THE NO-POLITICS MACHINE
Rwanda’s Development Discourse in the Age of Globalization
“I have read about Rwanda’s Vision 2020. It is very good…the bible says that without vision, people perish.” -Reverend Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life (Riley, 2007)
“I like listening to what Rick Warren tells me. It’s about combining three responsibilities that are important to society: the state, business, and religion.” -Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda (Kinzer, 2008)
“At a speech in Boston last year, an American rose during the Q&A time and praised Kigali for being surprisingly safe and clean. Those in the audience recall that President [Kagame] called the guy out. ‘What did you expect?’ he said. ‘Did you expect us to be violent and dirty?’” (Chu, 2009)
INTRODUCTION: FROM LESOTHO TO RWANDA
In The Anti-Politics Machine, James Ferguson dissects the discourse surrounding development in Lesotho, focusing largely on the language used by the World Bank. “‘Development’ discourse on Lesotho,” he wrote, “tends toward a picture in which the colonial past is a blank, economic stagnation is due to government inaction, and ‘development’ results from ‘development’ projects.” (Ferguson, 1994) The World Bank, however, is certainly not the only practitioner of development, and thus the discourse it espouses is simply one version of what Ferguson calls “the anti-politics machine:” i.e. the depoliticization of “both poverty and the state” that comes from propagating the idea that poverty is the result of something other than a lack of political power. (Ferguson, 1994) Indeed, in some cases, the state itself has its own development language.
This paper will focus on just such a case in the African country of Rwanda. In Rwanda, the story of today’s development discourse began in 1994, when the ethnic-Hutu government committed a horrific genocide in the midst of its civil war with the largely ethnic-Tutsi rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF); nearly one million Tutsi were killed in a period of just three months. (Klinghoffer, 1998) The RPF won the war in July of that year, and has ruled the country ever since. The first six years of RPF rule were largely marked by transition, two wars in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the wrenching task of sorting through the legal, social, and judicial issue of the thousands of ordinary Hutu civilians accused of participating in the genocide.
In 2000, however, the Rwandan government began to look beyond this period of war and transition. “During [the 1990’s], Rwanda was wracked by war, refugee crises, and all manner of upheaval,” writes historian Stephen Kinzer. “That made it almost impossible for the country’s leaders to address the urgent challenges of development. By the time [Paul] Kagame assumed the presidency in 2000, the country was secure and more or less at peace.” (Kinzer, 2008) Paul Kagame was the military head of the RPF during the civil war and Rwanda’s vice-president during the transition period, though he remained essentially in charge of the country throughout. After becoming president, Kagame “convened an intensive series of meetings aimed at formulating a coherent plan for national development. From these meetings emerged a far-reaching and in some respects utopian program called ‘Vision 2020.’” (Kinzer 2008)
Vision 2020 was crafted by the Rwandan government in 2000, and serves as the centerpiece of Rwanda’s development plans. At the core of Vision 2020 are six key goals:
- Reconstruction of the nation and its social capital anchored on good governance, underpinned by a capable state ;
- Transformation of agriculture into a productive, high value, market oriented sector, with forward linkages to other sectors;
- Development of an efficient private sector spearheaded by competitiveness and entrepreneurship;
- Comprehensive human resources development, encompassing education, health, and ICT skills aimed at public sector, private sector and civil society. To be integrated with demographic, health and gender issues;
- Infrastructural development, entailing improved transport links, energy and water supplies and ICT networks;
- Promotion of regional economic integration and cooperation;
At all times, these will be affected by a number of cross-cutting issues including, gender equality and sustainable environmental and natural resource management, and ICT. (Rwandan Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MINECOFIN), 2012)
Vision 2020 is by no means the only expression of Rwandan development discourse. On the contrary, Vision 2020 is just one piece of an elaborate and extremely disciplined discourse strategy emanating from Kagame and the RPF government. What is interesting about Rwanda, however, is not simply the nature of the country’s development discourse, but also whom it targets. This paper will argue that Rwanda’s development discourse is aimed not at Rwandans, but at a combination of international actors, specifically foreign investors and (Western) evangelical Christians.
This paper will further argue that the combination of Rwanda’s development discourse, specifically its focus on external actors and its use of language, and its domestic political repression have created what will be called (with apologies to Mr. Ferguson) a “no-politics machine.” This “no-politics machine” does not simply divorce poverty from politics as the World Bank did in Lesotho. It removes politics completely from the conversation, both by substituting local empowerment and civil society with notions of hard work and capitalistic individualism and by stifling criticism of Rwanda’s authoritarianism by recalling the ghosts of 1994. In Lesotho the role of politics in poverty and state action was ignored by the World Bank because “policy makers, experts, and officials cannot think how things might improve except through their own agency.” (Ferguson, 1994) In Rwanda, however, it is not for a lack of creative thought that politics is ignored; it is a conscious decision that reflects both a specific notion of how to achieve economic growth and an authoritarian approach to governance.
