Wrong kind of silos
One take-away from the 2018 Umwiherero was the problem of the Silo effect, when one arm of government or management doesn’t talk to or share information with other parts of government or an organization. We can often blame the individuals in office but we never look at the structural issues. Information Silos in computers or people are caused by the same factors; size of organization, number of internal units within organization, quality of the workforce, degree of specialization and the incentive mechanisms. So when we look at a problem like child nutrition, where; Ministry of Agriculture, Education, Family and Gender, Health, Local Govt, and a myriad of other arms of government all have data and projects dealing with child nutrition separately but they never truly pool resources to solve the problem together. In IT Silos occur when the data is incompatible with other platforms, same problem with government, they are not producing reports that can be read and understood by other departments, it just becomes jibberish. One ministry has its way of doing thing and another has a different way, not compatible. We also need to integrate our reports into a single database that all can access. The silo effect is also countered by flattening the management system, this pyramid system of government we use create Silos, each department jealous of another, levels of management clashing. There is a reason Google, Facebook and all modern global innovators have horizontal management, not vertical, it allows information to flow better. Anyone can talk to the boss, you don’t have to go through all the layers of bureaucracy, this way, no secrets are kept, problems are dealt with early, and this solution is shared to all.
The main reason for turf warfare in government is the management structure, the pyramid system that is designed for information to flow down, and not up. The system is designed for orders to emanate from the top, but feedback from below is limited and filtered through many membranes of management. Information is power, controlling and stopping the flow of information is seen as power, but in this age it is the facilitation of information flows that gives you power, the info will come out, the executive has eyes and ears everywhere and they will find out. A Rwandan Head of Department is deeply protective of any information coming out, even if it is positive, this hinders accountability, information should be shared on principle not when they are forced. Institutional memory is deep in Rwanda, an official will tell you “we do it like that because that is how we have always done it.” Bringing in a younger generation would help counter this dated thinking. We have seen a balkanization of government into smaller more efficient units, each tasked with a particular problem, but these units are not integrated. They do not see themselves more as a collective than a unit within a collective. Then you have a tough Imihigo target culture, if one district asked for help from another, that is like a student asking for answers during an exam. Imihigo can be used to make people cooperate and not just compete, there are many great things about it, but there is a deeply competitive component that does not encourage cooperation.
After the recent concern about child nutrition, the solution was seen to be a special child nutrition program, the child does not live in a vacuum, you cannot solve child nutrition while the rest of the family starves. We go through daily moral panics about this, that and the other. Today it is Malnutrition, tomorrow – teenage pregnancy, the day after – alcoholism, drugs the next, all depending on headlines or level of outrage. These problems should be solved regardless of moral outrages in the middle-classes, these problems affect each and every one of us. We no longer need the 5-tier system to deliver services, we can assess the needs of Rwandans in real time with a database. We can have a Social Service to deal with these periodic problems systematically, not on an adhoc basis. We are wasting valuable resources in countless projects, each targeting a tiny aspect of a problem but never the whole problem, add to that the aid and NGO sector doing their own thing with no coordination. We need a Social Service of social workers at Mudugudu level to deal with families in their context. That Child Malnutrition will be connected to other problems; the Father’s ability to find work, the number of children, the seasonal aspect, the marital balance within the family. It is impossible to only deal with child nutrition in a whirlwind of problems that are all interlinked. If the family is the smallest unit of government than we have to deal with it as such, as a whole, not little projects for every little problem. This is mainly a legacy of aid dependency, with certain pet projects given preferential funding we had to structure our services accordingly. Donors give money to causes, not countries, so TB, Autism, Child Mortality, Women empowerment all get different levels of funding and accountability systems, this is mirrored in our structures according to funding source requirements.
The notion of social security is a pipe dream for most. You tell a starving person that you are cutting part of their money to put in a pension that they will collect in 40 years’ time? It is and will be of no benefit to Rwandans in the long run if immediate needs are not met. Food security is national security, our ancient leaders knew this, a General in Kinyarwanda translates as Umugaba – Distributor, you job was to distribute food according to need. One could even confiscate food for storage for another season. Mayors are really powerless to handle child malnutrition on their own, without powers to redistribute food to the needy. Our worthy aspirations are doomed to fail if we do not tackle food security, and not just tackle supply issues but solve hunger. Do this calculation. If an average Rwandan spends all day just to find what to eat, then how can we even begin to achieve our economic dreams? We need a national Foodbank, we lose 30% of produce through bad storage and pests, we need Silos in every Murenge or cell to store food, let people bank their food and we use the surplus to feed the needy. Our social security system has to move towards helping basic survival not theoretical pensions. We can have food banks with IT backup where one can see the amount of food stored, be given a code which opens the food bank like a cash point ATM. We need to deal with people directly not through 5 layers of potential waste, mismanagement, and apathy. Let Mayors deal with roads, schools, clinics, planning permission, accountability and so on, food security is national security, it has to be dealt with nationally. If 30 districts are reporting the same problem, then it is no longer a local issue and must be dealt with nationally. For our social and cultural problems, we need a social answer. Social workers will deal with vulnerable families, the same families with malnutrition are likely to also have alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, criminality, and all the ills that go with poverty. Moral outrage will come and go, once a problem is out of sight we forget, until the next time, more moral outrage, wringing of hands, more meetings, then we forget, until the next time. The main purpose of social workers will be to help make people functioning tax-payers in a stable home. This would be real social security.