The secret of Rwanda’s economic miracle 24 years after the genocide

2014: President Kagame participates in Global Umuganda in Kiberinka village in Nyamirambo, Kigali. “Umuganda is about development and rebuilding what was destroyed by our tragic history. We are not working to become other people. We know who we are and we are working to build a Rwanda we are proud of. Any external help must only come as an addition to our own efforts to better ourselves”, he said.

Rwanda’s economy is obviously one of the fastest growing economies in the whole of Africa. Nicknamed the ‘Singapore of Africa’, Rwanda emerged from the ashes of economic despondency and tremendous decay in its infrastructure; the madness of its political configuration and unmanageable levels of psychological trauma; just to mention a few, to become an economic powerhouse and social nucleus of the Central African sub-region in such a few years with its explosive population growth notwithstanding.

This development had been attributed largely by many to the ingenuity, courage, competency, and turnaround management demonstrated by its leadership at the turn of the 21st century – Paul Kagame who interestingly was the defacto leader of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in the bloody ethnic war that engulfed the country years back.

But his expertise cannot be the only reason for this economic feat. There are other factors which shall be highlighted shortly. But first, it is expedient that we remind ourselves of what happened in Rwanda 24 years ago which made this economic achievement all the more mysterious.

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On April 7 to mid-July, exactly during this period in history, an estimated 800,000 people were killed, all within 100 days in Rwanda. The Hutu, Tutsi and Twa ethnic groups were the three main groups inhabiting Rwanda. But in this case, the Hutu majority (especially the extremists among them) was the ethnic group unleashing hell upon the Tutsi minority who interestingly were the ruling elites since the country was assigned to Germany during the Berlin Conference in 1884.

Even after Belgium took control of Rwanda following the World War I, the Tutsi remained in power at least till after the World War II up till 1959 when the Hutu revolution started. The Hutu dislodged the Tutsi’s but were not contented with driving them into neighbouring countries. They killed them mercilessly during that 100 days and almost wiped them out from the map.

The reasons for the genocide which the world will never recover from were copious, but the immediate cause of the war was the killing of Habyarimana, the leader in the Hutu led government and his Burundian counterpart President Cyprien Ntaryamira, both of Hutu origin. They were killed when their plane was shot down as they descended into Kigali. This ended the peace accords earlier arranged and just like the World War I, it resulted into mass killings and humanitarian problem of significant proportion.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that there were over two million refugees in neighbouring countries, including some 1.2 million in Zaire, 580,000 in Tanzania, 270,000 in Burundi and 10,000 in Uganda.

This pogrom affected Rwandan socio-political, economic life such that the state almost became a failed state as human life expectancy, poverty, illiteracy, economic despondency, inflation, lack of infrastructure, diseases and want became the norm in Rwanda. Many predicted that the country would never heal; she got back on her feet again but 24 years later, with Paul Kagame still at the helm and the whole country in togetherness with the desire to make the country work again, Rwanda’s economy and life catapulted to a state of optimism and great future.

Today, Rwanda is operating one of the best airlines in Africa and indeed the entire world – Rwanda Air. The economy has been diversified with tea and coffee forming major exports for the country. Poverty rate has fallen drastically while child mortality rates are dropping. Foreign direct investment is high while construction activities are surging. Education, healthcare, life expectancy levels have all improved and it is no longer news that the women constitute 64% in the parliament, the highest in any country worldwide.

A fundamental reason for this economic upsurge is the fact that more than any other African country, Rwanda enjoys high foreign aid from several donor nations, especially in the early post-genocide era. At the height of the genocide, the whole world condemned the great powers for the killings that happened on their watch and perhaps to assist in getting the country back to her feet.

Several countries in Europe and America promised to help Rwanda heal by pumping hard currencies into the system. Thus, one of the highest sources of income for Rwanda has been foreign assistance. Although, issues that have to do with human right violations, political freedoms, etc. had seen some of these aids partially withdrawn. Essentially, however, foreign assistance remains a fundamental part of budgetary even while Kagame is working to depend less on aid.

While foreign aid has been significant in resuscitating the economy, it is a misnomer to forego the contributions of agriculture to the economy, Agriculture remains the mainstay of the Rwandan economy and the mass production of various livestock, as well as tea and coffee, have now positioned Rwanda as a major exporter of the products, thereby bringing in foreign exchange in the process. The services sector is also doing great especially tourism and construction activities.

However, nothing has brought success to Rwandan economy more than the political configuration of Rwanda. The stability witnessed in the political scene, something very rare in several countries in Africa is a sine qua non for economic success as there is a strong interface and interconnectedness between politics and economics.

The level of political dominance enjoyed by the Kagame-led government made it easy for them to follow their policies and programmes without any fear or favour. Although, there are complaints in several quarters of the government’s deliberate stifling of opposition. However, the political dominance enjoyed by the government certainly made the difference.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: May 7, 2018


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