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Research Article

The Non-Sustainability of Rwanda’s Economic Miracle



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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% 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 was 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.


George B. N. Ayittey is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, President of the Free Africa Foundation, and former Distinguished Economist in Residence in the Department of Economics at American University.






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