Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is Rwanda like Singapore?

Pardon me for not blogging about Kagame's electoral victory; it was not much of a surprise. Instead, I've been wanting to talk about something that he mentioned often on the election trail: Singapore.

On numerous occasions over the past months, we have heard President Kagame express his doubts about the wisdom of importing democracy to Rwanda. He has said numerous times that he feels that the kind of limited democracy of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore - all countries where authoritarian governments oversaw periods of steep economic growth - is more suited for Rwanda.

Political pundits like Andrew Mwenda agree, saying that the elites' isolation from popular pressures will allow them to avoid populist redistributive programs that mire the country in patronage. Their top-down management and lack of opposition can allow them to push through difficult reforms such as the new land law and the introduction of English as the language of instruction. He argues that this has allowed Rwanda to avoid the corruption trap of its neighbor Uganda, where the NRM has maintained its rule through patronage and co-option.

Others, such as Kagame's policy advisor Jean-Paul Kimonyo say that democracy could lead to conflict: "The issue here is how do you ensure political cooperation when confrontational politics will almost certainly lead to renewed violence?"

There are, indeed, some academics who might agree with this perspective. David Waldner, for example, suggests that Taiwan and South Korea succeeded at developing much quicker than Turkey and Syria, for example, because their elites were united (and authoritarian), didn't have to stoop to patronage politics, and were able to offer an educated and very cheap work force. It's not easy to push through tough policies like land reform and fiscal austerity - we need a strong state to do this, the argument goes (and if you don't believe us, look at Kenya and Nigeria).

However, most economists would insist that there is no recipe to growth. Dani Rodrik (Harvard), Pranab Bardhan (Berkeley) and Paul Collier (Oxford) - despite their many differences - would all agree that being authoritarian is not necessary for development. The danger is also that in very poor states, authoritarianism often goes hand in hand with weak checks and balances to hem in abuse of power. The bedrock of development - property rights, rule of law, fiscal solvency and market-oriented incentives - could be easily undermined.

The RPF largely protects most of these essential ingredients (although they also maintain a strong hand in the economy, in which the the RPF has significant involvement through holding companies). But let's not get carried out: The Asian Tigers all had vibrant industrial sectors built before and during WWII, drawing on cheap educated labor, cheap primary resources (cotton, steel, sisal and oil) and steep levels of foreign direct investment in manufacturing.

The real criticism, however, is a political one: The RPF is a very hierarchical regime with few checks and balances. This is not China, where the communist party has internal mechanisms for debate, promotion and sanctioning of abusive officials; it is also not Singapore, where a strong entrepreneurial sector has kept the pressure on the regime to maintain FDI and trade; this is not Korea, where there is a thousand year-old tradition of a strong, independent bureaucracy, and where the US invested billions after the Korean war in FDI and aid.

With all the raving about the RPF's forward-looking economic reforms, let us not forget that Rwanda is a chiefly agricultural country. Korea and Taiwan developed through export-led-growth and industrialization. By contrast, the RPF's vision is to grow through a service-based country; this is why they are wiring the country with fiber-optic cables and investing heavily in ICT training institute. But service industry usually serves the business sector, which is still very weak. The country is landlocked - the biggest investment possibilities are in methane gas in Lake Kivu, in coffee and tea, and in the mineral sector in the eastern Congo.

The real question is therefore not whether Rwanda can benefit from growth like Singapore - maybe it can. But let's ask instead: can the RPF maintain its "enlightened authoritarianism" despite the divisions within its own ranks? Has Kagame's leadership style resulted in divisions that are so deep that they threaten the stability of the government? Again, I would recommend that donors take a better look inside the black box of internal RPF politics before jumping to conclusions about the country's future.

I leave you with a quote from two political scientist, Nicholas van de Walle and Michale Bratton, who have written eloquently about democratization in Africa (h/t to Opalo):

“Liberalized authoritarianism…. is an unstable form of regime. Its political openings are easily and summarily shut as strongmen place ever heavier reliance on a shrinking circle of military loyalists. In the worst-case scenarios, blocked or precluded transitions lead to an intensification of political conflict, to anarchy (a regime without rules of any kind) and to the implosion of the authority of the state.”


Anonymous said...

On point about how Kagame gets what amounts to a free ride (feigned criticism at most) among journalists, pundits, governments in the West; see for example the hee-hawing in the blog post about Gourevitch's return to Rwanda on The Economist's Africa today.

