Via IMF (Den Internationale Valutafond)

A health worker takes a sample during a COVID-19 street testing survey in Kigali. Rwanda has deployed innovative measures to try to contain the virus. (photo: Cyril Ndegeya/Xinhua/Newscom)

A health worker takes a sample during a COVID-19 street testing survey in Kigali. Rwanda has deployed innovative measures to try to contain the virus. (photo: Cyril Ndegeya/Xinhua/Newscom)

Rwanda Harnesses Technology to Fight COVID-19, Drive Recovery

August 6, 2020

In a conversation with IMF Country Focus, Rwanda’s Minister of
State in Charge of National Treasury Richard Tusabe explains how his
government is leveraging technology and grass-roots networks to fight the
spread of COVID-19 and ensure financial support for households and

What has been the impact of  COVID-19 on the country and what
sectors suffered most?

Most of the impact has been on Rwanda’s services sector, which has been
adversely affected by limitations on international travel and social
distancing measures. The services sector is projected to grow by only 1
percent in 2020 due to lower trade (imports are expected to fall by 7 percent) and
travel. Travel to Rwanda has fallen by 70 percent, which has caused a major
impact on the tourism industry.

The agricultural sector, which is a major economic driver, was also
impacted, further to the already expected decline because of adverse
weather. A reduction in demand due to COVID-19 as well as a drop in
international prices of export crops has made the situation worse. The
industrial sector will also slow because of a drop in demand and delays in
foreign direct investment in the construction sector.

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Economic growth is projected to slow down to 2 percent in 2020 from 9.4
percent in 2019. In the medium term, the economy is expected to recover
with growth reaching 6.3 percent in 2021, and back to its average growth of
8 percent in 2022.

Rwanda’s use of grassroots networks and local governments has been
cited as an innovative way to assist households. How does this
program work?

In the year 2000, Rwanda adopted the

National Decentralization Policy
—a “people centered” policy that uses grassroots networks and local
governments to help lessen shocks on households and alleviate poverty.
Household assistance is based on Ubudehe categorization, a
long-standing cultural value of mutual assistance that was also adopted by
the government as a poverty reduction strategy.

Ubudehe is a
socio-economic stratification system that provides support for Rwandans in
lower categories with social protection schemes such as cash transfer,
public works, access to agricultural inputs, shelter, health, and education
with the aim to graduate to higher categories. The process has been useful
in identifying vulnerable households—through community-based
identification, the Ubudehe database, and other means—that need
assistance as a result of the crisis. In 2018, core social protection
programs covered 6.5 percent of the population. These are being scaled up
to cover more people in this period of pandemic.

How has emergency assistance been used to supplement and support
the country’s economic and health response? Can you elaborate on
any specific programs operating as a result of IMF funding?

In April 2020, the government established an Economic Recovery Fund that
will be bolstered through emergency assistance from the IMF’s Rapid Credit
Facility. The Fund will support the recovery of businesses hardest hit by
COVID-19 to allow them to resume operations and safeguard employment.
Efforts include refinancing hotels; providing working capital for large
companies, microbusinesses and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
and setting up an SME guarantee scheme.

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Can you highlight some examples of how the Rwandan government is
leveraging digitization of healthcare to help respond directly to
the public health crisis and provide support for households and

The government has effectively responded to the COVID-19 outbreak through
existing and new innovative digital solutions:

  • Contact tracing: Infections are being traced through the paperless Open
    Data Kit application that can be downloaded on a mobile device. Data is
    collected for analysis by outbreak investigation teams.
  • COVID-19 surveillance: A health facility digital reporting surveillance
    system is used to monitor influenza-like illnesses and severe acute
    respiratory infections in real time to provide an early warning of
    suspected COVID-19 cases.
  • Infection prevention: Robots have been used in healthcare settings to
    carry out simple tasks, like checking temperatures and monitoring
    patients, to reduce exposure of healthcare workers.
  • Data visualization: A Geographic Information System (GIS) is being used
    to monitor COVID-19 cases at the household level to assess the need for
    implementing lockdown measures, focus public health interventions where
    there is evidence of community transmission, and monitor at-risk

Do you expect the pandemic to increase inclusion of people in the
financial system? Is the government seeing any upward trends in the
use of digital financial services?

Financial inclusion measures have been taken to support people’s ability to
save before the crisis. Financial digital services are proving essential as
lockdowns have prevented some people from accessing cash at physical bank

The government leveraged the country’s already high financial inclusion
rate (93 percent) and took measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 by
waiving peer-to-peer mobile money transfer fees, merchant payment fees, and
transfers from account to mobile wallets or vice versa for three months.

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The above measures limited cash usage, which raises the risk of COVID-19
transmission. For example, peer-to-peer transfers increased significantly
from $11 million the week of March 15, 2020 to nearly $73 million in the
last week of May 2020.