Monday, November 14, 2011

UNDP Report Reveals Uncomfortable Truths about Rwanda

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The annual UNDP report is bound to make the Rwandan regime uncomfortable. As it seems, the report is a sharp departure from the current narrative of Rwanda. It reveals truths that the Kigali military regime would rather keep disclosed.

The regime's cheerleaders argue that the Kagame's government has made remarkable progress in reconstructing the country. This progress, they believe, is the reason why Kagame cannot lose in polls. And, to be fair, there is some truth to the first statement. The second one is a big hypothetical since elections in Rwanda are never free and fair. We simply do not have the mechanism to gauge whether Kagame is popular or not.

A different view is that advanced by activists like my self. We do not dispute the fact that the economy has grown in the last decade. In stead, we argue that the wealth has not trickled down. The rich have become even richer, and the political class has become narrower--thus representing a small section of Tutsi interests. The majority continue to suffer from the neglect of a state that views them with frightening contempt.

So what exactly is the truth? First, the two views are not entirely contradictory. An economy can grow but only benefit a very small minority. In fact, this might be quite a global trend, and probably one of the reasons behind the global financial collapse.

According to the UNDP report, 80% of Rwandans are living in poverty. Here, poverty is defined as an income of less than $1.25 per day. As for the global rankings, Rwanda is pretty down there with the likes of Liberia and Burundi. In fact, as it seems, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is faring much better. In the DRC, the report states, only 59.2% of the population lives below the global poverty line. This should not surprise anyone, the DRC is more hospitable to the poor people than Rwanda is.

The rest of the statistics are just as damning. Just to mention a few of them: one in five children suffers from rickets. 18% of the children suffer from malnutrition. And even for all the hype that has been made about Kagame's pro ICT policies, internet usage is still a dismal 3.1%. Moreover, only 0.5% of the population has regular access to a computer. Clearly, the ICT revolution is still a pipe dream!

Yet, the economy is said to have increased by double digits from 2000-2010. This is quite visible in Kigali's wealth suburbs, where huge real estate developments are commonplace. However, behind the rural hills, there is little to show off. The economic growth has only facilitated starter economic disparities. As editors at Jambo news rightly noted, Rwanda is not "an egalitarian system of income distribution". Hence, the high Gini index of 0.531 is quite merited. This way, there is no denying that Rwanda is among the most unequal countries on the planet.

Lastly, the level of dissatisfaction with life in Rwanda is comparable to neighboring countries. Although, notably, Burundians are comparatively more satisfied. Add political oppression to the mix and then you have a country that is heading the infamous route of Zimbabwe. The comparisons between Burundi and Rwanda is necessary since the two countries share what is relatively a similar historical trajectory. At the moment, Burundi has chosen a more inclusive political dispensation. On the other hand, Rwanda remains a Tutsi dictatorship; a fact that is unfortunately reflected in civil service jobs. Since the government is the largest employer, it is not surprising that many are dissatisfied.

The myth of economic development is Kagame's remaining wild card. If the myth is shaken, his claims on political legitimacy or Rwanda's exceptionalism will be challenged. If it turns out that UNDP's report is accurate, which I suspect it is, Kagame's legitimacy will continue to dwindle. The question that remains is, what next?

1 comment:

Brad Lehigh said...

Is Rwanda having any of the currency issues that Uganda is currently undergoing (ala Zimbabwe)