Researching the politics of development



Distributing social transfers in Rwanda: The case of the Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP)

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Working paper 160

Timothy P. Williams, Sylvestre Nzahabwanayo, Tom Lavers and Eric Ndushabandi

This paper examines the political dynamics shaping the distribution of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP). Established in 2008, the VUP aims to provide cash transfers to the poorest people in Rwanda, largely conditional on participation in public works. However, the programme also aims to make a productive contribution to the economy through infrastructure development and the promotion of graduation of participants from support. Based on detailed fieldwork in two districts in Rwanda in 2018, the paper analyses implementation using Mann’s concept of ‘infrastructural power’, highlighting two main findings. First, despite selecting ‘most likely’ cases for variation within Rwanda, the research finds little evidence of systematic variation in state capacity and programme implementation between research sites. This suggests that the government’s stated commitment to uniform implementation across the country may have addressed past variation in the reach of the state. Second, despite relatively high levels of infrastructural power across the sites, significant challenges remain. Notably, the pressures of top-down performance assessment have tended to prioritise the productive aspects of the programme, forcing local officials to make difficult choices that undermine the VUP’s protective role. For example, households classified as non-poor are selected for public works and non-creditworthy participants are pressured to take loans, in order to meet government targets. As such, the paper highlights the importance not just of infrastructural power, but the purposes to which that power is deployed.