When one looks at Rwanda's development, there is often a conflict that arises. On one hand, supporters of the Rwandan government say that Paul Kagame has done an excellent job at rising the country out from the ashes of the genocide to being one of Africa's powerhouses. And on the other, critics of the government say that the regime lies about the development in Rwanda so that the world does not have a clear picture of what is really happening in Rwanda.
The East Africa country has become a darling for many donors and countries when it comes to development. Time and again, there are positive stories on development coming out from Rwanda. The country was devastated by the 1994 genocide that left around 800,000 people dead in just a short space of 100 days. It was one of the darkest epochs in African history that left Rwanda in a very tight and difficult situation to recover from.
Paul Kagame seized the reins of power and immediately brought order and stability to the country. This was then followed by positive economic development that saw health vastly improving, infrastructural projects taking off, infant mortality rate being gretalty reduced and more importantly, poverty being reduced. But then his critics say that Kagame rules with an iron fist. They say that he is an authoritarian who does not tolerate dissenting opinions and views, and one who never shows mercy to his opponents. And they say that he lies about the development in Rwanda so that he keeps getting funding from the World Bank and other sponsors, who are keenly interested with development and poverty reduction data.
An investigation carried by the Financial Times, a UK publication, said that Rwanda is misrepresenting its levels of poverty reduction. The World Bank has been the biggest donor to Rwanda since the genocide, pouring $4 billion to that effect since 1994. It's just a matter of presenting Rwanda to the world as a success story, glossing over the real problems that the people face, Kagame's opponents postulate. As such, these huge donors have become complicit in Rwanda's lies too.
Figures from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) showed that poverty declined from 46 % in 2010/11 to 39% in 2013/14. This is what the Financial Times is disputing vehemently. The FT says that the manipulation happened just before a referendum in 2015 that allowed President Paul Kagame to extend his then 15-year rule for up to another two decades.
It wrote, "Its analysis of the survey’s more than 14,000 data points and interviews with academics shows that rising prices for Rwandan families meant poverty most likely increased between 2010 and 2014” and that there have always been attempts to manipulate poverty reduction information.
World Bank has quickly jumped to Rwanda's defence. It said, "“World Bank staff weighed in publicly, clearly, and with commensurate technical rigor on the Rwanda poverty measurement debate in a working paper (Revisiting the Poverty Trend in Rwanda: 2010/11 to 2013/14) published in September 2018.”
“The National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) shared the underlying survey data and engaged in constructive discussions to elaborate in detail on the methodology used to measure and monitor poverty in Rwanda. The published technical paper was based on careful and clearly set-out analysis, with a finding that supported the official trend published in NISR (2016)."
The NISR is adamant that the figures are correct and that poverty has been truly reduced in Rwanda. They have dismissed the Financial Times articles as "western propaganda." Yusuf Murangwa, the Director-General of the NISR, has maintained the position of Rwanda clearly: Rwanda does not lie about its poverty reduction data.
“Rwanda’s performance in poverty reduction . . . is unequivocally real,” he said. “The key conclusion — that poverty fell substantially between 2010/11 and 2013/14 — is robust: it holds true."
“Businesses improved a lot, agriculture was doing well, nutrition of Rwandans improved; infant mortality, maternal mortality, all those indicators improved."
Is Rwanda manipulating development information in a bid to please Western donors and hiding away the fact that poverty is far from being defeated as the government posits? Or this is a concerted effort by Western media, as usual, to tarnish the image of African leaders who are committed to developing their countries for the benefit of everyone?
Header image credit - Financial Times