Rwanda is a country that is inspiring confidence in Africa. Recent news shows the country is executing on their vision for the country to be a middle income economy. While economic prosperity paints Rwanda as a glowing modern economy, the socio-political space isn’t quite what one would expect. All this to say there’s an interesting story behind the current success and progress Rwanda has recorded.
The 1994 genocide in which an estimated 800000 mostly Tutsis were killed in the space of 100 days left the country in turmoil. This was in response to the gunning down of then President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane above Kigali airport which resulted in his death. The ensuing civil war that broke out devastated the nation but the end result was the overthrow of the government of the day.
Current leader Paul Kagame was a leader of a rebel Tutsi group and played a major part in the overthrow of the then government. He first served as a deputy president in a multi ethnic government set up. His greatest work has been in overseeing the growth of Rwanda at a rate of on average 7% per year since 1994 to raise the country from the depths of poverty (see graph).
State lead development
Rwanda much like Ethiopia which I covered before owes much of its development to state lead investment. Investment has been lead through ruling party owned companies such as Tri Star Investments. In a move similar to what we are seeing with Strive Masiyiwas #ReimagineRural they kickstarted investment in areas that were stagnating.
Rwanda embarked on a cocktail of policy measures that would inform their growth and direction. Rwanda has a firm policy on women’s inclusion and free primary and secondary education . Rwanda invested heavily in health and has an extensive national healthcare system. They also boast being one of the few nations to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Rwanda has a clear investment code which among other things espouses equal treatment of local and foreign investors, free transfer of funds in and out of Rwanda and guarantee against expropriation. Figures from Rwanda Development Board (RDB) say that the country has registered 173 projects with a foreign direct investment value of US$2 billion as at 2019. The RDB was formed through an amalgamation of government departments with the purpose of bringing ease and expedience to investing in the country.
A look at Rwanda’s ease of doing business scores tells us just how serious the country is when it comes to doing business. The first graph shows their rank in the particular aspect, the second shows their score out of 100.
The country has developed the lives of its people with current GDP per capita showing the continuance of an upward trend. The economy of Rwanda is based on minerals, textiles and agriculture. Minerals include gold, sapphires and coltan; a mineral used in mobile phones. The biggest contributors to Rwandan agriculture are tea and coffee.
An estimated 83% of Rwanda’s population is rural and are mainly involved in subsistence farming. In spite of this Rwanda boasts some impressive accolades in addition to those captured in the first image in this article. Kigali is Africa’s cleanest city currently with the government making strong moves to completely ban the use of plastics as they contributed to waste which also bore the cost of managing it.
Presently Rwanda is engaged in a massive fiber roll out that has a nationwide target through liquid telecom.
If we are to take any stock from the plans Rwanda has for its future then the present is nothing to celebrate. Rwanda embarked on plans to transform from the a low income agro based economy to a middle income service and technology based economy by 2020. Middle income economies are defined as having per capita Gross National Products of between $1006 and $3995. Gross National Product is a measure of total income earned by a nation including off shore sources. The graph below shows that Rwanda reached this goal a full 10 years ahead of schedule.
Rwanda also set the goal of becoming a regional IT hub and their policies are consistent with this push. Free basic education, one child per laptop and the aforementioned fiber internet roll out are massive steps toward this policy.
This year Rwanda announced plans to bring a mobile phone manufacturing business to the country. I mentioned before that Rwanda is a mining country which exports a key mineral in mobile communication devices; cobalt. This is true beneficiation and value addition in practice.
In 2014 Rwanda partnered with Microsoft to include Information Communication technology in the school curriculum. This year the government of Rwanda announced the launch of a satellite in partnership with a UK company OneWeb. The purpose of the satellite is to provide internet connectivity to remote parts where fiber connections would prove too costly to implement.
Volkswagen South Africa has also been brought in with an assembly plant. Taking advantage of the growth in demand through ride sharing services and a desire to prevent dumping of second hand cars in the country the manufacturing plant is expected to create 1000 jobs.
Not all is rosy
Rwanda is certainly a nation with a vision and underpinning this vision is political stability. This stability though has not come cheaply. The post genocide government in which Kagame served as Vice President also had Kagame serve as minister of defence. In a country that had just been delivered from conflict by the military this effectively made Bizimungu a figurehead according to many.
Described as a military state by some Rwanda has shown little tolerance for dissent. With accusations of intimidation and non tolerance for opposition. In an effort to prevent and clamp down on tribalistic tensions that may remind of the genocide Rwanda completely removed the Belgian instituted practice of identifying Rwandans by tribe. The same tool used to bring peace has also brought a practice that is viewed as anti democratic.
With opposition politicians being jailed and unsolved cases of death, as recent as 2019, the dominance of Kagame in elections is questionable. Winnning the 2017 election with 99% of the vote while local media operates under close surveillance it becomes clear that Rwanda is under state control. To their credit they have made good use of the state control as I mentioned earlier.
Rwanda has emerged from a dark place to provide its people with continuous growth and a vision for the future. Their determination and policy consistency give rise to confidence in the nation. Policies that invest in the vision they have created. Human rights and democracy challenges exist in the country. Progress however rolls on.
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