Rwanda: Human development, the missing debate

Written by Aimé Sindayigaya and edited by Jules Niyibizi


Rwanda is a developing and small landlocked country located in the Central Eastern part of Africa. It made the most notable headlines on the international stage for the genocide that gripped the country in 1994. Since then, news on the progressive economic development that the country has attained has taken centre stage. With this backdrop, Rwanda is also known for many contentious issues that still linger. These include; who shot the presidential plane that triggered the wave of ethnic killings that ultimately led to genocide, the critics of human rights abuses happening in the country, the lack of political space and strong allegations against the country’s incumbent leadership for stirring trouble and plundering resources in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is unusual for one to speak of Rwanda without making reference to one or all of the aforementioned. However, leaders of Rwandan opposition parties criticise the incumbent leadership in Rwanda predominately for human right abuses and lack of political space. They barely challenge the leadership in Rwanda on its approach of managing the country’s wealth towards achieving sound and sustainable development in the country. Hence, a debate about the human development in Rwanda is missing within the country’s own elitist circle.

It is unhelpful that such a debate is absent while it is as pivotal as the human rights and political space debate. This extended debate would create awareness on human development barriers that Rwanda has been continuously facing and hopefully inspire insightful thinking, among all Rwandans across the generational, social spectrum, on finding solutions to these barriers.

Rwanda has made convivial economic and human progress but the country still has a long way to go to achieve sustainable development. There are new and existing challenges that continue to hinder Rwanda achieving sustainable human and economic development and these affect ordinary people at the bottom level of the social, political hierarchy of the Rwandan society. For instance, the social inequalities that are currently increasing in Rwanda be it in access to healthcare, education and income, represents growing challenges towards the human development desperately needed in Rwanda. Social inequality in Rwanda encompasses many existing obstacles to human development in Rwanda such as the high level of poverty, budget constraints, a fast growing population within a small and landlocked country.

While it is within their rights, the leaders of the Rwandan opposition parties to advocate for political change by pushing for human rights and democratic values, they also ought to challenge the economic constraints ordinary people in Rwanda struggle to come to terms with on a daily basis such as the basic needs of putting food on the table, sending kids to school, access to basic clothing and to a healthcare. For example, according to the United Nations World Health Statistics of 2011, there is only 0.2 physicians, 4.5 nursing and midwifery personnel for every 10,000 people living in Rwanda and there are only 1.6 hospital beds for every 1,000 people living in Rwanda. The leaders of Rwandan opposition parties haven’t been more vocal in contesting the incumbent leadership’s policies in place on improving healthcare services in Rwanda. Furthermore, there is one teacher for almost every 60 students in primary school in Rwanda and an estimated 81 pupils in one classroom, and 42% of enrolled pupils do not complete primary school in Rwanda. Adding that Rwanda loses 30.7% of its Human development level due to inequality in education (Source: UN Human Development report 2011). If education is really crucial to any developing country seeking to achieve sustainable development, then aspiring would-be leaders of Rwanda should initiate more constructive debates on current government policies on education to ensure that a large number of pupils enrolled have enough teachers, complete primary school and inequality in education is reduced in the country. These sorts of debates should also take the centre stage in the political debate of Rwanda in order for policymakers to become more accountable towards improving the standard of living for the millions of impoverished Rwandans currently experiencing the lowest levels of human development.

Having a state that acknowledges and complies with human rights and values of democracy is not by itself sufficient to make the country prosperous. Even countries that are admired worldwide for having democratic governments and respecting human rights are struggling to revive their economies following the economic crisis that originated from the financial services sector of these countries.

We have witnessed many riots, taking place in these developed countries (UK, Greece, USA, Spain), of discontented citizens because of how their leaders have handled their state’s economic affairs. We have also noticed the rise of the far right political parties promoting protectionism policies and gaining popularity in some of those countries. We have observed how investors have been reluctant to invest in those countries, creating uncertainty in the global financial markets. All these events have happened in these countries despite being models of human rights and democracy worldwide. Although, the leaders of developed countries have not found sustainable solutions to revive the economy of their countries to the level it was prior to the economic crisis of 2007, what they have at least been able to do is to engage continuous debates among themselves with the aims of informing and educating the electorates on the economic issues facing their countries, brainstorming ideas towards finding solutions to their countries’ economic problems and using the best ideas to contest for political power. Leaders of Rwanda should embrace that culture and learn the importance of engaging in similar debates, and start being open to constructive debates on the issues of economic and human progress in Rwanda and not merely limit themselves to solely debate on issues that concern human rights and democracy in Rwanda.

To avoid any ambiguity, there is no thread of doubt that human right and democratic values should not be undermined or receive less attention. These are the bedrock to a society that promotes civil liberties and at the same time prosperous. They play an important role in fostering and implementing human development initiatives of any governing leadership. But, given the alarming human development situation that Rwanda confronts, to achieve economic and sustainable development in the country, leaders of Rwandan opposition parties ought to outline more vocally their human development agendas in Rwanda coupled with insightful and innovative policies they plan to channel through the democratic institutions they allege are absent and want to bring about in Rwanda today.

To engage in human development debates during Rwandan political discussions would benefit Rwanda and all Rwandans. It could promote a frank dialogue among Rwandans on the economic constraints that Rwanda faces and help them to lucidly understand their country’s political and human development difficulties and hopefully enable them to collectively tackle them wisely with a harmonious spirit. It would remind Rwanda’s elite, regardless of their political bias, that common ground needs to be established to turn Rwanda into a strong economic society and that the failure to debate on the human development issues could ultimately jeopardise economic and human development progress that would benefit all Rwandans. These topical debates about economic and human development in Rwanda between leaders of incumbent and opposition political parties should be understood as an educational tool which is needed to promote lasting sustainable development for all the Rwandan people.

Insightful Quotient is a website that encourages debates on how to achieve sustainable development in developing countries using an intercultural cooperation. Therefore, we welcome your insightful arguments that provide scrutiny and ideas that can elaborate further the analysis and suggestions detailed in this article.

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