RWANDA’S DEVELOPMENT DISCOURSE: AN ASIAN TIGER IN AFRICA
Rwanda’s development discourse centers around three primary concepts. First, that Rwanda is a functioning state led by a competent, pro-western “CEO” (Kagame); second, that this “CEO” has turned Rwanda into a miracle story, an African “tiger” (sometimes referred to as a “lion” or “gorilla” as a geographically-appropriate equivalent to Asia’s “tiger” economies) that has emerged out of the ashes of horror; and third, that the West, which abandoned Rwanda during its hour of need, has no right to question the manner in which the RPF retains power and runs the country. (Chu, 2009) What emerges from the intersection of these three themes is a message that makes for a great human-interest story, hardly a coincidence given the importance of the Western media in Rwanda’s development strategy (see following section). This section will examine each of these three concepts.
“We want to be clean in everything. To have people clean in mind, clean just for sanitation, and … investors get clean money.” -Fidele Ndayisaba, Mayor of Kigali. (Dagan, 2011)
At the heart of Rwanda’s development discourse is the notion that Rwanda is a functioning state with competent leadership. Two parallel tracks thus emerge from this notion: first that Rwanda is functional and second that Paul Kagame is competent (though we will see that the discourse often elevates him quite a bit above merely “competent”). This dynamic is appropriately brought to the forefront in the very first of the six principal pillars of Vision 2020: “reconstruction of the nation and its social capital anchored on good governance, underpinned by a capable state.” (MINECOFIN, 2012)
How is “functional” defined? First and foremost, Rwanda’s government presents its country as a place where things work, where the trains run on time or, more accurately given the manner in which Rwanda’s development discourse contrasts Rwanda with its neighbors, where there are trains, period. This notion brings with it the cultural antecedent that there is something about the Rwandan people that enhances this idea. “There is no higher compliment than to call a Rwandan ‘serious,’” writes Kinzer. “The most devastating epithet is ‘not serious.’” (Kinzer 2008) Rwanda’s reputation as the “Prussia of Africa” epitomizes this idea (while also evoking unfortunate parallels to Germany). (Kinzer, 2008) Perhaps the European comparison better fitting Rwanda’s public relations strategy is that referenced by journalist Colin Waugh: “(Rwanda has been) referred to as the ‘Switzerland of Africa’ because of its hard-working people…landlocked geographical position and its relative prosperity in the region…” (Waugh, 2004)
This functionality is propagated as being in stark contrast to how many Westerners undoubtedly view the African continent: messy and lawless. “While I was in Rwanda, a health inspector in Ruhengeri closed half a dozen restaurants because they did not ‘maintain hygiene and cleanliness,” writes Kinzer. “Drivers who play car radios too loudly are fined. Those who park illegally are ticketed. People without shoes are not allowed to shop at markets.” (Kinzer, 2008) The message is that the state is functioning, and if the state is functioning, business can thrive. “The overriding idea in all of this is that there has been a lack of a sense of order…we have existed in an anarchic situation, to the extent that even killing had become normal,” says Kagame. (Kinzer, 2008) The International Monetary Fund (IMF) notes the implications of this stability on foreign investment: “Rwanda has a growing reputation as a place where it is comparatively easy to start a business and where investors are protected and encouraged.” (IMF, 2011)
If Rwanda is to attract foreign investment, however, it also has to attract foreigners. To do this, it has to add a second key tenant to its definition of functionality: Rwanda is a place where foreigners can enjoy themselves and feel safe. “Kigali,” an aid worker told journalist Jeff Chu, “is Africa that Americans can handle.” (Chu, 2009) The Rwandan government certainly encourages this notion, but for the most part is content to let Westerners spread this aspect of the discourse. “Kigali is now a place where I could send my predominantly female students, and they’d be fine,” an American doctor told Kinzer. (Kinzer, 2008) Foreign Policy Magazine chimes in as well: “Welcome to the capital of Rwanda, where cleanliness and order prevail,” writes journalist David Dagan. “Trash is hard to find, even on the dirt roads outside the main arteries.” (Dagan, 2011)
To what extent is this “discourse” and to what extent does it merely reflect a truth? The key to understanding how a safe and clean Kigali plays into Rwanda’s development discourse is in recognizing that it is not merely an end in itself but a means for achieving something else: foreign investment. And to that extent, the goal of the Rwandan government isn’t necessarily for Kigali to be safe and clean, but rather for it to appearto be safe and clean. These two concepts, while not mutually exclusive, are certainly not the same thing. Even Stephen Kinzer, one of Kagame’s advocates in the West, acknowledges this:
