10 reasons why Rwanda can’t be described in a sound-bite

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind fact-finding tour of Rwanda with the International Reporting Project. I can now report with great confidence that these Rwandan school children are enjoying themselves.

Beyond that, I have to admit I am still trying to process the experience. Rwanda is a tough country to get a handle on. Here are some reasons why:

1. Rwanda has been ranked by the World Bank as one of the best countries in Africa, or anywhere, for doing business.

2. Rwanda has been ranked by Reporters Without Borders as one of the worst countries in the world for free speech and media independence.

3. Transparency International has ranked Rwanda as having low rates of corruption and one of the best records in East Africa specifically for cracking down on bribery.

4. Rwanda’s political system is frequently ranked as not free and de facto one-party rule. As the U.S. State Department notes, President Paul Kagame won 93 percent of the 2010 vote in a “peaceful and orderly election” — preceded by assassinations, terror attacks, closure of two newspapers and the disqualification of opposition candidates.

5. Rwanda has seen some of the most consistent economic growth anywhere in the world, averaging a 7 percent annual increase in GDP since 2005. Here’s a chart.

6. Poverty rates are high in Rwanda, with nearly half the population living in extreme poverty, according to the United Nations Development Program.

7. The government of Rwanda wants to transform this tiny nation into the Singapore of East Africa, a knowledge-based economy and financial hub for the region. Yet nine out of ten Rwandans are subsistence farmers, many of them semi-literate or with only primary school level education. Many depend upon foreign food aid, according to USAID.

8. Rwanda today has the highest percentage of women, a majority, holding elected office of any country in the world. In the 1994 genocide, sexual violence was at an all-time high with an estimated 250,000 women raped (and often murdered).

9. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Sub-Saharan Africa but most of the 11 million people live in rural areas and the country, whether seen up close or from space, is still very green.

10. Because of the 1994 genocide, it is against the law in Rwanda to identify yourself as an ethnic Tutsi or Hutu. Yet the (Tutsi-dominated) government recently required that the tragedy be described as the “genocide of the Tutsis.”

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.

  • Terry

    What an amazing experience and what a boatload of contradictions to somehow write about in a coherent way.  Write a novel! 

  • Terry

    What an amazing experience and what a boatload of contradictions to somehow write about in a coherent way.  Write a novel! 

  • Joe Johnson

    I don’t know where you get the idea that it is against the law to identify yourself as a Hutu or Tutsi. It is not, you just cannot politically organize along the lines of Tutsi or Hutu. Considering their history, I don’t think this is such a bad idea.

  • Joe Johnson

    I don’t know where you get the idea that it is against the law to identify yourself as a Hutu or Tutsi. It is not, you just cannot politically organize along the lines of Tutsi or Hutu. Considering their history, I don’t think this is such a bad idea.

    • http://humanosphere.kplu.org Tom Paulson

      Hi Joe,

      The laws in Rwanda prohibiting “divisionism” and “genocide ideology” are written very broadly. Many Rwandans believe they can be punished for talking about Hutus and Tutsis the “wrong way.” And there is plenty of evidence to support their belief.

      For example, this was the original justification for jailing journalist and opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, who has been imprisoned for a year now.

      Even considering their history, it is almost always a bad idea to limit free speech.

      Best
      Tom

       

    • http://humanosphere.kplu.org Tom Paulson

      Hi Joe,

      The laws in Rwanda prohibiting “divisionism” and “genocide ideology” are written very broadly. Many Rwandans believe they can be punished for talking about Hutus and Tutsis the “wrong way.” And there is plenty of evidence to support their belief.

      For example, this was the original justification for jailing journalist and opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, who has been imprisoned for a year now.

      Even considering their history, it is almost always a bad idea to limit free speech.

      Best
      Tom

       

  • Mugisha

    Freedom House has consistently ranked Rwanda as not free. But, I guess, the paradox, as you note is that a country that is highly authoritarian would be a good place for “doing business”. If you consider China and other regimes around the world, I don’t think there is any contradiction at all. Business is an instrument for murderous regimes to maintain power!

    So, yes, I’d say most of teh statistics you mention are an accurate reflection on Rwanda. The reality is that it is a developmental dictatorship–not that different from that of the previous regumes, especially that of Habyarimana.

  • Mugisha

    Freedom House has consistently ranked Rwanda as not free. But, I guess, the paradox, as you note is that a country that is highly authoritarian would be a good place for “doing business”. If you consider China and other regimes around the world, I don’t think there is any contradiction at all. Business is an instrument for murderous regimes to maintain power!

    So, yes, I’d say most of teh statistics you mention are an accurate reflection on Rwanda. The reality is that it is a developmental dictatorship–not that different from that of the previous regumes, especially that of Habyarimana.

  • Czilar

    I have been to Rwanda three times over the last three years.  The most common thing I have heard from western dignitaries in Rwanda is this:  “Kagame is a benevolent dictator.  But that’s exactly what Rwanda needs right now.” 

    I have often said that Rwanda is a country of contridictions, a paradox.  It has beautiful highways (and almost no potholes!) that connect Kigali to the other sectors.  But once you get off the highway, you are driving on rough dirt paths, made out of years of people and animals walking.        

    I have a deep respect for H.E. President Kagame.  I think the tight controls he has right now are completely appropriate.  I also recognize that his formal military training was in espionage, which means I don’t plan on ever naiively speaking out against him. 

    I am not convinced that Rwanda is de facto one party system.  H.E. President Kagame really does have a high popularity among Rwandese.  He takes his responsibility very seriously.  He is doing all he can to make sure others in government remember they are there to serve the people.  He sends his own kids to a Rwandan school while other government officials send their kids off to some isolated boarding school.  When I am in Rwanda, the stories I hear of him are all positive.  It is only through media and some Rwandan emmigrants that I have heard negative comments.    

    Thanks for the pics!  It made me feel like going back.