For Western governments, financiers and opinion leaders, Rwandan president Paul Kagame offers a Faustian bargain: Overlook my brutal behavior, and I will offer you a model for economic growth in an African nation.
As with Dr. Faustus, who sold his soul to Satan, Kagame’s admirers will be bitterly disappointed.
Kagame’s descent into despotism has been documented by respected sources, ranging from Human Rights Watch to the US State Department. In recent years, a growing number of Kagame’s critics have died under mysterious circumstances, even in exile. Opposition political parties and independent newspapers have been suppressed. Many Rwandans have fled the country, while many more have been scared into silence.
Meanwhile, crony capitalism is on the rise. Crystal Ventures Ltd. (CVL), controlled by the investment arm of Kagame’s ruling party, has become, in its own words, “the biggest investment company in the country.” Its holdings include concrete products, construction, real estate development, telecommunications, agriculture, aviation, security services, printing and publishing, furniture trading, manufacturing, property management and engineering.
How does this disappointing economic performance translate into Rwandans’ living standards? On two crucial social indicators—education and health—Rwanda falls short.
Because of its small tax base, Rwanda is dependent on foreign assistance. Of the national government’s $2.4 billion budget for 2014/2015, $777 million will come from development aid from overseas. Rwanda has the highest foreign aid per capita in east Africa—$77 per person, compared to Burundi’s $53, Kenya’s $61, Tanzania’s $59 and Uganda’s $46.
In education, Rwanda may be pursing the quantity of enrollment over the quality of learning. According to the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), which has put considerable resources into Rwanda’s education: “To achieve near-universal primary enrollment but with a large majority of pupils failing to attain basic levels of literacy or numeracy is not, in our view, a successful development result. It represents poor value for money…”
A dictator who can’t be questioned; an elite that dominates the economy; and an atmosphere of anxiety—these are not the formula for economic growth. In Africa as elsewhere, people do their best work in an environment of freedom, not fear.