As discussed in previous blog posts, many countries in Africa have seen a transition from autocratic to democratic governments in the past two decades, especially in the “emerging countries” identified by Steven Radelet. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for Rwanda. Since the conclusion of the genocide in 1994 that claimed 800,000 Tutsi lives, the country has seen some small improvements in democratic freedoms, but still has a long way to go.
The organization Freedom House keeps track of the “freedom level” in every country in the world. Each year, they follow current events and political changes, ultimately rewarding each country a rating for the year. The scale for this rating ranges from 1 (the most democratic) to 7 (the least democratic).
In the year 2000, Rwanda received a freedom rating of 6.5, sadly low for a country that had seen such dramatic violence and change in the last decade. During this year, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) still had strict controls over the government. The RPF had been in control of Rwanda since the end of the genocide of 1994, when the group effectively ended the conflict. Local elections held in 1999 did allow citizens to vote for local officials, but nationwide elections did not occur until 2003. The RPF reasoned that if elections occurred while the country was still unstable, chaos could ensue. Rwanda was still working through ethnic tensions, outlawing political parties based on ethnicity and religion and closely watching over governmental actions.
Today, Rwanda’s freedom rating has not increased significantly, to only a score of 6. In the last 16 years, the country has received at highest a 5.5 freedom rating. The score most recently decreased because of the approval of constitutional amendments to allow the president, Paul Kagami, to run for an additional three terms in office.
Breaking down the freedom rating, Freedom House has awarded Rwanda an 8/40 in the category of political rights. One reason is that the president, according to the 2003 constitution, has broad powers, allowing him to appoint many government members and giving him control over the judicial and legislative branches. Additionally, there are few political parties, with opponents to the current ruling party being prevented from taking part in government. However, the government has taken strides to place limits on corruption by passing a 2013 law to increase the transparency of government proceedings, but it was not well executed.
Rwanda received a 16/40 in their civil liberties score and 7/16 in personal autonomy and individual rights. Restrictions exist on the freedoms of the press and of expression, and the government has the power to monitor cell phone and email conversations. However, citizens are allowed religious freedom as well as the freedom to make life decisions such as where to work and live. The economy functions well with low levels of government intervention. While discrimination against women still happens, a large number of women hold political seats.
Rose Kabuye is one such woman, a politician and “cheetah” who has worked to better Rwanda since the genocide of ’94. Kabuye was born to refugees of the violence in Rwanda, growing up and receiving her education in Uganda. Once she completed college, she joined the RPF and helped in ending the ethnic conflict that had existed for decades. After the genocide, Kabuye was appointed as mayor of the capital city, Kigali, which had been devastated by the war. She later served in parliament and the Chief State of Protocol for the president.
Throughout her time in government, Kabuye has advocated for women’s rights in Rwanda. She has also worked with both Hutus and Tutsis through the Unity and Reconciliation Commission to help eliminate the divide between ethnic groups, and chaired the Political and Juidicial Commission of the Rwandan Leadership Conference, which unites women from many African countries to discuss peace and regional stability. Overall, Kabuye has worked hard for positive change in Rwanda, helping to inspire another generation of cheetahs after her.
Despite Kabuye and other “cheetahs” working to improve circumstances throughout Africa, major obstacles still exist to raising developing countries out of poverty. For example, education has proven to be a tried-and-true method to increase a person’s earnings over their lifetime. While the percentage of children completing primary school in Rwanda has increased to 66%, this means that 34% of children are still not completing a basic education course. Why?
Some activists blame low education levels on the “supply” of education. If there are not enough teachers or there is no school nearby, how can a child even go to school? Here, the solution lies in building more schools and training more teachers. In some countries, though, the simple act of enrolling children in elementary school is not enough for them to receive an education. For example, one study showed that students in India had extremely low reading proficiency for their grade level, and teachers missed 1 out of every 5 working days. Thus, even when students are enrolled in school, they are not learning the material they should in order to be successful in the future.
Other activists blame the “demand” of education for low education levels. If more jobs in these countries required education, then families will want to send their children to school. Suddenly, the investment of sending kids to school is worthwhile, because otherwise the children will not be able to make money in the future. However, this view also has obstacles. For example, what if a family simply cannot afford to lose the income their teenager would make if they were working? They know that the investment in education would pay off in the future, but it is not possible to make that investment in the present. Additionally, how does a poor country suddenly create the businesses that require educated labor when few funds exist?
Though the situation in many African countries is improving, there is still much work to be done to improve education, economy, and democracy. These problems will take time, and will require generations of people who are willing to put in the hard work to fix them.