All of this has led some to grumble….[that] Kigali…[is] a Potemkin village where expatriates can walk safely at night to Thai and Indian restaurants while the wretched realities of Rwandan life remain safely hidden. More than a few Rwandans…live on the brink of starvation, but pains are taken to assure that visitors do not have to confront their misery. Outsiders marvel, for example, that in Kigali they rarely see street kids scrounging in dumpsters or begging for coins. Not all realize that the police regularly scoop up these kids… [and] hold them in unpleasant detention centers for periods up to several weeks… (Kinzer, 2008)
The New York Times reported on the plight of these street children, many of whom end up in a detention center on an island on Lake Kivu. “Nearly 900 beggars, homeless people and suspected petty thieves, including dozens of children, have recently been rounded up from the nation’s neatly swept streets and sent — without trial or a court appearance — to this little-known outpost,” reported Jeffrey Gettleman. “They will spend up to three years here being ‘rehabilitated,’ learning skills like bricklaying, hairdressing and motorcycle maintenance.” (Gettleman, 2010)
In his book Planet of Slums, Mike Davis notes that for slum-dwellers in developing countries, attempts at city beautification ahead of international events (such as the Beijing Olympics) are often accompanied by harsh repression against the poor, lest they spoil the image being crafted by the host country. “Slum dwellers know that they are the ‘dirt’ or ‘blight’ that their governments prefer the world not to see.” (Davis, 2006) What makes the Rwandan situation so perilous, therefore, is that the country is essentially in a perpetual beautification effort; what happened temporarily in Beijing in 2008 is happening permanently in Kigali.
Finally, functionality is defined as the absence of corruption. Rwanda’s leaders go to great pains to make clear that corruption, that great scourge of African government, is being eradicated in their nation, in no small part thanks to the efforts of President Kagame. “When I travel to other African countries, the one thing you hear the most, the thing people know and admire most about President Kagame, is the thing about the cars,” a Rwandan businessman told Kinzer. (Kinzer, 2008) The “thing about the cars” refers to Kagame’s confiscation by force of government ministers’ luxury vehicles. “In some places, [corruption] has become systemic, part of the system,” says Kagame, clearly referring to his neighbors. “We don’t even need to debate that anymore, or the fact that it prevents or works against development. That’s a fact. You can’t make a difference if you don’t fight it.” (Kinzer, 2008)
“Step out of the airport,” writes Dagan “and one of the first signs you’ll see declares ‘Investment, yes. Corruption, no.’” (Dagan, 2011) Joe Ritchie, a Chicago businessman, starting investing in Rwanda in part because he found that message persuasive: “He decided that Kagame was open, honest, business-savvy and, unlike some African leaders, serious about fighting corruption.” (Gunther, 2007) This image is cultivated painstakingly by the Rwandan government, which hangs signs in Kigali that proclaim: “He Who Practices Corruption Destroys His Country” and, most fittingly, “Corruption is the Enemy of Development.” (Kinzer, 2008)
Sure enough, the non-profit corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) shows Rwanda has made consistent progress in ridding itself of public sector corruption. Ranked 121st in the world in TI’s 2006 Corruption Perception Index, Rwanda moved up to 111th in 2007, 102nd in 2008, 66th in 2010, and 49th in 2011. (Transparency International, 2012) Discourse, of course, does not have to be false. And it may be, as is claimed by Kagame’s western admirers, that corruption in Rwanda has dropped because Paul Kagame is personally aghast at the notion of graft and bribery and has changed the culture of government. But, as is the case with so much of Rwanda’s development discourse, it’s hard to tell. Rwanda’s declining corruption is first and foremost an attempt to woo foreign investment; all other claims as to its origins (Kagame’s leadership, Kigali’s culture of cleanliness) are thus impossible to verify.
THE AFRICAN MIRACLE:
“We think this is an extraordinary place that deserves our support and we feel lucky to be a part of it,” –Dan Cooper, American businessman, speaking about Rwanda. (Gunther, 2007)
The second aspect of Rwanda’s development discourse is the propagation of a Hollywood story: Rwanda, a tiny nation in Africa ravaged by genocide, landlocked, lacking resources, transforms itself into a secure and prosperous success story. It is certainly a compelling story, and one that has attracted the attention of a host of foreign actors…which is of course the whole idea.
