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August 14th, 2018

Agile governance: Rwanda’s Ministry of Cabinet Affairs

Rwanda has experienced significant changes over the last 25 years. The extreme political instability and social divisions of the 1990s, which led to the devastating genocide in 1994, contrast today with Rwanda’s fast-growing economy and improved healthcare outcomes for many citizens. In the early 2000s, President Paul Kagame and his government envisioned a shift towards an advanced knowledge-based economy through good governance and private investment. However, to achieve this it was necessary to overcome the problems facing the government and its operations. In order to improve efficiency, Kagame established the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs (MINICAAF), also known as the Cabinet Secretariat. Its mission was to streamline government processes, establish clear guidelines on how to develop policy, make meetings more time-efficient, and allow for disputes to be resolved without involving the entire cabinet.

The initiative

To tackle these issues, President Kagame needed a new approach. In consultation with the Presidential Advisory Council - which was composed of Rwandan and international experts - Kagame decided to found the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs (MINICAAF). It began operating in January 2008, under the control of the Prime Minister's Office. Under its auspices, Rwanda was to adopt agile policymaking, which “is adaptive, human-centred, inclusive and sustainable, [and] acknowledges that policy development is no longer limited to governments but rather is an increasingly multi-stakeholder effort”.[2] MINICAAF's mission was “to ensure that the cabinet process is run effectively and efficiently and that proper consultations take place before policy decisions are taken”.[3]

In addition to MINICAAF, Kagame established the Strategy and Policy Unit to design policy and the Coordination Unit to facilitate and monitor policy implementation.[1] The Strategy and Policy Unit was located in the President's Office and its main function was to help ministries set achievable objectives and prepare policy documents for the cabinet. The Coordination Unit was part of the Prime Minister's Office, and its role was to increase coordination between government bodies regarding policy and intergovernmental initiatives and to monitor policy implementation.[1] Although the units were not a part of MINICAAF, they often had shared objectives and worked together on developing “green papers”.

Charles Murigande was appointed minister of cabinet affairs in March 2008, and one of his first tasks was to recruit staff for the new positions. MINICAAF was composed of three departments: law and governance, economy, and social policy. Murigande hired a senior analyst and a junior researcher for each department. Analysts were head of their department, and they supervised and approved the researcher's work. Researchers reviewed policy proposals, making sure that they contained relevant information, had input from relevant stakeholders, and were generally feasible.[1] MINICAAF also contained the Government Action Coordination Unit (GACU), the Official Gazette Department, and cabinet note-takers. They were in charge of preparing meetings and reports, publishing laws, and writing reports respectively (see also Management below).[3]

Once Murigande had filled the posts, he recognised that it was necessary to train the staff, owing to their lack of previous experience. Murigande focused on “capacity-building”, acting with the support of two members of the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI). This involved reading policy from Rwanda and abroad, studying the role of the prime minister, working on time management, developing analytical skills, and preparing clear communiqués.[1]

It was important for all interested parties to be well-informed about the new policymaking system. This applied both to the staff of MINICAAF and to the government employees - such as line ministers, permanent secretaries, and ministerial directors of planning - who would have to implement its procedures. Over a six-month grace period, training was given to ministers and other key staff so that they could familiarise themselves with the new procedures. MINICAAF staff developed a “two-step process” on how to develop and submit policy, which they circulated in a manual. The first step for ministries was submitting a “green paper” that contained multiple policy options. This allowed for input and feedback from key individuals and organisations affected by the policy.[1] After this came a white paper that presented one specific policy for a MINICAAF researcher to review, based on stakeholders' feedback. When both stages were complete, the minister and senior analyst and could sign off the policy and present it to the cabinet.[1]

In 2012, the recognition that staff had little time to evaluate whether policies were being successfully implemented led to the merging of MINICAAF with the Coordination Unit. This merger was intended to eliminate the overlap of duties and thereby encourage a more efficient use of time.[1]

The challenge

Although Rwanda's economy grew rapidly in the years after the turn of the millennium, the country still faced many challenges because “average incomes remained low and the poverty rate was stubbornly high, particularly in rural areas”.[1] Like many developing countries, Rwanda faced a number of infrastructure problems, such as energy supply disruptions and limited internet access. The government was eager to address these problems by setting out clear development goals in their national plan, Vision 2020. The plan called “for Rwanda's fundamental transformation from an agrarian economy to a knowledge-based society with high levels of saving and private investment”.[1]

Achieving these goals by 2020 would only be possible if the government could operate efficiently and implement effective policies successfully. However, there were several factors preventing the cabinet from doing so. Although the constitution stated that the cabinet was the highest decision-making power in the state, it did not detail how the cabinet should operate.[1] As a result, ministers were unsure of their duties when it came to policymaking and how they should fulfil their role.

