Rwanda's Development Model: Could It Work For Sudan?

Rwanda's Development Model: Could It Work For Sudan?

A natural landscape in Rwanda


KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - This article reviews the Rwandan pre-conflict era as well as its post-conflict development model, and explores to what extent the Rwandan situation applies and relates to the situation in Sudan in terms of conflict drivers, and in terms of development potentials.


Why the Rwandan Model?

The Rwandan situation in the period prior to the eruption of violent conflict in April 1994 bears a lot of similarity to Sudan’s present situation in several respects, especially with reference to the type of complications that triggered the violent conflict, and to the development potential in store at the time.


Pre-Conflict Era

As mentioned above, the situation in pre-conflict Rwanda, particularly during the period up to April 1994, was very similar to the current situation in Sudan in three respects: the Rwandan government was entangled in a number of economic hardships and was trying hard to overcome those hardships through various measures including: the implementation of economic structural adjustment programs, the introduction of a multiparty democratization process, and the launching of peace negotiations with opposing military factions under the umbrella of the then OAU, presently the African Union (AU).


Also in Rwanda, during the period prior to the eruption of violent genocide conflict, large amount of aid funding and development-fund allocations were used to arm government and pro-government militias under the very knowledge of certain European governments. Furthermore, the failure of the multiparty democratization process led the ruling party to rally under its flag some weak opposition factions that had no actual audience on ground, an act which contributed to the preservation of authoritarian rule and enhanced the deeply-ingrained ‘loyalty’ and ‘blind-obedience-to-authority’ culture among the ranks of opportunistic pro-government beneficiaries, who unfortunately also held high government offices as well as deep ethnic prejudices and grudges against certain social groups.


In fact ethnicity was a major driver among the numerous factors that interacted to influence the situation in Rwanda in different ways and lead to the escalation towards genocide violence. Hence, it is true to say that ‘ethnic segregation and systematic racism’ combined with a system of ‘unconditional obedience to authority’ had played a decisive role in the escalation of events.


In his book on conflict roots in central Africa, political sciences professor Christian P. Scherrer described the extermination atrocities in Rwanda as a 'crime of obedience', emphasizing that the atrocities were facilitated by a ‘totalitarian system’, where 'for the first time in the history of human kind, a population played a direct, active, and massive part in a state-decreed act of genocide'.


Also, in his article on ‘the role of the international community’ in genocide prevention, as published on the website of ‘Prevent Genocide International’ organization, Professor Sherrer explained that genocidal frenzy may have diverse features, but a ‘common feature’ of genocidal frenzy is the exclusion of minorities based on ethnicity, or rather on what he termed “ethnicization of difference”.


This “ethnicization of difference”, as explained by professor Sherrer, is a resource for exclusion politics, political manipulation, and vested interests, where ‘ethno-politics and state-failure are closely linked’. Ultimately ‘failed states threaten to become genocidal states’.


In his above-quoted article professor Sherrer also referred to the UN’s failure to prevent Rwanda’s atrocities in spite of earlier warnings. He stated that, “Despite earlier warnings, the United Nations remained disunited, paralyzed, and inactive in the case of Rwanda. The weeks of inactivity by the UN - in the face of the horrific organized massacre of the Tutsi civilians by militia forces, the police and the army – are an incomprehensible scandal”.


It is noteworthy that, prior to the eruption of violent conflict in Rwanda, there was a noticeable large presence in Rwanda of UN and multi-national development and human aid agencies as well as international NGO’s, but they all failed, within the pre-conflict era, to work towards preventing the deterioration of the situation into a notorious violent conflict, or to take swift action to stop atrocities when violence erupted.


Ironically, some development and human aid funds and assets had somewhat ended up into the hands of atrocity perpetrators; this, in addition to already-known military arms supply to an oppressive authoritarian regime by some European governments, which continued until after the committing of atrocities.


However, it should be noted here that some world leaders, including former US president Bill Clinton and former UN secretary Kofi Annan, have publicly apologized to the Rwandan people and government for the international community's failure to act during the genocide.


From this quick review of the factors behind Rwandan tragedy, there seems to be a relatively strong indication that the state-organized mobilization of supporters towards violence on basis of ‘loyalty’ and ‘blind-obedience-to-authority’ was driven by deep inner insecurity of rulers, or what may be termed as “elite rulers’ insecurity”, and hence their ‘perceived need to secure power and privileges’.


