Why Rwanda’s development model wouldn’t work elsewhere in Africa

Rwanda is often touted as an example of what African states could achieve if only they were better governed. Out of the ashes of a horrific genocide, President Paul Kagame has resuscitated the economy, curtailed corruption and maintained political stability.

This is a record that many other leaders can only dream of, and has led to Rwanda being cited as an economic success story that the rest of the continent would do well to follow.

In countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe some have argued that their leaders should operate more like Kagame. In other words, that job creation and poverty alleviation are more important than free and fair elections.

In response, critics have sought to puncture Kagame’s image by pointing to human rights violations committed under his leadership. This is an important concern. But the notion that the Rwandan model should be exported also suffers from a more fundamental flaw: it would not work almost anywhere else because the necessary conditions – political dominance and tight centralised control of patronage networks – do not apply.

The Rwandan model

Many of the achievements of Kagame and his governing Rwandan Patriotic Front party are impressive. He took over a deeply divided nation in desperate need of economic and political reconstruction in 1994. Since then, Kagame has established firm personal control over Rwandan politics, generating the political stability needed for economic renewal.

Instead of sitting back and waiting for foreign investors and the “market” to inspire growth, the new administration intervened directly in a process of state directed development. Most notably, his government kick started economic activity in areas that had previously been stagnating by investing heavily in key sectors. It has done so through party-owned holding companies such as Tri-Star Investments.

Combined with the careful management of agriculture, these policies generated economic growth of around 8% between 2001 and 2013. Partly as a result, the percentage of people living below the poverty line fell from 57% in 2005 to 45% in 2010. Other indicators of human development, such as life expectancy and literacy, have also improved.

An example for Africa?

Despite the impressive headline figures, a number of criticisms have been levelled at the Rwandan model.

Most obviously, it sacrifices basic human rights – such as freedom of expression and freedom of association – to sustain the ruling party’s political hegemony. The Rwandan system therefore involves compromising democracy for the sake of development. That decision may be an easy one to make for those who enjoy political power, but is often rejected by the opposition.

Less obviously, the use of party-owned enterprises to kick start business activity places the ruling party at the heart of the economy. It also means that when the economy does well, the already dominant Rwandan Patriotic Front is strengthened. This empowers Kagame to determine who is allowed to accumulate economic power, which in turn undermines the ability of opposition leaders and critics to raise funds.

These arguments have been around for some time. But they have done little to dampen the allure of the Rwandan model for some commentators and leaders.

Given this, the strongest argument against exporting the Rwandan model is not that it is undemocratic and gives the ruling party tremendous economic power. It’s that it won’t actually work.

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Le Burkina Faso, hôte et sujet d’inquiétude du sommet du G5 Sahel

Le Burkina Faso a pris officiellement la présidence du G5 Sahel, mardi 5 février, à Ouagadougou, capitale trois fois meurtrie par des attentats en trois ans.

« Nous devons redoubler d’efforts pour accélérer la montée en puissance de la force conjointe », a martelé le président burkinabé Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, lors du cinquième sommet des chefs d’Etat de cette alliance militaire anti-terroriste qui regroupe la Mauritanie, le Mali, le Burkina Faso, le Niger et le Tchad.

Les enjeux de la présidence burkinabée sont de taille. Deux ans après son lancement, la Force conjointe du G5 Sahel peine toujours à se mettre en place et les groupes terroristes gagnent du terrain dans certaines zones. « Nous devrons donner une nouvelle impulsion à la force », promet Gilbert Zongo, le coordonnateur national des actions du G5 Sahel au Burkina.

Il s’agit notamment de rebondir après la destruction du quartier général de la Force conjointe, frappé par un attentat-suicide le 29 juin 2018 à Sévaré, au Mali, suspendant de facto les opérations. Depuis le 15 janvier, celles-ci ont repris : trois ont été menées sur les fuseaux centre, ouest et est. « Et elles vont se poursuivre, affirme le nouveau commandant de la Force conjointe, le Mauritanien Hanana Ould Sidi. Nous sommes en train d’étudier les moyens les mieux adaptés, les plus pertinents, pour une coopération plus forte entre les forces armées et de sécurité nationales et la Force conjointe. »

Manque de financements

Mais sur le terrain, les soldats manquent toujours d’équipements de protection et de véhicules blindés. « De fortes lacunes en matière de formation et de capacités, l’absence de bases opérationnelles sûres et fortifiées et le manque de fonds persistent et ralentissent le déploiement et l’équipement des contingents », a pointé le secrétaire général des Nations unies, Antonio Guterres, dans un rapport remis au Conseil de sécurité le 12 novembre 2018.

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