Similarly, the administrative team that supported the cabinet lacked clear guidelines on how to carry out their work, such as managing policy development, proposing agendas for cabinet meetings, and circulating meeting minutes. As they had limited authority to monitor and impose standards, key information was often missing from proposals.[1] Consequently, cabinet meetings wasted significant amounts of time. They could last up to twelve hours while ministers tried to familiarise themselves with policies and establish which matters were urgent and which could be set aside.[1] These long meetings and a lack of clear objectives prevented the cabinet from operating efficiently.

Another shortcoming of the policymaking process was the failure to consult relevant stakeholders. Charles Murigande, who was to be appointed minister of cabinet affairs in 2008 (see the Initiative below), commented that this “increased the likelihood of implementation failure or the need to spend a lot of time to explain the policy so as to achieve buy-in from stakeholders”.[1] Another issue was communication about cabinet meetings: there were no mechanisms in place to ensure that decisions were communicated to the media or minutes given to ministers.[1] It was clear that “the accelerating pace of change in Rwanda contrasted with the slow pace of top-level decision-making”.[1]

The public impact

Despite some shortcomings, MINICAAF had a positive overall impact on government policymaking. It laid the foundation for effective future policymaking across the Rwandan government by establishing clear guidelines and a standard point of reference for policymakers from all departments.

After changes implemented in 2009, there were clear signs that MINICAAF was becoming more effective. Jean D'Amour Gatera, a legal and governance policy analyst, said that “by the second cabinet meeting, ministers began to see the changes”.[1] These changes “standardised and simplified” policymaking:

  • Policy proposals contained more relevant information
  • Sponsoring ministries consulted with relevant stakeholders and addressed any disagreements on policy issues before presenting the policy to the cabinet
  • Preparation before cabinet sessions was improved
  • The length of meetings was significantly reduced from up to twelve hours to just two.[1]

However, there were some negative aspects, such as the high turnover of staff in MINICAAF and in the line ministries that were responsible for policy implementation. By June 2012, only one of the original six analysts remained, as others were either promoted or pursued further studies.[1] A similar turnover in line ministries meant that staff were trained but subsequently left, which had an impact on the quality of the policies. Additionally, not all line ministries were equally equipped to manage their workload; accordingly, there were differences in their capacity levels. Alphonsine Mirembe, the permanent secretary, commented: “You can train your team, but maybe capacity in line ministries is lacking”.[1] Finally, MINICAAF had difficulties assessing whether policies were being successfully introduced, because staff spent a lot of time analysing policy design rather than monitoring its implementation.[1]

Stakeholder engagement

The key stakeholders were: President Kagame, who created MINICAAF; the prime minister, whose office oversaw the ministry; the Presidential Advisory Council, a team of experts from Rwanda and abroad who advised the president on domestic issues and promoted a positive image of Rwanda internationally; and MINICAAF staff.[1]

Kagame consulted the advisory council, which proposed the ministry's creation. One member of the advisory council was the former UK prime minister, Tony Blair, who offered advice to Kagame as well as to ten personnel who assisted members of government, two of whom worked with MINICAAF.[1] In addition to the cooperation between the president and the advisory council, Charles Murigande worked closely with the researchers and analysts to understand how to develop policy. Many of the new staff had no experience of policymaking, so they familiarised themselves with previous policies and government strategy papers by studying and analysing documents together.[1]

Political commitment

President Kagame supported changing the way policy was developed and presented at cabinet meetings. Establishing MINICAAF was one of the reforms he implemented to improve the government's efficiency and strategic capacity.[1] In addition to MINICAAF, Kagame established a Strategy and Policy Unit and a Coordination Unit to design and implement policy.[1] These initiatives showed that Kagame was intent on improving government functions.

