The east African state of Rwanda has mostly been associated with very negative impressions. Rwanda of the 1990s was characterized by genocide during a civil war between Hutus and Tutsis, deriving from long-standing socio-ethnic tensions. In contrast, modern Rwanda seems to write a very different story. It is often perceived as an African role model for success, sometimes even compared to the rise of Singapore. While the world bank praised Rwanda’s ‘remarkable development successes’, it can be assessed that Rwanda experienced an enormous upheaval in the last decades. The GDP has risen steadily from 2.39 Dollars 1994 to 32.26 in 2020 and an average GDP Growth between 5 and 9% in the last years made Rwanda to one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. It can be observed that life quality has improved massively as life expectancy increased from 27 years (1994) to 68 years (2018) and the literacy rate, as well as the quality of education, has massively improved. Rwanda established a universal healthcare system which is considered as one of the best in Africa, covering more than 90% of its population. This tremendous development is particularly impressive as the landlocked country of Rwanda is surrounded by the rather unstable states of South Sudan, Congo and consists of few natural resources.
It can be observed that the success story consists of distinct elements which are integrated in the grand national development program Vision 2020. In coordination with the UN Millennium development goals, this program aims to ‘overcome the deep rift in Rwandan society’ which erupted during the 1994 massacre, with new common goals. Moreover, it also established a promising prospectus for donor countries and private investors to offer the necessary funds for the socio-economic transformation of the country. Central to this plan is the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) which consists of Economic transformation (1.), rural development (2.), productivity and growth (3.), as well as employment and accountable governance (4.).
It can be observed that agriculture remains the backbone of the economy and the driver for its transformation. The massive redistribution of land introduced a huge modernization and commercialization of the sector leading to more efficient production. The systematic export of Cash-crops supported by the Crop Intensification Program (CIP) provided the necessary currency revenue for the fundamental transformation of Society and Economy. As outlined in the development plan, Rwanda started to establish a Knowledge-based economy grounded on scientific and technological progress. These aims have been supported by massive investments in education, trade liberalization, Improvements in investment protection, the removal of administrative barriers and better access to credit. The Rwandan Government made huge investments in infrastructure projects such as the Kigali Convention Centre, which make Kigali to one of Africa’s most favorite conference destinations. Located almost in the centre of sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda has reinvented itself as a supra-regional business Hub. The economic liberalization is here accompanied by an increased global orientation, illustrated by the massive investments in Airports and the national Airline RwandAir.
These fundamental economic changes have been also accompanied by a social transformation. Due to the murder of about 80% of the male population in the civil war, women have become a pivotal element in Rwandan society contributing massively to the success. Moreover, shrinking demand for labour in the agricultural sector led to a massive population shift into the cities where the cheap labour provided the needed workforce and further incentives for investors. Strategic relocation projects helped to transform poorer areas and advanced the urbanization of the country. It can be pointed out that Rwanda’s development is not only quantitative, but it is also built on sustainability. This can be illustrated by the government approach to Ban Plastic Bags or Umuganda, a mandatory national cleaning day.
However, all these developments still lie in the shadow of an authoritarian system which is very much concentrated on the personality and policy of President Kagame. This lack of institutional power, as well as the fact that incomes in Rwanda rank still among the lowest in the world, are the drawbacks of its success. While It seems that the country has already established the central fundament for a successful development Rwanda is still facing a couple of economic and political challenges. The Continuing dependency on development aid as well as the question of succession and political orientation after President Kagame will need to be managed to provide a bright future for the country.
4. Jones, A., 2002. Gender and genocide in Rwanda. Journal of Genocide Research, 4(1), pp.65-94.
About the Author
Marc Oliver Heim studied in Vienna, London, Paris, Buenos Aires International Relations and History and worked for the United Nations in New York City. His main focus is on global economic relations, value chains, international development and digital capitalism.