On The Myth of Economic Prosperity in Rwanda

There is a lot of information coming out about Rwanda’s growing prosperity, and their tough dealings with human rights violations among their citizens. Basically you hear, Rwanda has cleaned up, and is fast becoming one of Africa’s economic power houses. This is especially remarkable considering Rwanda’s violent history, especially in the 1990s. However, like what actually happened in the 1990s, that Rwanda is prosperous and its citizens are growing fast out of poverty is a myth. It’s true, there is a section of the Rwandan populace that is fast becoming wealthy and growing out of poverty. However, it is important to note that this section of the population is usually part of the ruling class, and the wealth hardly trickles down to other non elite members of the society, specifically, the farmers. Emmanuel Hakizimana,  Professor of Economics at the University of Quebec in Montreal and Former professor at the National University of Rwanda explores this myth in his article titled, The Economic Development of Rwanda: Miracle or Mirage. Unfortunately, only the French version is available online. You can find it here. However, I also provide an English translation below.

It’s astonishing to see how this country is held in such high regard considering that they are sitting on a plethora of war crimes, human rights violations, genocide crimes, two independent international criminal indictments for top officials in government, and now economic oppression. Yet they are being heralded as Africa’s poster children for human rights and economic prosperity. Unfortunately like so many tales in Africa, Kagame’s fate is one like so many dictators in Africa where they will inevitably be or have been brought down once their dances with western powers has ended, and once the West has found no more uses for them. How many more arrest warrants are needed for him and his top officials to stop and break this hypnotic trance between him and the west?

Below is a full translation of the article into English.

On the 4 of July this year, Rwanda celebrated the 14th anniversary of the seizure of power by the army of General Paul Kagame.This commemoration was somewhat preceded by a shocking article published in the Los Angeles Times on June 22, 2008 by, titled: “There’s a new promise of prosperity. So, why are human rights advocates unhappy?”In this article, Mr. Kinzer emphasized on the contrast between criticisms from defenders of human rights against the regime of Paul Kagame, and praised from diplomats and economists, whom might have presented the current Rwanda as the most typical model for those who believe to end mass poverty. Some even go so far, and compare it to a miracle that is taking place before our eyes!

While it is easy to notice signs of modernization of Rwandan cities, especially Kigali city, nothing has demonstrated so far the alleged accomplishments of the current Rwandan regime in the fight against mass poverty. Instead, all statistics underline the living conditions of the majority of Rwandans have been deteriorating, when compared to those before the war of 1990. In addition, data show that this situation of impoverishment affecting the majority of the Rwandan population might be related to the Hutu-Tutsi problems. It is obvious that the current authorities in Rwanda have been trying to underestimate and ignore the existence of Hutu-Tutsi actual state of problems.

Country with unequal opportunities

According to the latest report of UNDP (United Nations Program for Development) on human development on Rwanda (2020 Turning vision into reality: From recovery to sustainable human development), 62% of the rural population is living in poverty with less than $ 0.44 U.S. per day, while this proportion was only 50.3% in 1990.

The report also mentions that in 2000 the portion of 20% of the richest Rwandans held 51.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) while the portion of 20% of the poorest Rwandans remained with only 5.4% of GDP thereby placing Rwanda among the 15% of the world’s most unequal countries in the world. If we compare this situation to the one before the war of 1990, these proportions were respectively 48.3% and 7.6%. The UNDP report also noted that if the inequality had remained at 1990 levels and 1985, with the current growth rate of 5.8%, the income of the 20% poorest Rwandans would have more than doubled.

The consequences of this situation in the day-the-day living of Rwandans are devastating: nearly one third of the Rwandan population suffers from lack of food and in some regions such as Bugesera this proportion has reached 40%.Similarly, the life expectancy of a Rwandan (44 years) is among the 20 lowest in the world.

Fight against mass poverty?

The merits of the Kagame regime in the fight against mass poverty, which are not reflected in these data, would they rather be visible in long-term policies which have not yet produced the desired effect? There is nothing to attest that given the budgetary priorities of the current regime.

