The Moral Economy of Durable Inequality in Rwanda

Friday, June 24, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM
205 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Pritish Behuria, London School of Economics & Political Science, London, United Kingdom
Rwanda has boasted annual GDP growth rates of more than six per cent every year since the genocide (except for 2003). In 2012, the Rwandan government impressed observers further by recording what Paul Collier called the ‘hat-trick’ of rapid growth, sharp poverty reduction and reduced inequality. However, such findings contradict the detailed qualitative fieldwork of many researchers (e.g. Bert Ingelaere and An Ansoms). Though inequality reduced between 2006 and 2011, Rwanda remains the most unequal country in East Africa by both the Gini index and the Palma Ratio. The government’s development strategy (centred on services-led development) has failed to mobilise labour efficiently and more than half of the working-age population is underemployed.

This paper argues that Rwanda’s development strategy is a product of the contradicting demands of three constituencies – rival elites, the population and the international community. It will interact with Charles Tilly’s work on Durable Inequality to illustrate the strategies the Rwandan government has used to legitimise the inequality that has been associated with capitalist accumulation in the country. Labour has been organised in Rwanda through the formation of cooperatives and a focus in ‘smallholder’ development, neglecting that members of both these groups vary in terms of power, size, age, land and sex. Such strategies neglects that large share of the rural population depends on wage labour to meet subsistence. The government’s rhetoric around redistribution has taken the form of creating ‘entrepreneurial citizens’ (Kamat 2004) who will create jobs for themselves. These ideas fit with policies that Rwanda embraced in terms of improving access to social services above creating access to wages, which fits dangerously within a Say’s Law logic (Amsden 2010). Financial inclusion is central to this strategy and is set to reach nearly 90 per cent of the population by 2017. However, the government has recognised difficulties in achieving such goals and has set a target of creating 200,000 off-farm jobs annually between 2013 and 2020.

As a result, it is argued that the Rwandan government has failed to redistribute its growth adequately to the most vulnerable segments of the population. Though there are some policies (VUP Umuregene, One Cow per family and Mutuelle De Sante), inequality is a severe problem in Rwanda and there is little space to develop policies to tackle it.