Charles Murigande, the minister for cabinet affairs, was committed to recruiting high-quality applicants for the new posts in MINICAAF. He said that he “wanted, where possible, people who had experience in policy formulation, analysis, monitoring and evaluation; people who had analytical thinking skills, good oral and written communication skills, and teamwork and networking skills”.[1]

Public confidence

There is no data available to indicate Rwandan citizens’ opinion of government institutions or policy. Afrobarometer, a research organisation that carries out surveys of public attitudes towards democracy and governance in African countries, does not operate in Rwanda, citing restrictions on freedom of speech as a barrier to surveying citizens’ opinions effectively.[4]

Clarity of objectives

MINICAAF’s mission, as stated on its governmental webpage, “is to ensure that the cabinet process is run effectively and efficiently and that proper consultations take place before policy decisions are taken. MINICAAF also works to achieve coordination of policy across state institutions in collaboration with the Strategy and Policy Unit in the Office of the President.”[3] When MINICAAF was established, its primary aim was to address the challenges preventing the government from functioning efficiently. In greater detail, this meant standardising and improving the way policy was drafted and presented to the cabinet, reducing the length of cabinet meetings, and improving communication between ministries.

Strength of evidence

The Presidential Advisory Council played an important role in helping President Kagame develop MINICAAF. The British experience was of particular interest to Kagame, and Tony Blair provided valuable input. During his time as UK prime minister, Blair created the Strategy and Delivery Unit to improve the planning and implementation of government policy. For his own government, Kagame created two units to focus on the design of policy and to monitor and manage its implementation. They were the Strategy and Policy Unit, which was responsible for creating and designing policy, and the Coordination Unit, which facilitated coordination between government bodies and oversaw whether the cabinet was achieving its stated objectives.[1]

In addition to drawing on lessons from the UK, Charles Murigande and ministry staff studied the cabinet systems in other countries. Among the models they considered were those of Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Mauritius as well as Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore and the Netherlands.[1]


Although there were experienced personnel to lead and advise the new ministry, it was difficult to recruit experienced candidates to the new posts within it. Murigande was committed to hiring qualified staff and found that the quality of applicants for the researcher positions was satisfactory, despite the candidates' lack of policymaking experience. Murigande said that they had “a high number of good applicants and we ended up selecting extremely brilliant young people with little experience in policy formulation, analysis, monitoring or evaluation, but we were convinced from the very beginning that they would become very good staff”.[1] Similarly, few candidates met the desired qualification for the analyst positions of holding a master's degree.[1] As a result, MINICAAF hired candidates who could be trained and developed professionally with the assistance of Blair's team, rather than candidates who necessarily met the desired requirements.[1]

To enable staff to draw up policy successfully, it was imperative that the secretariat provide clear guidelines and ensure that staff were well-informed. Since many of the new employees had little experience, Murigande put an emphasis on capacity-building.[1] New joiners studied Rwandan policy and that of other countries, and received guidance from two members of Tony Blair's not-for-profit AGI. The AGI reviewed policy with the staff and created training workshops that focused on “time management, organising team work, analytical skills, and preparing clear, concise communiqués”.[1]

The funding for MINICAAF was accounted for in the government budget. In 2008, the government spent RWF21.5 billion out of almost RWF486 billion on legislative and executive agencies, which comprised 4.4 percent of total expenditure.[5]


MINICAAF oversees the policymaking reforms. It is comprised of:

  • The Office of the Minister, which consists of an advisor and an administrative assistant in three departments: law and governance, economy, and social policy
  • GACU, which is a technical unit primarily “concerned with preparation of cabinet meetings, monitoring implementation, and preparation of quarterly and annual reports”[3]
  • The Official Gazette Department, which receives and catalogues laws made by the president and publishes other ministerial and legal documents
  • The cabinet note-takers, whose job it is to produce reports of cabinet meetings and circulate them to the relevant authorities.