Therefore, it is fair enough to state that various factors, including those presented above in addition to worsening economic situation, had contributed in different ways to weakening the Rwandan regime and thereby aggravating its “elite rulers’ insecurity” leading them to perpetrate violence and atrocities in the most vicious style.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Development Potentials & Challenges

Rwanda is a small landlocked country in central-east Africa that gained independence from Belgian sovereignty in 1962. It covers 24,668 square kilometers of land and 1,670 square kilometers of water, and has a population of around 11,689,696 (2012). It is bordered by Congo to the west, Tanzania to the east, Uganda to the north, and Burundi to the south. Its population is mostly rural and young, where people under age 15 constitute 43% of total population.


Some experts on the Rwandan situation argued that the economic malaise in Rwanda might have contributed to paving the way for the 1994 catastrophe in partial combination with population pressure and scarcity of productive land resulting from environmental degradation and drought.


Rwanda had been widely recognized and admired by international donors as a successful non-communist development ‘dictatorship’ ever since the mid-1970s. But this situation gradually changed towards the end of the 1980s, where coffee prices decreased dramatically. As coffee was a main export commodity, this decrease had a major impact on the Rwandan economy. Rwanda's export earnings plummeted by 50% between 1987 and 1991. Its external debts doubled between 1985 and 1989 and increased by another 34% between 1989 and 1992. 1992 figures showed that Rwanda's external debts amounted to US$ 804.3 million.


In addition, several droughts had reduced agricultural productivity, affecting subsistence and export volume, a situation which further exacerbated the country's economic performance, increased the hardship of people's daily lives and spurred social unrest.


But the situation was most precarious for the people in the southwest and south. Therefore, the conflict actually started in the northern part of Rwanda and then spread to the southwest and south, with northern militias’ moving into those parts.


However, some experts attributed the escalation of events to the coincidence of economic recession with the untimely multiparty democratization process, which was imposed as condition for continuation of funding by international donors.


Anyhow, by late 1980s, Rwanda’s ruling regime was weakening, and in its last-ditch attempts to stabilize the old authoritarian rule, human rights were abused and political murders were carried out at an increasing rate. When the year 1990 came to a close, the political crisis in the country was so deep and evident; and it was at this point that the new multiparty system was introduced.


The process of establishing new political parties in Rwanda only took off in 1992. But because of the emerging strength of the emerging parties and due to the deteriorating situation in the country, the powers and privileges of the Rwandan elite rulers came under serious threat. It is this atmosphere of “insecurity” within the elite rulers’ circles that acted as the driving force behind the actions taken by the ruling authorities to plan and initiate the atrocities of 1994 in Rwanda.


But it is quite a wonder that within the past two decades after the end of war, Rwanda has made significant progress towards economic prosperity and human development. It currently has one of the fastest growing economies in central Africa, and was one of the few countries, worldwide, to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as per a UNICEF report.

Agricultural Fund investments in Rwanda

Yet, it is certainly no wonder to realize that this development has actually been achieved on a threshold of political stability, strong governance, fiscal and administrative decentralization, and zero tolerance for corruption.


For more than a decade now, Rwanda has taken a proactive approach and put environment and climate change at the heart of all the country’s policies, programs and plans. As a country that aspires to rapid economic growth, Rwanda has set a broad and inclusive national target, known as Vision 2020. The idea is to bring all Rwandans into the country’s development journey, integrating green-growth and climate-resilience strategies.


Also, Rwanda’s commitment to nationwide landscape restoration is such that every year, Rwandans plant millions of trees to protect the country’s forests, rivers and wetlands. It is hoped that all of these initiatives will make Rwanda a developed, climate-resilient and low-carbon economy by 2050.


This green-economic-growth approach in Rwanda applies to policies, legislations and programs alike. Over the past years, the government has taken measures to ensure national development is in harmony with the protection of environment. Rwanda’s Ministry of Natural Resources has recently been accredited by the International Green Climate Fund. This will help the country attract significant climate finance, enough to enable it to maintain rapid economic growth on a resource-efficient, low-carbon and climate-resilient path.


Rwandan government also devotes great attention to empowering women and youths through the implementation of social enterprise schemes, where creative projects initiated by women and youths are encouraged and supported to empower and help them into being productive and self-dependent citizens.      