Rwandan government officials do not gush when telling this story; they leave that for their Western friends. Rather, Rwanda’s leaders use a combination of humility and plain language in reminding the world of how far they’ve come. “We will not forget the genocide, but we will not be defined by it either,” said Kagame. (Chu, 2009) “Maybe we don’t do it just the way Singapore or Malaysia or South Korea did it [development],” Kagame told Stephen Kinzer. “But…why can’t we do it? Why should we be known for being poor or for killing each other?” (Kinzer, 2008)
Chu quotes Rwandan Commerce Minister Monique Nsanzabaganwa as saying that “One of the development board’s priority projects is to devise an image-building strategy so that the genocide image is replaced by something else.” (Chu, 2009) The implication is that the genocide is a barrier to Rwanda’s attempts to spur foreign investment, but Chu notes that in fact the opposite may be largely true. “Part of Rwanda’s appeal is the compelling story it can (very carefully) tell and sell: Come invest, and be a part of our amazing renaissance,” he writes. “In the dozens of conversations I had with investors and donors, the genocide and Rwanda’s awe-inspiring recovery from it inevitably came to the fore — and these supporters were unanimously thrilled to participate in the rebuilding of the country.” (Chu, 2009)
The language used by western admirers of Kagame’s government is marked by effusiveness. “What Kagame has set out to do…he and his comrades have embarked on a course that is at least as full of risk as it is full of promise. History suggests they will fail. If they succeed, they can change the world.” (Kinzer, 2008) Businessmen, meanwhile, use phrases not commonly associated with the language of capital investment: “Rwanda is a place [where] we can make money and also make a huge difference,” says German businessman Christian Angermeyer. (Chu, 2009) Others use more common business language to express the same concept: “”We came away saying, this is the most undervalued ‘stock’ on the continent and maybe in the world,” said Dan Cooper. (Gunther, 2007)
The story has caught on among filmmakers and writers as well. Kinzer’s book “A Thousand Hills” is prominent in the “Rwanda as Miracle” narrative, and is even subtitled “Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It.” (Kinzer, 2008) What is notable about Kinzer’s work is that he actually acknowledges the central criticisms of Kagame, including his role in the deaths of several million Congolese, his repression of domestic opposition, and his autocratic tendencies, and yet persists with the general tone and theme of his book: Kagame as savior and hero. Meanwhile, American filmmaker Deborah Scranton lionizes Kagame in “Earth Made of Glass,” an award winning documentary that critiques France’s role in Rwanda’s genocide. Kagame, says Scranton, is “warm, patient, and determined to bring Rwanda out from its nightmare.” (Scranton, 2012) As we will see, however, that does not mean he is determined not to talk about this nightmare when it suits the needs of Rwanda’s development apparatus.
THE GENOCIDE GUILT COMPLEX:
“I’m really full of contempt, in some cases, for some of these people who try to put themselves in roles where they know better than others about observance of human rights, democracy, and good governance.” -Paul Kagame (Kinzer, 2008)
The final major piece of Rwanda’s development discourse is a defense of the country’s authoritarian government; it is in some ways designed to ensure that the public relations messages of the first two pieces of the discourse are not ruined by the simple fact that by the standards of western businessmen, liberal filmmakers, and Christian ministers, Rwanda is not a free country. Rather than defend its record by disputing allegations or downplaying certain perceptions, Kagame and his government strike back hard on this issue, accusing the West of hypocrisy and paternalism, and evoking the memory of the West’s abandonment of Rwanda during the genocide to shame those who would dare question its leadership.
While the merits of Western-style majority-rule democracy in a country in which a majority ethnic group attempted to annihilate the largest minority ethnic group less than two decades ago are certainly subject to debate, there is no denying an excess of repression in modern day Rwanda. And while Kagame and his supporters accuse major human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch of singling them out (“Rwanda is free and secure…who is human-rights-whatever to tell me I’m not free?” said one Rwandan restaurant owner), more pro-Kagame actors have expressed concerns about freedom in Rwanda. (Kinzer, 2008) Transparency International, for instance, gives Rwanda high marks for public corruption levels, but ranks it 159thin the world in press freedom and in the 11th percentile for governmental accountability to its people. (Transparency International, 2012) Kinzer praises Kagame effusively, but openly notes that political opponents have disappeared during his presidency. (Kinzer, 2008) In a similarly positive book called Paul Kagame and Rwanda, Waugh notes that Kagame’s main opponent in the 2003 presidential elections received a resignation notice from one of his campaign managers that stated: “I’m sorry, but I have to stay alive.” (Waugh, 2004)
Kinzer also notes the way in which Kagame responds to such criticisms: “[he] could respond to them by saying he is dubious but will investigate every allegation. Instead he angrily condemns and rejects them.” Moreover, he argues that “Rwandans suffered such horror in the recent past, its leaders have developed a quiet but palpable sense of moral superiority. The ‘genocide credit’ gives them a free pass.” (Kinzer, 2008) During the genocide, the West largely abandoned Rwanda. France actively supported the genocidal government, and its intervention near the end of the civil war allowed the Hutu government to regroup on the other side of the Rwandan-DRC border. (Wallis, 2007) The involvement of the United States is summed up in a declassified memo from the office of the Secretary of Defense: “Be Careful…Genocide finding could commit [US Government] to actually ‘do something’” (Cohen, 2007) Belgium withdrew its peacekeepers within the first few weeks of the genocide. The UN Security Council did the same, leaving only a handful of UN soldiers to try to protect a million Tutsi civilians.
