Rwanda’s development and democratisation path continues to generate debate with some foreign writers claiming that its model can’t work elsewhere in Africa.
Some Rwandans counter this argument by saying the country has no model and has always taken “pragmatic” decisions and policies to deal with its challenges.
While this debate has been around for some time, it was recently reignited on February 9, by Nic Cheeseman’s opinion piece titled, Never mind human rights, Rwanda’s model won’t work elsewhere in Africa, published in The EastAfrican.
First, the “Rwandan model” exists and it is a good thing. Second, the model is a result of the genocide combined with the “mobilisation path” the Rwandan Patriotic Front followed long before the capture of state power in July 1994.
Third, this model evolved out of a search for solutions to economic and political challenges that followed the genocide. Finally, despite arguments to the contrary, the model could be replicated in countries with similar conditions like those in Rwanda in 1994.
Those who claim the model can’t work elsewhere like Cheeeseman use examples like Kenya and Zimbabwe, which are not similar because since independence they generally pursued neo-liberal policies.
Yet, while there are no countries in the world with similar conditions like those the RPF inherited due to the uniqueness of the genocide, there are countries where there are necessary conditions that the model could apply like in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, South Sudan and Libya.
Of course, some would argue that there are “strong” oppositions that can’t allow such a model to evolve but they forget that even in Rwanda, RPF only gained dominance because it understood its historical mission, the problem the country faced and how to overcome it.
In fact, in the period immediately after the genocide, there was a strong political opposition composed of individuals who largely still harboured the “genocide ideology.” Of course, liberal commentators don’t consider ethnic politics as an existential threat nor genocide ideology, but perceive fighting these wrong ideas as “fighting the opposition.”
In addition, most writers underrate the fact that Rwanda’s current economic model was born out of harsh local conditions and external disinterest in investing in the country after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
I personally saw members of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA-now RDF) building bridges and reconstructing impassable roads in place like Gashora, Bugesera, Butare, etc. I was also fortunate enough to visit and talk to some of the members of the RPA soldiers after the genocide.
What I learnt is that these soldiers were involved in these ventures because they wholeheartedly believed that it was their mission to rebuild the country and knew that if they failed, there wouldn’t be a country.
To expect that these soldiers would give up this nobel duty is to misunderstand the path Rwanda took after the genocide. Of course, traditional liberalists would criticise the continued involvement of the military in development ventures as something “bad.”
Secondly, RPF’s mobilisation path was to generate incomes from members and well-wishers, use some for its immediate needs and reinvest the rest. In part that’s why, even the clothes some members of Cabinet wore during the swearing in ceremony on July 4, 1994 were bought from the party’s finances.
So why would RPF hesitate to continue to invest after capture of state power when the strategy had worked for it before and when foreigners weren’t interested in investing in the country?
“Development” isn’t something already out there for poor countries to find and “bring home” and even when some try like Africa has done for over 50 years they fail. Instead, development is something that focused individuals and nations aspire for and develop from their local conditions.
Most people who write about the “model” like Cheeseman describes it as a “state-directed development” where “party owned holding companies such as Tri-Star investments” and RPF political dominance with human-rights prevail. In reality the model has four pillars.
The first is the RPF and the army’s continued participation in investing in the economy due to historical and ideological reasons. The second is RPF’s deliberate mobilisation of likeminded businessmen and women to put capital together and invest in big projects.
The third is support to the private sector and encouraging foreign investors; the fourth is government investments in critical infrastructure.
Finally, underlying this model is a “political settlement” based on power-sharing and fighting the politics of ethnicity in all its guises. Without a doubt, this model gives RPF a substantial edge and can be adopted in certain post-conflict countries.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, E-mail: email@example.com; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website: www.mgcconsult.com