Unknown said...

Jason, to your point of view, Kagame's winning of the election will pose any implications on the DRC-RWANDA relations or not? Could it affect the relation between Rwanda and CNDP?

Jason Stearns said...

David - Not sure. On the one hand, the reasons for the arrest of Nkunda little to do with elections and a lot to do with rapprochement with Kinshasa, opening up the Kivus for business and getting donors off their backs. Also, Nkunda could be a nuisance for them if he is set free, see best keep him locked up.

On the other hand, the RPF has been very sensitive to any challenges in the run up to elections, and they have been worried that Nkunda loyalists will band together with RPF dissidents, so if the standoff with Kayumba & co. fizzles out (not sure it will, as that also isn't strictly election related), then relations with the CNDP might change as well.

The Kampala dimension is also not to be overlooked - Kayumba definitely has friends in Uganda, and Nkunda loyalists have been linked to Gad Ngabo's rebellion, which in turn allegedly has connections to the Ugandan army. So if Kigali is no longer worried about Kampala screwing up their elections, then the cross-border tensions might also die down, which in turn would also ease tensions with players in the Kivus.

En bref, c'est compliqué.

Unknown said...

Many thanks,Jason.Can I interpret in this way: the priority of Rwandese foreign policy towards DRC is to open up the Kivus for business and keep a influence in Kivus,rather than push CNDP to seek for independence. Since Nkunda prefers the latter,Rwanda has to arrest Nkunda to mitigate the risk. After Kagame is re-elected as the president,the stable relationship with DRC will be consolidated and accordingly will be helpful to the keep the CNDP within the peace process in DRC.

Unknown said...

Jason, I don't know if you are already 21 but I guess you are since your parents apparently gave you permission to stay abroad and become an wicked activist. Which means you are responsible of your deeds.
Mentioning your age was more because I was wondering: what do you know of the Chinese Communist Party. I guess not much, and I wouldn't wish the RPF to become like it and sacrifice sooooo many Rwandans on the altar of trial and errors like it did (the CCP)in the past in China. And I also think you know nothing more about RPF, nothing more than the average observers who get the chance to speak to one or more characters from that movement. And by the way, the RPF is nothing more ... no need to mystifying it. It's face value. The intrigues only exist in your mind and external "observers".
Back to the facts: All of the announced statements in your blogg suffer the same problem: you take a sentence and project it for your needs out of its context. Where, when (numerous occasions) did you hear or read Kagame expressing doubts on "importing democracy". Same for Mwenda and Kimonyo. And you tend to show off academic bla bla to justify your point of view ...
16 Years after the Genocide in Rwanda, the results are OBVIOUS. No other country has done as good (considering the situation of Rwanda in 1994)as Rwanda. Steady growth, handling its internal demons, managing the relationship with its neighbors, with the donors. Decentralization, Women empowerment, ICT developments ... These are the FACTS. Your comments are just pretending that you understand something and willing to compare things you do not understand. Not Korea, not Singapore not the Great Lakes.

David, the most important thing for Rwanda in the region is to have states that are functioning as States. Rwanda can't develop on its own, or better it will develop faster with the region. There is more benefit in a long term vision rather than short term, quick wins and rather benefiting individuals. Kagame was to be reelected, so will Kabila be. Nkunda is out of the game. And if there is no threat on the rwandaphone communities in the East, there shouldn't be any obstacles for further strengthening the regional collaboration. The rest is fantasy to keep 'mindele activists" alive and make a living because they wouldn't find another job in their own hometowns.

Patrick said...

Hi Jason,
Interesting how you conveniently choose to answer David who seems to consider you as the source of ultimate truth about the Great Lakes region while you ignore Albert's less friendly comment...
Is it really that hard to accept that Rwanda might be looking at various sources of limited inspiration while aspiring to be just itself, and the best it can be?
Not Singapore, not the US, not China, just a stable, prosperous, strong Rwanda...
As long as you continue to ignore this possibility, I have a feeling that your are on for more surprises (and misleading comments)...
Attache ta ceinture et observe mon ami.

emilyharrie said...

Nice post! Singapore is one of the few first-world countries in Asia, with a highly efficient infrastructure, free market economy, a stable socio-political environment, an attractive tax regime and per capita income among the top five nations in the world.

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