Call it by its name: Rwanda’s development story is a farce

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Probably because of an excellent PR, few will dispute Rwanda’s economic development story- a lie so repeatedly marketed that it has actually begun permeating the souls of the erstwhile Rwandan government opponents.

But the truth is that anyone who is not cursed with bad luck when it comes to thinking will agree that no government in the world will seek to depend entirely on force as an instrument of rule. Consequently, they seek to find some sort of legitimacy by providing basic services such as roads, schools and hospitals. No one can deny that under PK, some of these services are provided. It is the rights of the citizens to get these services- they pay for them directly and indirectly (through taxes). Problem with Rwanda’s development propaganda is that it is over-rated. Very few things in Rwanda are as they are presented to be- prime of which are statistics. The bigger problem, however, is that even the much hyped development won’t last.

Assuming, arguendo, that there has been development under PK, on which pillar does it hinge? It is my informed opinion that it is only institutions that should be the pillar of an economic development. Only when political and economic institutions are “inclusive” and pluralistic, creating incentives for everyone to invest in the future, can a country develop and last. What we have in Rwanda are the contrary. We have extractive institutions that protect the political and economic power of only a small elite that takes income from everyone else. Inclusive political institutions mean both a broad distribution of political power and limits to that power, such as democratic elections and written constitutions. Inclusive economic institutions encompass property rights, contract enforcement, ease of starting new companies, competitive markets, and freedom for citizens to enter the occupation and the industry of their choice. Because we have a dictatorship in Rwanda, which some wrongly call a benevolent dictatorship, the extractive political institutions support the economic institutions that protect the interests of the elite against new entry from competitors. The wealth of the elite so created actually makes the hierarchical, authoritarian Rwanda even larger and more repressive, increasing elite wealth even more. As a result, Rwanda’s gini co-efficient is among the 14 highest in the world, meaning money is essentially in the hands a select few because generating wealth and distributing wealth are essentially two different things.

Leaving the politico-economics nexus apart, any level-headed mind would feel ashamed to boast of Rwanda’s development miracle given the increasing number of people falling below the poverty line; our low tax base, our low demographic dividends, our reliance on foreigners hard earned income, our stagnating infra and superstructures, and our increasing foreign date (which was btw put to zero in 2005 after HIPC prog). There is no reason whatsoever to rob PK and his elite group of their responsibility in Rwanda’s present mess. They should be praised for their actions; and impoverishing Rwanda is one of them. They deserve credit for that. To argue to the contrary would be doing him a disfavor- which is unjust.

Didas Gasana

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