Communication between MINICAAF and key actors was done through “monthly policy forums with permanent secretaries and ministerial planning heads to continue the discussion about policy development, cabinet procedures, and the implementation of adopted cabinet decisions”.[1] The Inter-ministerial Coordination Committee (ICC) was another mechanism used to shape and review policy. The ICC meetings had four objectives:

  1. “To verify that all interested parties had been consulted
  2. “To work out remaining policy differences
  3. “To clarify outstanding issues for the cabinet
  4. “To present any issues raised by secretariat analysts, such as conflicts with established policies.”[1]

These meetings were convened and chaired by the prime minister and attended by line ministers, ministers of state, and others identified by MINICAAF. “The meetings took place once a week, on average.”[1]

A key tool for policymakers was the cabinet manual for line ministries, which included “guidelines that stipulated content requirements for policy papers; how and when to submit papers; and procedures for consulting with interested parties”.[1] The manual enabled minsters to work effectively and it included information on the role of the cabinet and ministers, the stages of policy development, guidelines for different types of policy, content requirements, and implementation procedures.[1]

The manual allowed ministers and policymakers to form a clear idea of the expected outcomes of their policy. Furthermore, as requirements were clearly stated and written down, the manual enabled new members of staff to learn how the system worked.


There were several metrics used to measure the outcomes of government policies. However, their overall effectiveness was limited because ministry staff did not have sufficient time to assess their impact and benefit from potential findings.

One tool was an online “dashboard”, which was managed by Alice Karake, one of the note-takers, and was used to record action items.[1] “Karake said the prime minister relied on the dashboard to stay current on the latest developments. ‘The first thing the prime minister does every morning is check the dashboard,' she said.”[1]

The analysts were responsible for monitoring the implementation of action items by ministries in their sectors and updating the database accordingly. The MINICAAF permanent secretary, Alphonsine Mirembe, produced monthly reports for the minister, and quarterly reports for the prime minister and president using the database information. Protais Musoni, who succeeded Murigande as minister in 2009, introduced a procedure whereby note-takers would draw up a list of action items to be approved by cabinet members.[1] However, there were some shortcomings within these systems. Ministry staff spent much of their time reading and analysing documents, which left them with little time to monitor their implementation.


There was a clear alignment of interests between the key actors involved in policy development. The analysts from MINICAAF developed the manual on how to draft policy (see Management above), and they received support from Murigande and the members of the AGI, who all provided feedback on their work.[1]

MINICAAF also worked with ministers, permanent secretaries, and ministerial directors of planning to provide training related to the new policymaking initiative. Jean D'Amour Gatera, a legal and governance policy analyst described participants' reaction to the training: “They were impressed. They wanted training to be longer, to be a week, so that they could discuss more details, especially relating to policy development.”[1]

As a result of the introduction of email, the need for paper documents was eliminated, which made it easier to circulate proposals among staff and at cabinet meetings.[1] Additionally, “note-takers deliberated with the policy analysts regarding whether documents were ready for discussion, based on their analyses and the conclusions of ICC discussions”.[1] Musoni was personally highly motivated, and he encouraged his staff to think creatively. Alice Karake said that he always pushed analysts to “think outside the box”.[1]


[1] Shifting the Cabinet Into High Gear: Agile Policymaking in Rwanda, 2008-2012, Jonathan Friedman, September 2012, Innovations for Successful Societies, Princeton University

[2] How can policy keep pace with the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Kris Broekaert and Victoria A. Espinel, 13 February 2018, World Economic Forum

[3] The Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, 2017, Office of the Prime Minister

[4] Africa's largest public-opinion survey is under threat, but here's what you can do about it, Carolyn Logan and E. Gyimah-Boadi, 9 September 2016, The Washington Post

[5] Budget Execution Report for the Year 2008, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, March 2009

[6] Agile Governance Reimagining Policy-making in the Fourth Industrial Revolution White Paper,  Nima Elmi, Kris Broekaert, Anne-Marie Engtoft Larsen, January 2018, World Economic Forum

[7] Improving Coordination and Prioritization: Streamlining Rwanda's National Leadership Retreat, 2008-2011, Deepa Iyer, March 2012, Innovations for Successful Societies, Princeton University

[8] Strategic Plan 2009-2012, Ministry of Justice, June 2009

Photo by maxime niyomwungeri on Unsplash. Landscape in Kigali, Rwanda

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