And thus Rwanda’s development narrative is able to proceed as follows: Rwanda is a tiny country in the midst of a remarkable economic and social revival, with clean streets, no corruption, and a business-friendly environment. Its democratic institutions are in a transition period, as western-style democracy is not necessarily appropriate given the historical context. And those in the West who would criticize this poor country trying to rebuild itself are hypocrites and worse. Where were they when Rwanda needed them?
“Some people keep making stupid and unfair noises about us. They don’t know what we prevented from happening,” says Kagame. “I don’t know what they are thinking about. I have contempt for them. I really have a lot of it.” (Kinzer, 2008) This type of criticism, that the West has no right to judge Rwanda, then pivots into an assault on Western paternalism, a tack that sits well with both the corporate world (self-reliance) and the liberal West (anti-colonialism). “I think the West does some injustice to us. They don’t want us to be ourselves, to develop into partners…we can’t process our own coffee here, we’re supposed to send it to other countries to be processed and then buy it back from them,” Kagame says. “Even in politics we are never meant to graduate from being pupils of democracy or governance. We are always people to be brought up, educated, told what to do, to be consumers of ideas…that come from the West.” (Kinzer, 2008)
This discourse then extends beyond the response to criticisms of Rwanda’s repression and becomes a standard response to those who might question the feasibility of Rwanda’s “miracle.” “Rwandan officials often defend decisions not with arguments about merit, but with incredulity,” writes Chu. “You’re going to question this president? The one who rebuilt a country and created one of Africa’s few relatively corruption-free havens? It’s a clever silencing tactic at that moment. But later, the memory of it only magnifies the enormous daring — and risk — of the venture that is Rwanda Inc.” (Chu, 2009) It might be easy to imagine Rwandans cheering on their government as it boldly criticizes and shames the West, and certainly many Rwandans probably are supportive. But if that helps the RPF at home, it is merely a side benefit; all of this language, and all of the discourse discussed above, is aimed at a very different audience.
TARGETED DISCOURSE IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION: CEOs and ENVANGELICALS
“There is a unique gifting in the person of this president [Kagame]…He is a curative to the nation, like medicine. He is an intended blessing from God to us.” -Bishop John Rucyahana (Kinzer, 2008)
Globalization is a term with many definitions. In its broadest sense, globalization defines this era of human history in which “processes and activities…extend beyond national boundaries…” (Mol, 2001) Arthur Mol argues that this is not a new phenomenon, but that what sets globalization today apart from the “internationalization” of previous eras is that “in the 1990’s it became generally accepted that nation-states are not the only – and according to some, not even the most important – actors in global processes.” (Mol, 2001) As a result, cross-border interaction no longer implies largely state-centered diplomacy; Paul Kagame’s relationship with CEOs and Pastors in the United States is a prime example. Mol further argues that globalization implies an “accelerating space-time compression;” this dynamic lends itself exceedingly well to a small, land-locked African nation hoping to attract the attention of Western actors. (Mol, 2001)
One of the main economic impacts of this phenomenon has been the growth of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). During the current heightened period of globalization, total world FDI has increased from roughly $100 billion in 1986 to more than $2 trillion in 2007. (Clapp and Dauvergne, 2011) This exponential increase in FDI and the acceleration of globalization have coincided with the evolution of Rwanda’s development discourse as it transitioned from its post-genocide period to the present era. The end result is that Rwanda’s leaders aim their development message at a host of actors, all of whom are foreign, and none of whom are states.
