Reduction of povery and inequality, the Rwandan way

Some time ago, I congratulated the Rwandan government on the progress shown in the latest Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey (EICV4), particularly in terms of the reduction of poverty and inequality. I’m afraid I have to withdraw my kudos.

Both President Kagame and Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Gatete (in his foreword to the EICV4) claimed a substantial progress in poverty reduction, from 44.9% in 2010/11 to 39.1% in 2013/14, a spectacular drop of 6%.

However, a closer reading of EICV4 shows that the results can simply not be compared to previous EICVs. Indeed, changes were made in the methodology on rural and urban classifications, consumption definitions, the definition of the poverty line, and consumption thresholds. In other words, due to significant changes in the methodology, poverty headcounts in EICV4 are simply not comparable to the previous three EICV surveys. And yet, both the government and the report itself (e.g. in the summary table on page vi) do compare the incomparable. They find progress where it cannot be found. A usually reliable source in Kigali claims that poverty and inequality actually increased between 2010/11 and 2013/14, but I cannot as yet prove that.

The change in methodology is only discreetly mentioned on pages 1 and 17 of the report: « As for EICV4 carried out in 2013/14, it has been deemed necessary to update the poverty line », without further explanation on how this was done and how it affects comparability.

This raises a serious problem, as Rwanda is keen on showing strong « development », and as the international community accepts a trade-off between « development » and repression. If « development » is not based on evidence, as appears to be the case now, what is left is repression.

The question then becomes whether the Rwandan government deliberately fools the world and its own population. There are indications that this is indeed the case. While EICV3 acknowledged the support of the Oxford Policy Management (OPM) team and two of its researchers, EICV4 merely expresses gratitude to « the advisory team of national and international experts for their advice », without further specification. This is understandable in light of the fact that the OPM had a « difference of view » with the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), and that the whole OPM team withdrew from the poverty analysis and all other work with NISR. I don’t know what the « difference of view » was about, but one may assume that it had to do with methodology and comparability of data across the successive EICVs.

It is quite surprising that, at least until now, the international aid community (that surely must know what I know) does not seem to have raised this major issue. The questions I have asked were met by somewhat embarrassed silence or avoidance, and by explanations that the OPM contract includes a confidentiality clause. So the aid industry appears to have decided to soldier on, even in the face of this attempt by the Rwandan government to play foul.

Filip Reyntjens, University of Antwerp