Will Rwanda’s Economic Success Story Stand the Test of Time?

Emerging out of the horrific spasm of genocide that claimed more than 800,000 of the minority Tutsi ethnic group in 1994, Rwanda has chalked up some spectacular economic performance. Its rate of economic growth has averaged 8 percent since 2001 and it is among the fastest growing economies in East Africa. Poverty rates have been halved and Rwanda is one of the very few African countries that were able to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It also has the highest representation of women in Parliament.

This paper, however, argues that impressive though Rwanda’s economic performance might be, it is not sustainable. First, it is heavily dependent upon foreign aid, making it vulnerable to fluctuations in aid. Second, the Asian Tiger economic model Rwanda copied from Singapore-development under authoritarianism—has failed miserably in postcolonial Africa. No dictator—civilian, military nor rebel—has brought lasting prosperity to any African country. Third, the other types of reform Rwanda needs to sustain its economic achievement—intellectual, political, constitutional and institutional reforms—are petulantly missing. How these reforms are sequenced is also critically important. Focusing only on economic liberalization to the detriment of the other reforms amounts to putting the cart before the horse. Finally and most disconcerting of all, in his understandable zeal to prevent another genocide, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is unwittingly re-creating the very conditions that led to the 1994 genocide—a supreme irony.

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Dr. George Ayittey is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute; Founder and President of the Free Africa Foundation; and formerly a Distinguished Economist in Residence at American University. He is the author of numerous op-eds for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. He writes columns for African-owned publications including The African Letter, African Continent News, Africa News Weekly, and African Forum. His books include “Africa in Chaos,” “Indigenous African Institutions,” “The Blueprint for Ghana’s Economic Recovery,” and “Africa Betrayed.”