Rwanda’s story of progress
‘A puzzling tale of growth and political repression’ was the one term the Guardian used to describe contemporary Rwanda in 2014. Rwanda, known as the small African country in which 1 million Tutsi’s were killed in a genocide by the Hutu’s in 1994, has shown high levels of progress after this dramatic event in its history. Bill Clinton, together with Tony Blair and the World Bank have praised the country multiple times for its achievements since then. In this article, the situation before the Genocide, the magnitude of the genocide, and the story of progress are discussed. The main aim is to give insight into Rwanda’s development after the genocide.
After a longer period of both political conflict between the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s but relative stability in an admistration with both groups represented since 1973, the shooting of the plane of president Habyarimana in 1994 was the trigger for the genocide in which Hutu’s massively killed moderate Hutu’s and Tutsi’s. Famously, the UN forces in Rwanda did not intervene, but mainly provided humanitarian help. This dramatic event had a major impact on the composition of the population with 70% of the population being female as a result. Moreover, it shaped the form of the progress in the years to come.
Currently, Rwanda has not only a majority of female politicians in parliament. The percentage of women seats in parliament is with 63,8 % the highest in the world. This majority is only followed by Bolivia with 53,1% and Cuba with 48,9%. The Netherlands only occupy the 22nd place in the global ranking with 37,3 % women seats in parliament. In the post-genocide situation, the high percentage of Rwanda’s population being female also had an impact on the female participation in politics. Currently, the equality of the genders becomes apparent from an young age onwards: primary school classes have equal numbers of boys and girls. Women can inherit and own property thanks to new laws. In addition to change in cultural norms and the composition of the population, Rwanda achieved high female participation in public positions through the introduction of quotas that required 30% of candidates to be women.
This high female participation in parliament was not the only form of progress in Rwanda. From 2000 to 2010 the extreme poverty rate decreased from 37,9% to 23,7%. Therefore, 15,2 % of the population that lived in poverty in 2000, did not anymore in 2010.
Moreover, the Human Development Index which decreased from 0.3 in 1985 to 0.2 in 1995 right after the genocide, increased back to 0.3 in 2000 and even further to 0,5 in 2015. Only despite the progress, the country still ranks 164th on the global ranking along Uganda and Haiti. The Human Development Index goes from 0 to 1.0 and indicates the current standing of a country on life expectancy, education and income per capita. Norway has the highest Human Development Index with 0.9. Rwanda specifically reached tremendous growth on life expectancy, which rose from 47,7 in 2000 to 64,1 years in 2013. Even more impressive is that 91% of all Rwandans has a health insurance. Whereas in 1990, 1400 women per 100.000 births lost their lives, this dropped to 29 by 2015.
Most likely, the establishment of an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 2000 and the reestablishment of traditional village court systems helped the societies search for justice and supported the progress. The fact that half the country’s supreme courts judges are women and public participation of women is high, is also believed to have had a positive impact on the handling of disputes. According to the Guardian it has been crucial in the country’s rebuilding process in the post-conflict society.
In addition to the bright spots, political repression continues to be an issue in Rwanda. In the global ranking for (lacking) political rights, Rwanda is currently ranked 37th, with comparable countries being Afghanistan(42th) and Egypt(40th) and countries like the Netherlands with many political rights being ranked 158th. Furthermore, the Press Freedom Index data in 2011 and 2012 indicate very little press freedom (the high numbers meaning little press freedom). Also the progress achieved is only relative, and Rwanda is still not a ‘middle-income’ country, but working to leave the deep trap of extreme poverty and violence.
To conclude, the effect of the genocide on contemporary Rwanda should not be underestimated. With the genocide only taking place 22 years ago, the effects on the society are still present every single day. Nevertheless, the progress visible in data show an increase in life expectancy, the highest female participation in parliament in the world, decreasing poverty rates and an increasing human development index. Hence, the important take away is that progress is possible, also when a country suffers from a genocide as severe as in Rwanda!
written by Vera Vrijmoeth