It’s the mid-spring of 1994. Rwanda is in a haze of violence and bloodshed amidst Hutu-Tutsi clashes triggered by the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu. The international community merely spectates, and it only takes the efforts of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under the leadership of Paul Kagame to quell Hutu forces and enforce peace, albeit 100 days and 800,000 lives too late – a national hero is born.
Since then, in what has been described as an economic miracle, Kagame has led Rwanda across two decades of an average 8% GDP growth seeing the country go from a divisive and despairingly poor agrarian society to a progressively modern economy lifting one million people out of poverty in the process. In a continent with over 400 million people living in extreme poverty, it begs the question; how did Kagame and his RPF pull it off? But even more pertinently, shouldn’t his Rwandan miracle be used as a model for the rest of Africa? Well, the short answer to the second is no, and adequately answering the first would tell us why.
So, just how did they do it?
In the time after the genocide, the RPF’s first significant move was to outlaw former President Habyarimana’s party, the MRND, and rename the RPF’s military arm, the RPA (Rwandan Patriotic Army) making it the official national army, and by extension, Rwanda, a one-party state. Furthermore, just days after conflicts had ceased, the RPF began taking overall means of economic production and enterprise, from as low as the chair supply industry to as high up as government financing, eventually placing the party at the heart of Rwanda’s economy.
However, Kagame did not receive Rwanda’s reins immediately. He first served as vice-president and Minister of Defence under Pasteur Bizimungu manning the RPA — now the national army — to quell internal and external opposition until Bizimungu’s seemingly forced resignation due to a falling out with Kagame and the RPF in 2000. Kagame was appointed president shortly after permanently terminating the office of the vice-president. With executive and military power in his grasp, the RPF at the heart of the economy, and guaranteed political stability, he revitalized pre-genocide thriving industries like tea and coffee exports via party-owned enterprises rather than waiting for market stimulation.
Combined with careful management of state agricultural resources, the development of a parastatal to centrifugate and ease all concerns with starting a business to boost foreign direct investment, and a few constitutional amendments to maintain power while creating an impression of progressivism and political inclusion, and we have the fundamental pillars of the Rwandan Model – a one-party state that is led by an individual or organization with the power to stave off internal party resistance and external political opposition. And this leads us to the first reason why the Rwandan model cannot be replicated by most other African nations.
Different strokes for different folks
Rwanda is unique because there are barely any African countries with one dominant party. Apart from a few examples like Chad and Angola, almost no others have parties that can aspire to such lofty political motives. African states are mostly a mix of two or more dominant tribe-based political parties all jostling for power. Rwanda originally consisted of parties across its Hutu and Tutsi dominating tribes. Rwanda has only become a mono-political state due to the actions of Kagame and the RPF. Without the political security guaranteed, as in the case of Rwanda, funneling economic growth through one party would most likely lead to increased graft and corruption due to the termly nature of democratic power, and the short-sighted orientation of multi-party politics.
Regarding the practicality of the model, while most of the world’s poor live in Africa, they are based mainly in just five countries — Nigeria (79 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (60 million), Tanzania (28 million), Ethiopia (26 million), and Madagascar (20 million) — all of which are multi-ethnic, multi-party system states diminishing the likelihood that the one-party state of Rwanda is an effective model to follow.
How long would the dream last?
Kagame’s nationalist heroics are not uncommon in Africa. Yoweri Museveni, Mu’ammar Al-Qadhdhāfī, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe; African history is rife with ‘knightly nationalists’ who advocate dethroning the oppressors to the praise of citizens only later to become more oppressive than their predecessors.
In fact, from 1960 onwards, Africa has been home to 17 leaders who have ruled for at least 20 years, with 8 currently on the seat. This year marks Kagame’s 21st. In-depth research on African Power and Politics by David Booth best describes Kagame’s rule as developmental patrimonialism; a system where a leader manages the negative effects of patrimonialism with tight control while choosing economic champions, and managing inefficiencies. This only works because that leader’s intentions are more inclined toward national benefit than harm.
The question remains how long would the dream last and how likely is it for the next model mastermind to have the best intentions for their country? With dictatorships, you never know, while actively forgoing the freedom, rights, and higher probabilities of longer-termed economic success that come with open and free markets, free electoral systems, and a competitive market of ideas. Finally, it begs the question.
Is it worth the bargain?
Generally, Kagame and Rwanda-model sympathizers usually quote the results as the rationale for its adoption. But beyond that, a pertinent question to ask is, “is it truly worth the bargain?” Is it worth the risk of perpetual authoritarian governments and obscurely promised rewards of economic progress? Is it worth it to sell personal freedoms for economic progress via a political hegemony?
Other economic examples exist that have refused this bargain. And not in just Europe or amongst the Asian Tigers but here in Africa. Botswana defied the socialist trend in Africa in the 60s and was heavily criticized as not being pan-African. However, what has resulted has been measurable, consistent economic growth for six decades. Thanks to minimal government intervention in the economy, low income, corporate tax regimes, and a strong and separate judiciary that upholds individual and property rights even against bureaucratic power, Botswana’s GDP per capita has grown by 9% per year from 1966 onwards. This is an example African countries can model. One where the freedom to determine one’s political, economic, and social fate can be obtained alongside consistent economic progress.
In reality, Kagame’s so-called Rwandan ‘miracle’ bears little or no divinity. It is brutishly simplifying a national system down to a few basic functions and forcing them to work in a systematic manner that produces results. Nations like Russia and China, and many others from the old Imperial world have proven this governance approach works with the risk of advent implosion with the rise in prosperity as people begin to demand more freedoms, or even due to stagnancy in economic and societal status effected by the class systems these authoritarian governments enforce. Therefore, it is nothing new, nothing enticing, and nothing worthy of emulation. The 19th and 20th centuries were the battlegrounds of these ideas. Eventually, imperialist, and communist ideals ceded to free-market capitalism’s results. Dictators also lost favor to majority rule.
This article expresses the views and opinions of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Qiraat Africa and its editors.