Rwanda’s development strategy is centered on attracting FDI. “President Kagame’s goals are ambitious: to boost GDP sevenfold, find paying jobs for half of Rwanda’s subsistence farmers, nearly quadruple per capita income to $900, and turn his country into an African center for technology, all by 2020,” writes Chu, referencing Vision 2020. “Kagame’s strategy relies on wealthy and powerful friends to lure private investment, train a new generation of managers, build a globally competitive economy, and wean the country off foreign aid.” (Chu, 2009)
These wealthy and powerful friends are critical if Rwanda is to achieve its development goals; after all, Rwanda has very few resources, its people largely live in poverty, and, as Chu points out, “its name still brings to mind death.” (Chu, 2009) And thus the path to development is laid out: market Rwanda as a country being reborn and attract investment, which in turn helps the country improve both its image and its economy, which in turn helps to attract more investment. Before this strategy could take hold, however, Rwanda’s leaders knew they needed to take the first step by stabilizing the country and presenting a vision that could be sold to these foreign actors.
Vision 2020 was that first step. In all six of its key points (and in the footnote that follows them), Vision 2020 serves as the centerpiece for a discourse strategy that targets two distinct groups: Western business leaders and Western evangelical Christians. Point 1 refers to the existence of a capable state, which reads as the stability necessary for businesses to thrive in Africa. Point 2 notes that Rwandan agriculture (largely subsistence farming) will be transformed into a “market-oriented” sector. Point 3 is overflowing with the language of Western capitalism (“entrepreneur,” “private sector,” and “competitiveness.”) Point 4 emphasizes the importance of developing Rwanda’s human resources capacity, which is aimed both at reinforcing notions of self-reliance and letting businesses know that there will be Rwandans capable of serving at various levels of the corporate ladder. Point 5 reflects the necessity of creating an infrastructure that makes all other types of development possible. And Point 6 offers investors an antidote to Rwanda’s tiny size; invest here, it beckons, and you can be part of the economic hub of all of East Africa. (MINECOFIN, 2012)
The footnote is also of interest to numerous foreign actors. Gender and the environment are attractive issues for Western liberals (Rwanda happens to have the highest percentage of females in a national legislature in the world) and the focus on “ICT” is key for attracting high-tech investment. (McCrummen, 2008) All of which speaks to the nature of development discourse in the age of globalization; while governments have always sent messages of various kinds to international actors, never before has there been such a wide array of recipients of those messages. In defining its path to development, Rwanda’s leaders are seeking to connect with filmmakers, feminists, environmentalists, tourists, liberals, tech companies, journalists, historians, and anybody with the capacity to upload a video to YouTube.
Without a doubt, however, Rwanda’s development discourse is aimed primarily at foreign investors and evangelical Christians. The list of powerful western business leaders who have jumped on board with Kagame is impressive: the CEO of Starbucks, the CEO of Costco, the CEO of Google, and many others have signed on to work with Rwanda. (Chu, 2009) All of which has led to FDI, internship and training programs for Rwandans, publicity, and economic development; Costco struck a deal to buy Rwandan coffee, and Google expanded a free internet program to Rwanda after Kagame ate lunch with its executives in Mountain View. (Chu, 2009, and Gunther, 2007)
Meanwhile, Kagame’s pursuit of powerful evangelical Christians has proved equally profitable. Mega-church pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) received a note from Paul Kagame in 2003 that read “I’m a man of purpose. Can you come help us rebuild our nation?” (McFadden, 2008) Since that time, Warren has been heavily involved with Rwanda, and with Kagame: “God is going to use you to change the world!” he declared to Kagame in front of thousands of Christians at a baseball stadium in California. “I think God is blessing Rwanda,” he told an interviewer. (Kinzer, 2008)
Other Christian groups have jumped into Rwanda as well; what is unusual about their involvement is the zeal with which they support the country’s government. Missionary work is often apolitical, but “Bridges 2 Rwanda” includes a quote board from Paul Kagame on its website. The quotes are listed under topic headings, and the topics include: “vision,” “entrepreneurship,” “competition,” and “becoming an African Lion.” (Bridges 2 Rwanda, 2012)
For Rwanda, the Christian element brings with it two key benefits. First, it infuses a moral dynamic to Rwanda’s revival story, reminding the West that Rwanda is more than just a poor country trying to be rich. Eliane Ubalijaro, an advisor to the Rwandan government, seems to sum up all of the themes of Rwanda’s development discourse in one sentence: “We’re trying to create a new model for fighting poverty. Nobody believes that it’s possible. How do you take a country that’s been through hell and bring it to security and prosperity? This is about healing, and this is about hope.” (Chu, 2009)
Second, Kagame’s government has benefited tremendously from the connections forged through its Christian contacts. While Warren enthuses about Kagame’s divine destiny, the Rwandan president is slightly more pragmatic about the relationship: “Kagame was able to say that Warren had ‘connected us with a lot of people’ in ways that were ‘extremely useful.’” (Kinzer, 2008) Writes Chu, “[Rwanda’s Presidential Advisory Council] is a network of personal relationships – the link in several cases being a shared Christian faith.” (Chu, 2009)
Rwanda’s development discourse is aimed at these powerful networks of Christian businessmen. What is equally notable, however, is who it is not aimed at: Rwandans.