In the parliamentary elections held in September 2015 in Rwanda, women won a majority of 51 out of 80 seats, beating their own world record from the previous parliament for the highest proportion of women in government. This is arguably down to the law, which imposes a mandate on national and local governments to ensure that a minimum of 30% of seats are held by women.


Critics Arguments

But in spite of all these successes, some critics still argue that the Rwandan model does not work for Africa claiming that it sacrifices basic human rights such as the freedom of expression and freedom of association to sustain the ruling party’s political hegemony. The Rwandan system, therefore, involves compromising democracy for the sake of development; and such decision may be an easy one to make for those who enjoy political power, but is often rejected by the opposition.


Critics further claim that the use of party-owned enterprises to kick-start business activity places the ruling party at the heart of the economy. It also means that when the economy does well, the already dominant Rwandan Patriotic Front is strengthened. This empowers president Kagame to determine who is allowed to accumulate economic power, which in turn undermines the ability of opposition leaders and critics to raise funds.


These arguments have been around for some time. But they have done little to dampen the allure of the Rwandan model for some commentators and leaders.


Given this, the strongest argument against exporting the Rwandan model is not that it is undemocratic or gives the ruling party tremendous economic power, but it’s that “the model won’t actually work”.


In fact, many researchers have conducted rigorous efforts to understand the political conditions that made the Rwandan model possible. They argue that Kagame’s government is an example of “developmental patrimonialism” system, where the potentially damaging aspects of patrimonial politics are held in check by a leader who enjoys ‘tight control’ over patronage networks.


But those researchers argued that this ‘political control’ authority should be established both internally and externally. The ruling political party in Rwanda exercises external political control to eliminate the threat of electoral defeat by a strong opposition party, since such threat may force the government to prioritize short-term survival strategy over long-term investment strategy. Internal authority control is also needed as the absence of checks and balances on the ruling party’s acts and disposals is likely to ingrain and exacerbate corruption.


When these conditions hold ground, elements of “patrimonialism” may be economically productive, as generated resources are usually channeled back into the system.


In the Rwandan case, the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s economic and political dominance over the whole scene has not undermined development because the funds generated through the party-owned enterprises have often been reinvested in the country’s economy and do not migrate abroad.


However, these researchers claim the problem is that these conditions don’t hold in most African states.


In addition, even some states that have more dominant ruling parties consistently fail to impose economic discipline on their governments. Instead, entrenched “clientelism” and “internal factionalism” have typically undermined anti-corruption efforts, and this is true for several African countries.


Therefore, those critics claim that if other countries on the African continent try to implement the Rwandan model, the chances are that they will experience all of its costs while realizing few of its benefits.

Youth protests in Sudan



What about Sudan?

Yet, this article suggests that the Rwandan model can work for Sudan with some modifications, on top of which comes the exclusion of the one-party centralized governing system, as such system has already proved to be unacceptably corruptible in Sudan.


On the other hand, the Sudanese have so far experienced some of the most useless, inefficient and ineffective multiparty democratic governments in their history.


Therefore, in light of the ongoing situation in Sudan, it would be very enlightening and motivating experience for Sudanese citizens in general, and young generations in particular, if each and every political party and association should embark upon establishing an Internet website or any other means of mass communication (FM Radio, satellite channels or public speeches and open forums) through which they present to the Sudanese citizens, in detail, their agenda for political, economic and social reform instead of the tasteless rhetoric that has been dragging on, in vain, ever since Sudan’s independence in the mid-1950s.


Analysis of the recent on-street tactical movements by Sudanese youths shows that these youths have great potential and capacities that should be harnessed to the good and welfare of the country. It is also evident that the times of media control and oppression of free speech are now by-gone, and have become something of the past.


Moreover, lengthy harsh political and daily-living experiences have taught Sudanese youths to carefully watch their footsteps and look out for political opportunists so as to avoid face-decorated and deceitfully-camouflaged ideological traps.


It is also noteworthy that Sudan, more than Rwanda and any other African country, has vast natural, mineral and fertile land resources that constitute great potential for future development and growth, especially under stable and equitable conditions.  


Hence, common benefit and public interest dictate that wide gateways and interactive communication and dialogue channels should be opened, as initiating step, for Sudanese youths to discuss ways of harnessing their vast capacities and creative competencies in social-enterprise projects that help them become self-sufficient economic earners, with ultimate social objectives to meet the needs of their communities in the long run.      




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