By David Himbara
General Paul Kagame is attending his 34th international event/conference in the past six months. On this occasion, Kagame is to address the European Development Days (EDD), whose theme this year is inequality around the world.
So what might Kagame say about inequality Rwanda?
Except him to boast that he has turned Rwanda into an economic lion. Don’t expect him to acknowledge that Rwanda suffers extreme inequality to which he has contributed enormously by neglecting the rural areas. Kagame’s development strategy begins and end with Kigali. He is obsessed with prestigious flagship projects all of which are in the capital city. Think of the half billion dollar Kigali Convention Center; RwandAir that has consumed over US$1.2 billion, and the general beautification of Kigali. Together with the stalled international airport at Bugesera estimated at US$800 million, the Kagame flagship projects will supposedly turn Rwanda into a prosperous nation driven by tourism.
While Kagame fantasizes about a prosperous future, however, Rwanda remains very poor and unequal. Rwanda is the poorest country in East Africa except for conflict countries of Burundi and South Sudan. In Rwanda, the population living under the international poverty line of less than US$1.90 a day is 55.5%. In Kenya, it is 36.8%; in Uganda, 41.7% and in Tanzania, 49.1%.
Because most Rwandans live in rural areas, it is therefore in the rural areas where poverty is most devastating. Urbanization rate in Rwanda is only 17% — meaning that 83% of Rwandans are rural inhabitants. All forms of inequalities flow from this urban-rural divide. Take the case of health. According to the 2018 World Bank Economic Update, while 25% of the children from the top two wealth quintiles suffer stunting, the rates among those living in rural areas is nearly 50%.
Inequality is reflected in access to everything else in Kagame’s Rwanda, including energy, water, and sanitation. Take electricity access as an example. The Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) administered by the World Bank provides an unpleasant update. The percentage of Rwandan rural population with access to electricity is 25% versus 75% urban rate. Urban Rwanda is of course essentially the capital city of Kigali.
Will Kagame share the Rwandan inequality nightmare at EDD?
Don’t bet on it.