THE ROLE OF RWANDANS: HARD WORK AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR ENGAGEMENT
“A lot of people are content to be lazy because they know that in the end, someone will come and feed them. But we should be able to feed ourselves and even feed others.” -Paul Kagame (Kinzer, 2008)
What role do Rwandans play in the rebirth of their country? To answer this question, it is necessary to look not to vague exhortations for civic participation in Vision 2020 (“People’s participation at the grassroots level will be promoted through the decentralization process, whereby local communities will be empowered in the decision making process, enabling them to address the issues, which affect them the most”…the word “decentralization” appears just one other time in the 28 page document) but to the role or lack thereof assigned to Rwandans in those processes deemed critical to Rwanda’s development.
Those processes are aimed at achieving competent leadership, functional infrastructure, clean streets, and a lack of corruption. In all of these areas, Rwandans are either asked to play no role, chastised in a manner that suggests that Rwanda’s turnaround will require a change in their work or cultural habits, or required to follow a regime of rules and regulations. Indeed, in those instances in which Rwandans are called upon to participate in their country’s development, the concepts of civic participation and political engagement are consistently replaced with the ideal of hard work.
Competent leadership, of course, centers on the abilities of Paul Kagame and his inner circle, and as Rwandans are not truly asked to participate in choosing their government, they are not as such responsible for the competence of their leaders. On the contrary, Rwanda’s abundant competence at the top is framed as the work of Paul Kagame, and the result of the culture of professionalism he has instilled in Rwanda’s halls of power. “I make no apologies about pushing people hard. I wish I had even more energy than I have to push them.” (Kinzer, 2008)
A similar idea pervades the discourse around Rwanda’s functional infrastructure (i.e. the idea that in Rwanda, things “function”) and clean streets. Here, Rwandans are called upon essentially to obey the law and not end up on the wrong end of Rwanda’s cleanliness police. Plastic bags are illegal, and store owners caught with them face jail time. (Dagan, 2011) Kiosks in Rwandan towns appeared too dirty and “offended [Kagame’s] sense of order,” so he banned them. (Kinzer, 2008) A health inspector closed 47 restaurants for various minor violations while the education ministry closed schools for sanitation violations. (Kinzer, 2008) Meanwhile, street kids or Rwandans looking for work are rounded up and sent to detention centers; the authorities declare that their problem is not poverty, but drugs. “When you can’t take decisions for your [own] good,” says Kigali’s mayor Fidèle Ndayisaba, “we take it for you.” (Dagan, 2011)
These changes could be framed as a form of vast civic engagement in which all Rwandans are called upon to pitch in and help their country achieve its goals; certainly many Rwandans are supportive of the efforts described above. Instead, the discourse seems to frame the entire enterprise as a paternalistic form of education and discipline. To what extent does this reflect the true feelings of Rwanda’s leaders and to what extent does it appeal to Westerners who like the idea of an African government chastising its own people for being lazy?
Regardless of the answer, in the context of Rwanda’s development discourse, Rwandans are mainly called upon to work hard or to work harder. Development in Rwanda will come, the discourse goes, not when Rwandans empower themselves to make change, but when Paul Kagame succeeds in changing the culture of laziness and mediocrity that pervades Rwandan society. The following quotes exemplify this idea:
In the people here, there is something that I cannot reconcile with. It’s people taking their time when they should be moving fast, people tolerating mediocrity when things could be done better. I feel they are not bothered, not feeling the pressure of wanting to be far ahead of where we are. –Paul Kagame (Kinzer, 2008)
We have to work on the minds of our people. We have to take them to a level where people respect work and work hard, which has not been the case in the past. You have to push and push. I hear whispers of criticism, complaints that people are being pushed too hard. I have no sympathy with that. People have to be pushed hard, until it hurts. –Paul Kagame (Kinzer, 2008)
There is a cultural attitude that says you must let people be as they are…there is nothing to be complacent about. We are poor, and being poor is bad. If being pushed hurts, it cannot hurt as much as poverty, as much as being hungry and sick. –Paul Kagame (Kinzer, 2008)
Corruption, meanwhile, is discussed as a problem beyond the reach of ordinary Rwandans. Kagame states this plainly: “You can’t fight corruption from the bottom. You have to fight it from the top.” (Kinzer, 2008) This quote serves as a reminder of how Rwanda’s development discourse defines, above all, government. If the idea that corruption must be addressed at the highest levels of government is true (noted economist Amartya Sen agrees with this, arguing that corruption feeds on a perception that corrupt behavior is normalized, and thus “importance may be particularly attached to the conduct of people in positions of power and authority.”), that does not mean that there is no role to play for the average citizen; in a democracy, after all, those very citizens are responsible for electing leaders who are willing to confront corruption and ousting leaders who are not. (Sen, 2000) What Rwanda’s development discourse does, therefore, is not neglect its citizens in an effort to focus on the needs of international actors. Rwanda’s development discourse aims, on the contrary, to deny the existence of that final link that exists between people and their government.