Indeed, while 80% of the population lives off subsistence agriculture, this sector receives only 3% of the government’s budget of General Kagame, a portion that is far lower than the 10% recommended by the FAO (United Nations Food and agriculture). Similarly, spending on healthcare is $ 10 per capita, an amount that three times less than the average for developing countries ($ 34) and even below the average of Sub-Saharan African countries ($ 12).

How can one then talk about the exciting model, when growing inequalities and under-funding of the agrarian sector, which employs the biggest portion of the population, would not allow the majority of Rwandans to invest in educating their children so that they can break the vicious cycle of poverty For instance, due to the extreme poverty of many Rwandan households, 30% of children in the rural areas dropout from school before the end of the 4th grade.Similarly, how can one boast policy aiming at fighting against poverty in a country that is among those who invest the least amount of money in its healthcare system, a sector that is a determining factor in increasing the productivity of workers?

Military Expenditures

In an attempt to superimpose allocations of government spending and the ethnic composition of the Rwandan population, the pattern that emerges out is of major risk factors that should curb the enthusiasm of those who agree with the “kagamian” vision of development.

Here are some facts: we have said that the current government gives only 3% of its budget on the agriculture sector despite the fact that this sector employs 80% of the workforce in Rwanda…Knowing that Hutus make up 85% of the population, they are the ones who are mostly affected by the under-funding of the agricultural sector and therefore, they are the ones that are kept in poverty.

In contrast, the Kagame regime ranks first worldwide in terms of military expenditure. According to the CIA World Factbook, 2006, Rwanda has spent 13% of its GDP on military spending. Even development assistance to Rwanda is drained up to 10% to finance law enforcement agencies, twice the proportion allocated to the agricultural sector. It is also important to mention that the Rwandan army is 90% composed of elements from the Tutsi minority.

The finding is without appeal: the “kagamian” model is doubly dangerous. On the one hand, short of incentives that could make him win the consent of the majority, the regime must rely on huge coercive means to maintain a fragile balance. On the other hand, by putting face-to face an army that is almost mono-ethnic Tutsi and a mass of excluded Hutu majority, the Kagame regime bears the seeds of interethnic confrontations which could cause another mass murder. The neighboring Burundi is a perfect illustration of this scenario.

In the end, it is clear that the ethnic litigation which is the basis of massive violations of human rights in Rwanda is also the corner stone of the economic policy of the Kagame regime.Therefore, to ignore this reality, and continue to fully support the current Rwandan regime with a blind eye, could jeopardize the original intent of the development assistance to Rwanda . Consequently, the beautiful postcards, that constitute some Rwandan cities, such as Kigali city, could be nothing else than satisfying oneself with a mirage and to condemning Rwanda to suffer sooner or later other horrific disasters.

5 Responses

  1. Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

  2. Two “cheering” stories from Rwanda this week, one of a radio reporter freed after 14 year’s captivity for an innocuous statement, and the other on making it easy for Rwandans to waste their hard-earned money on lotteries and casino gambling . . . welcome to the future!



  3. […] by real economic development, which should promote equal opportunities for all Rwandans instead of the current myth on the economic prosperity in Rwanda. Otherwise underground networks will channel social discontent and an explosion of violence will […]

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  5. When you compare statistiques from 1990 and present,u seem to forge that there is a genocide that killed 10% of the population and destroyed much of the nation infrastructure and billions of dollars of proprety!if you realy want to know the change compare 1995 and 2009 statitistiques. And you should also know that we are one of the few contries who wil achieve mdg’s goals on education and health,after we have a the mutuel a healthcare plan that covers more than 90% of the population,can the usa say the same?stop being a hater,why can nothing good come from africa?its realy amazing how much publicity is given to the so called charges against rwanda from the likes of human right watch,but nothing is said on how we managed to repatriate 2 million refugees by ourself!and dont listen to those hutu power nostalgiques, kagame shares power with hutus,can they say they did the same when they could?

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