Rwanda is often touted as a “success story” in international media coverage, with the architect of such “success” being its president Paul Kagame. But little is said about Kagame’s ideological standpoint, one that has widened income inequalities in Rwanda. The country’s political elite amass wealth unabatedly while the majority are mired in endless cycles of poverty. This is coupled with Kagame’s insatiable appetite for power under the dictates of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
The almost miraculous transformation of Rwanda is laudable. Here is a country that was ravaged by the 1994 genocide but has managed to achieve remarkable levels of tranquility. Paul Kagame has led Rwanda on a trajectory of economic recovery and at the same time striving for better conditions of existence for the citizens. Attempts towards reconciliation in Rwanda cannot be ignored. And as such, many have remarked that Rwanda is one of the “most promising nations” in the world with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) developing closer ties with the East African country. As well as a plethora of international donors.
But Rwanda’s disposition is more than what meets the eye. Since taking over in the aftermath of the genocide that left nearly six million people dead and displaced 50% of the country, Kagame has embarked on pro-market reforms that betray a leader thoroughly ensconced in neoliberalism as the panacea to Rwanda’s problems. And to preserve this neoliberal drive, Kagame presides over a woeful human rights regime, with numerous reports about human rights violations that include the kidnappings and assassinations of those who hold dissenting views. This has largely negated perceptions about the “extraordinary progress” registered by Rwanda over the passage of time.
The World Bank and the IMF, being the embodiment of Western economic liberalism, have largely steered Rwanda towards unrelenting neoliberalism under the guise of promoting “good governance”. Rwanda had already been reeling under the adverse effects of the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) before the genocide. Kagame, under the pressure of achieving unfettered stability, continued with this path – developing an unquestionable loyalty to the World Bank and the IMF, the gatekeepers of foreign private capital who exude “anti-democratic and imperialist” tendencies.
From this context, it is clear that “countries which have emerged from protracted conflicts and go on to establish order, bureaucratic stability and spawn elites who kowtow to neoliberal policies, are touted as ‘success stories’.” The World Bank continually heaps praises on Paul Kagame’s economic policies while ignoring his autocratic tendencies.
It describes Rwanda as a country without economic blemishes, with one of its 2011 reports bleating, “Rwanda has made extraordinary progress in recent years. It is one of the few countries anywhere in the world that has managed a ‘triple crown’ of fast economic growth, robust reductions in poverty, and a narrowing of inequality… Rwanda is now ranked as the second easiest place to do business in all of Africa… [It] will continue on its path to put in place macroeconomic stabilization policies that are conducive for private sector development. This, together with a fiscal consolidation strategy aiming at expanding the domestic resource base while rationalizing spending, and increasing exports, is the only way to lessen aid dependence … Government will focus on private sector development, desisting from providing services that the private sector can deliver more efficiently and competitively.”
What this evidently shows beyond any reasonable doubt is that Rwanda is neoliberal in its ideological structure. As powered unflinchingly by the World Bank. The mania with reduction in poverty rates and macroeconomic growth masks the material reality for most Rwandans – low wages, perennial poverty, and endemic corruption by the country’s elites. Even if Rwanda says poverty is reducing, birth rates are not declining and this means poverty for more people. The sacrosanct faith placed in the private sector is vainglorious – private capital is only concerned with getting maximum profits from minimal costs. Not economic growth.
Kagame, under the auspices of the World Bank and the IMF, is loyal to the interests of the market. He embraces the neoliberal agenda of competition and how the state must be “rolled back” in favour of private capital. This is averse to the interests of the working class and peasantry who languish in poverty while private capital (multinational firms and other big firms connected to the political elite) profit from the country’s resources. All this under the pretext of “good governance” and “order”.
Part of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 states, “Rwanda will continue on its path to put in place macroeconomic stabilization policies that are conducive for private sector development … Government will focus on private sector development, desisting from providing services that the private sector can deliver more efficiently and competitively.” If the state is rolled back, then what happens to the universal provision of essential, inalienable public services that include education, water, housing, public transport, land, healthcare, and power in a way that equally benefits everyone? Leaving these to the private sector is detrimental because private companies are only concerned with making profits and not ameliorating the welfare of the majority of people. It is an avowed fact that stands as the pinnacle of neoliberal thought – as pushed by the World Bank and IMF. These institutions have inculcated a dangerous idea in the Global South – that neoliberalism is “common sense” or “natural”. And this is wrong. All it does is increasing the fortunes of the elite, perpetuating inequalities.
Paul Kagame has always been amenable to the whims of private capital, believing in the false neoliberal assumption of the “trickle-down effect” – that if a foreign commercial giant operates in a certain country, then what follows is an automatic creation of jobs on a mass scale and the betterment of people’s lives. This is wrong. Foreign multinationals, and some local big companies, pay workers abysmal wages so that they maximize on profits. They take the profits out of Rwanda back to their headquarters in the Global North or in China. Almost “80% of the output of the largest 47 manufacturing and agribusiness groups in Rwanda are controlled by foreign and a few, large local firms who tow the RPF-party line.” This is in all honesty self-defeating.
Rwanda continues to receive foreign aid, much like every other “Third World” country. And because of this, it has to obey the conditions set by such donors. In a publicized IMF Letter of Intent (the document written by a country to the IMF stating planned reforms in order to receive IMF loans), Paul Kagame’s neoliberal ideology was laid bare. It talks of austerity (fiscal policy balance) and a vainglorious belief in macroeconomic growth. It shows how much Rwanda slavishly follows the dictates of international private capital.
It is clear that Paul Kagame deceives the world – projecting a seemingly prosperous Rwanda while the majority of its people are poor due to neocolonial domination by private capital. And in order to maintain this position (neoliberalism is inextricable from autocratic tendencies) he has to rely on state security in presiding over an atmosphere of fear. Fear of unknown consequences if one decides to oppose his neoliberal agenda.