The Politics of Processing Primary Commodities: The Case of Rwanda
by the world-systems approach, much of Commodity Studies (including Global Value Chains,
Global Commodity Chains etc.) has argued that globalisation has rendered the role of state
intervention as useless in value-addition analysis. Most of this literature has focused on power
relations between firms, rather than understanding how systems of accumulation have been
organized by the state in relation to value-addition. This paper focuses on how the Rwandan
government has navigated the challenge of altering systems of accumulation through a mixture of
incentives and coercion. In all three sectors studied, the Rwandan government has facilitated ‘control
grabs’ by organising labour through the formation of cooperatives (Huggins 2014). The government
has also had to hide the exploitation on which such strategies have been built by branding exercises,
which showcase ‘feel good’ stories of empowering small farmers. This paper showcases an
optimistic tone to the problem of engaging in value-addition but it also highlights the contradictions
of capitalist accumulation that accompany such endeavours.
Value-addition has been a focus for the Rwandan government. In the coffee sector, the
government developed a strategy of value-addition on two fronts: moving away from semi washed
coffee to fully washed coffee and roasting fully washed specialty Rwandan coffee for the domestic
and international markets. The Rwandan government has been moderately successful in both
strategies – increasing washing stations from 2 in 2000 to 250 in 2015. Fully washed coffee
comprises almost 40 per cent of all coffee produced in the country. Rwandan coffee is now sold in
several department stores in the United States, UK and Japan.
Value-addition in the tea sector was modeled on the experience of Sri Lanka. The
government has also employed a similar production structure as was employed in Kenya’s Tea
Development Authority. The objective of the strategy was to reduce the amount of tea exported at
the Mombasa Tea Auction. Only moderate success has accompanied tea strategies, with the
government struggling to sell significant portions of its tea outside the Mombasa Tea Auction.
However, some tea is sold through direct sales and as single-origin specialty tea in the United
Kingdom and Europe.
The mining sector shows some progress in this regard. From a largely nascent domestic
mining sector (tarred by the image of ‘conflict minerals’), the Rwandan government is now close to
having the only operational conflict-free tin smelter in Africa. Much of this success has been down to
organising labour to the production of minerals and selling the story of a ‘clean’ Rwandan minerals