CONCLUSION: THE “NO-POLITICS” MACHINE
Consider the full narrative of Rwanda’s development strategy, laid out point by point: Rwanda seeks to be a middle-income country, the regional hub of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and a country free of foreign debt. It seeks to grow its GDP, fight poverty, and provide health care for every one of its citizens. Women’s rights will be paramount, and the environment will be protected. Plastic bags will be banned. Corruption will be obliterated. A country known for being the site of one of the worst events in human history will become an oasis of stability and wealth in a poor and unstable region of the world.
To achieve this, it is necessary for Rwanda to lure foreign investment, as the country has no resources, is landlocked, and is impoverished. To lure foreign investment, it is in turn necessary to accomplish several key objectives: a functional state, security, a clean capital city, and a reputation for corruption-free governance. Corruption will need to be fought from the top levels of government, while regulations will be put in place to bring order to the capital and to instill a culture of cleanliness in businesses, schools, and public life. Above all, however, is security. In a country known for genocide, “it would take only half a dozen high-profile attacks or bombings to send donors and expatriates fleeing…that would wipe away many of the gains the country has made and devastate its future prospects.” (Kinzer, 2008)
But how to maintain such security? “Only a potent security apparatus can prevent such attacks,” Kinzer argues, and thus Rwandan intelligence infiltrates almost every corner of Rwandan life. (Kinzer, 2008) Democracy, meanwhile, is not possible until this vision for Rwanda is fulfilled. Only when Rwandans “train themselves to think of themselves as Rwandans” (as opposed to Tutsi or Hutu) will “interim measures” no longer be necessary, says one foreign diplomat based in Kigali. (Kinzer, 2008) Democracy equals majority-rule, and majority-rule equals genocide. When political opponents or journalists challenge the government, therefore, even in instances where their motives have nothing to do with ethnic hatred, those challenges must be quashed. The alternative is that everything falls apart.
This paper does not intend to cast judgment on the validity of this narrative; what it does note, however, are its implications.
As stated earlier, Ferguson argues that the World Bank’s development discourse in Lesotho was depoliticized, in part to avoid antagonizing the state and in part because it could not envision that its own interventions could be insufficient to bring about the alleviation of poverty. This is Ferguson’s “anti-politics machine.” (Ferguson, 1994)
In Rwanda’s development discourse, politics are removed for a different reason, and in a different manner. Everything that happens in Rwanda’s discourse is part of a normal political process in which governments institute policies intended to ensure certain results. These policies, as is typical in the age of globalization, are often aimed at attracting the attention, support, or money of a host of foreign actors, most of which are not states. But where the people of Rwanda should play their part – by choosing their leaders and thus choosing those policies – there is a noticeable hole.
The “no-politics” machine fills in this hole by exhorting Rwandans to work harder. It brashly assumes that a government represents its people regardless of the circumstances involved and therefore speaks for them to the outside world. It lectures those who question the manner in which it governs, and uses the genocide to deny that this “hole” is even a hole. On the contrary, it is a necessary “interim measure.” (Kinzer, 2008)
Where in Lesotho politics was implicitly ignored, in Rwanda it is obliterated. Where in Lesotho, development was assumed to be independent of politics, in Rwanda, development cannot proceed if politics exist. Politics is not permitted in Rwanda’s discourse because its very existence threatens the vision laid out by Kagame’s government by implying the possibility of an entirely different government. A different government might not have the same vision as the current one, a realization that pulls back the curtain of discourse and shows that this vision laid out by Rwanda’s government is the vision of a government, and not a nation. It is the vision of a President, and not a people.
This is the reason for the “no-politics” machine.
This surely does not imply that Kagame’s vision is necessarily bankrupt. Perhaps the tragic irony in Rwanda’s development discourse is that many Rwandans might support their leaders’ vision for their country and actively contribute to achieving it. The “no-politics” machine reflects a political process designed to ensure that this hypothetical remains just that.
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