Rwanda’s ambitious development project continues at full strength as President Paul Kagame enters into what the Constitution states is his last presidential term. But while the country’s economy is growing rapidly and skyscrapers are being built in the capital, there is growing concern that large groups are not enjoying the progress. A similar paradox exists in politics: Although Kagame’s regime is hailed for “good governance,” there is little indication that the regime will open in a more democratic direction in the near future.
Rwanda’s ambitious development goal, formulated in the “Vision 2020” strategy, is to become a middle-income country by 2020. A central focus of this strategy is a strong investment in information technology, and Rwanda has already been voted East Africa’s foremost ICT country by the UN. This is part of an attempt to give the country’s economy a more varied basis and make it less dependent on the agricultural sector, which still employs the vast majority of the population. In this work, Rwanda benefits from a relatively literate and literate population. However, there is concern about the impact the transition from French to English will have on the education system – a challenge illustrated by the fact that the headmaster at the country’s largest university does not speak the new language of teaching.
Many believe Rwanda has set itself an unrealistic goal. But it is at all possible to discuss such goals is almost a miracle, considering where the country was after the 1994 genocide. The architect of Rwanda’s rebirth is Paul Kagame, who led the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel movement, who is now a government party, in a civil war against the genocide regime from 1990 to 1994. After six years in the scenes as defense minister and vice president, Kagame took over the presidential post after the fragile unifying government collapsed in 2000, and began the serious work of launching its life. visions for the country’s development. But the relative stability Rwanda has experienced over the past decade is fragile. Underneath the calm surface there are still strong ethnic contradictions and the danger of a new apocalypse.
Ethnicity and Genocide
The Belgian colonial armies strengthened and institutionalized the divisions between Rwanda’s two major ethnic groups – an estimated 85 percent Hutus and 14 percent Tutsis – and sowed the seeds that made the 1994 genocide possible. Waves of political mass violence directed by politicians who played on Hutu’s revenge after decades of political powerlessness have chased hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in exile in neighboring countries. RPF, dominated by descendants of refugees in Uganda, invaded Rwanda in 1990 with demands for the right of return and participation in political life. The subsequent civil war, combined with economic downturns, overpopulation and internal discontent, as well as external pressure for democratization, pushed the then rulers into a corner. The solution to the hard-pressed regime was again to fuel racism and fear of Tutsis,
The current regime’s strategy for dealing with the issue of ethnicity is to deny the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi. Paul Kagame’s message is “one Rwanda, one people, one future,” and it is forbidden to classify people by ethnic origin. However, this approach is more wishful thinking than reality. So far, the reconciliation process has made little progress, and in the otherwise so polarized debate about Rwanda, Kagame’s supporters and critics unite on one thing: Rwanda remains a society on the edge of the cliff. If the grand development project is to have any chance of success, it is crucial that Rwanda make progress towards reconciliation and peaceful coexistence. A fundamental question is whether progress in this field is possible without a liberalization of the political system, as many view the current regime as strongly Tutsi-dominated.
Democracy and human rights
Since 2003 the paper has been a multi-party democracy with democratic elections for parliament and the presidential post. Despite this, the country is de facto a one-party state, where other political parties and public institutions exist and operate at the mercy of the RPF. While critics point to the RPF’s dominance of political space, low credibility, lack of freedom of speech and press, and character kills on potential alternative leadership figures and critics, the regime’s supporters paint a different picture. Rwanda is acclaimed by its generous donors for good governance, which is reflected in decentralization reforms, a relatively low level of corruption, increased room for civil society in the development project and relatively modest salaries and benefits to those in power.
Human rights have been a sensitive issue in Rwanda since 1994, in part due to Western double standards following the genocide. American Human Rights Watch is among the regime’s most outspoken critics, and regularly publishes reports on human rights violations that challenge the image the regime is trying to draw. In addition to other Western critics, a report from the African initiative NEPAD has criticized the lack of political leeway in Rwanda.
Recent years have seen several major events for Rwanda’s diplomacy. A surprising military collaboration between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in January 2009 aimed to crack the rebel movement Forces Democratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR)in eastern Congo. The operation had limited military success, but was a major step towards improving the strained relations between neighboring countries. Later that year, Rwanda became the second non-British colonial member country to be included in the Commonwealth, and the UK has so far shown its enthusiasm by refuting critical human rights reports and continuing its generous budget support for Rwanda. At the same time, France and Rwanda reopened their diplomatic relations, which were frozen in 2008. Relations between the countries have varied between cold and freezing since 1994, due to France’s considerable support for the regime that directed the genocide, but visits by Foreign Minister Kouchner and President Sarkozy shortly emphasized that countries are ready to look ahead.
The way forward
For a country that lay in gravel in 1994 – according to the World Bank, Rwanda was then the world’s poorest country – Rwanda has made almost incredible progress. The goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2020 may be within reach, but the challenges remain enormous. The governing powers must ensure that hitherto neglected groups – such as the Twa people, youth and women in the countryside – benefit from and participate in the major development project. However, the biggest challenge for Rwanda’s further stability and development lies in the political system. In the absence of reconciliation and genuine coexistence, it is fatal if political power is perceived as belonging to one ethnic group. At the same time, there are real dangers to political liberalization, as strong forces will seize new room to throw Rwanda into a new nightmare.
Area: 26 338 km2 (46th largest)
Population: 9.7 million
Population density: 369 per km2
Urban population: 18 percent
Largest city: Kigali – approx. 860 000
GDP per capita: USD 459
Economic growth: 11.2 percent
HDI Position: 167