unions to see reason why downsizing must be a prelude to enhanced efficiency and productivity. There is a further lesson which even Rwanda failed to get right: retrenchment must not gloss over the critical issue of institutional and administrative memory. Deleting such memory through downsizing simply implies starting from ground zero.

The Rwandan bureaucratic leadership got a second fundamental condition of administrative reform right. It instituted an active and visionary Public Service Commission in 2007. One of the immediate processes the PSC put in place was a set of standardised and systematised procedures that enable recruitments into the service on the basis of specific competence and skills requirements. Merit was number one on the list. But since merit will not always win the argument for the urgency of efficiency, the leadership of Rwanda had to create specific safeguards against bureaucratic corruption. Recruitments were then targeted at highly-skilled workers whose appointments were then attached to new job descriptions, compensation dynamics and redesigned organisational structures. And then recruitments were targeted at the needs of government agencies and ministries. This was backed up by a massive restructuring of pay and compensation that would ensure that those recruited stay and commit their competence to achieving productivity for Rwanda. A significant hiccup for Rwanda is the absence of an effective human resource framework that could backstop the mission of the PSC. A human resource policy ought to have come into existence simultaneously with the PSC. The question Nigeria ought to ask are numerous: How effective is the Nigeria Federal Civil Service Commission with regard to its professional gatekeeping responsibilities? Has it been able to align merit with standard recruitment procedure that will do justice to Nigeria’s ethnic configuration? What are the anti-corruption procedures and processes in place to checkmate external influences and pressures?

Very critical to Rwanda’s institutional reform success is its adoption of a performance-based public finance management. This reform has two significant parts. The first is the adoption of a stringent procedure for budget formulation and reporting. Essentially, budgets are tied to sectoral policy objectives. The implication of this is that the ministry of finance consults more with the ministries, departments and agencies of government (MDAs) to understand their agenda and factor this into budget formulation. Rwanda adopted the famous Organic Budget Law (OBL) as its standard for budget reporting. The second part of the performance-based public finance reform is the transformation of the public procurement system. In 1997, the government established a National Tender Board (NTB). In 2007, the NTB was decentralised. This followed a large-scale national decentralisation of basic service delivery functions, especially with regards to passport issuance, public works, and healthcare, to the local governments. The creation of the Office of the Auditor General further consolidated the firm hold the Rwandan government had on the reform of public finance.

Learning from the success stories, and the challenges of others becomes a recipe for similar successes if the political and bureaucratic leaderships are willing to going the entire way to jumpstarting the public service for democratic governance.


A final logical plank in Rwanda’s institutional reform is anti-corruption. Reform of the dynamics of any state and its public service becomes important in the first place because its institutional values and ethos have been compromised by greedy individuals. What Rwanda did go beyond the establishment of her own equivalent of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Rwanda created the Office of the Ombudsman, a National Anti-Corruption Advisory Committee made up of critical stakeholders (minister for justice, inspector general, civil society, auditor general, and many more), and the judicial police officers and their deputies (different from the police). While this anti-corruption reform has not been an unqualified success, its secondment to the performance-based public finance management and the entire reform effort enabled the government to monitor and manage the results of the reform programme.

All these reform efforts could not have been easy. By itself, reform is a risky and messy business that is circumscribed with so many landmines portending failures. The difference between success or failure hinges largely on the political will of the government to succeed. In the Rwandan success story, the figure of President Paul Kagame and his radical and patriotic cabinet and ministers looms large. Central to the Rwandan success story is the government’s coordination effort. This is especially through Rwanda’s two national planning documents — the Vision 2020 and the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS). These documents were not only created to lay down values and visions of reform; their objectives were also adequately publicised to achieve the buy-in of Rwandans. And lastly, the targets created by these documents were followed up by strict evaluation performance contracts, or what Rwandans call imihigo.

While Rwanda has not relented in the modernisation of its public service, there are a lot for Nigeria to learn and to unlearn from this East African country. And everything boils down to an aggressive and committed attempt at modernising the structures and processes of the public service and making them more efficient for the challenge of nation building. That was the challenge that Rwanda was confronted with in its stark brutality. Indeed, one of the reasons for this collaborative learning is that Nigeria herself has been confronted with the challenge, especially of terrorism and religious fundamentalism aside the usual one of ethnic violence, that have continued to rock the state to her foundation. Learning from the success stories, and the challenges of others becomes a recipe for similar successes if the political and bureaucratic leaderships are willing to going the entire way to jumpstarting the public service for democratic governance.

‘Tunji Olaopa, a retired federal permanent secretary and professor of public administration at Lead City University, Ibadan, is executive vice-chairman of Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP); Email: tolaopa2003@gmail.com, tolaopa@isgpp.com.ng

Picture credit: www.heraldnigeria.com