Friday, October 21, 2011

Shame on You, Foreign Policy

Shame on you, Foreign Policy, for publishing such an amateurish piece on Rwanda's development success as rooted in order and cleanliness. The author, David Dagan, clearly has little knowledge of Rwandan history, or politics. This type of reporting helps shape the image of Rwanda that Westerns hold, and it is an inaccurate one that in turn bolsters and shapes donor policy. Interesting that this piece comes out shortly after Tony Blair defended his relationship with, and reaffirmed his commitment to the policies and practices of Rwandan President Kagame. International donors may be clueless, but I'd bet that diplomats on the ground in Kigali know full well that the 'successes' of the government come on the back of ordinary Rwandans who are not part of the state machinery.

I agree that the international community is looking for a success story, but not at any cost. What the author perceives as order and cleanliness is actually an ambitious drive to modernise described by James Scott in his "Seeing Like a State". Rwanda is actively engaged in a social, economic and political engineering process that privileges a few (presumably those that this author consulted) at the expense of the many (which the author appears not to have consulted). Without an understanding of the how these policies impact local actors, keeping in mind that even by Rwandan government numbers, 80 - 90% of Rwandans are subsistence farmers who live on less than $1 per day. Indeed, World Bank and IMF number acknowledge that at least 65% of Rwandans live on much much less. Indeed, among the peasant folks I consulted in my own research in the Southwest of the country, the average daily income was only 11 cents per day! I'd like to remind the author that Rwanda's gini coefficient has increased under Kagame. Rwandans are more poor today than there were in 1992 (.44 then vs. .59 now). Rwanda's economic growth is not shared by all, and it is hardly shared equitably. Economic growth should translate into an improved standard of living (see this explanation of the relationship between GDP and poverty)

It is also important to keep in mind that the government controls much of the political, social and economic sphere. Thus, it can demand clean and orderly valleys where poverty reigns because residents know they can be fined up to 10,000 FRW (approx. 17US$) if they do not. Umuganda is a historical practice that is rooted in more than a century of oppressive practices by local officials on the local populations in their jurisdiction. In its current manifestation, umuganda is still seen by many Rwandans as an additional humiliation that serves the government 's agenda.

These are but two glaring examples from the author. I could go on, but suffice it to say, he needs to look beyond the obvious, stop filtering what he does see and experience through a Western lens, and try to identify and explain what he does not see and hear. In a country where authoritarianism is entrenched (not emergent as the author contends), the author should, as any competent political scientist would, look at points of exclusion and inequality rather than blandly praising the government. I suggest he start by picking up the recently published "Remaking Rwanda", edited by Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf.

1 comment:

  1. If foreign Policy's article was an amateurish piece , what do u call this???? There are soo many things i would say here but clearly in your eyes there's nothing good goin on in Rwanda so i won't waste my precious time trying to go in details but i ask you one thing try to give credit where its due.....