Fragility and Rule of Law in Rwanda The fragility and the rule of law in Rwanda have recently become topics of discussion. This follows a ruling by the U.K. Court of Appeal, which deemed Rwanda unsafe for U.K.-bound refugees. Additionally, there’s been talk about recent violence in the DRC, with some sources suggesting that Rwanda’s current president, Paul Kagame, has supported it. Several factors contribute to Rwanda’s fragility, ranging from a lack of government transparency to the lasting effects of civil war.

A Brief Overview

Rwanda has a significant history of poverty and instability, attributed to various factors, from geography to politics. Approximately 38% of Rwandans currently live below the poverty line, defined by the U.N. as living on less than $2.15 a day. This means many struggle to maintain even a basic standard of living, exacerbating the fragility of Rwanda’s rule of law.

Fragility in Rwanda

Between 1990 and 1994, civil war overcame Rwanda, resulting in fragility and weakly upheld rule of law throughout the nation. A rift between the two major ethnic groups present in Rwanda at the time, the Hutus and the Tutsis was the pretext behind the civil war. The genocide had a lasting effect on Rwanda, decimating families and resulting in more than 800,000 civilian casualties.

Although the presence of fragility and unstable rule of law in Rwanda has diminished, it remains a complex factor affecting the country’s development. Despite efforts to rebuild and foster development, Rwanda still grapples with the legacy of its tragic history. Conflict traps such as these have been shown to have a catastrophic effect on the future development of any nation. The result is slow and unstable development, making it all the more challenging to establish security throughout the nation. 

Democracy and Rule of Law

Government corruption also contributes to fragility in Rwanda. While Rwanda’s government structures have improved over time, its democracy and criminal justice system still face challenges. The current ruling party of Rwanda is the RPF, also known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front. There are basic barriers to fair democracy present, such as high administrative requirements for RPF opposition parties, as well as instances of imprisonment for opposing party members. 

In the past, individuals labeled as ‘opponents of the government,‘ including bloggers and journalists reporting on political issues, have faced arrest and illegitimate trials. This raises questions about the stability of democracy and the preservation of political freedom of speech.

Previous allegations of corruption have also raised concerns about the integrity of Rwanda’s criminal justice system. Reports from Human Rights Watch have highlighted maltreatment of inmates, along with claims of unaccounted disappearances and deaths, indicating weaknesses in Rwanda’s rule of law. Journalists have previously reported on topics such as unlawful detention and torture, suggesting that human rights in Rwanda are not fully protected and that the rule of law remains fragile.

The Good News

Rwanda has introduced several frameworks and policies to address the lasting damage from its history of violence. One example is the ‘Rwanda Vision 2020’ development program, which outlines specific goals for sustainable development. The Rwandan anti-corruption policy, a component of Rwanda Vision 2020, recognizes the need for national development that can enhance the quality of life, promote a competitive economy and deliver effective and efficient public services. Achieving these goals involves good governance, strengthening law enforcement and monitoring and evaluation frameworks to uphold the rule of law.

Government stability can be best preserved by increasing transparency, which reduces the likelihood of corruption and illegal activity. Transparency International reports that Rwanda recently ranked as the fourth-least corrupt African country. Rwandan officials’ statements support this, noting the acceptance and adoption of a culture of ‘transparency and accountability’ within the Rwandan government. Increased government transparency is likely the primary reason behind these improvements in Rwanda’s government, as strong checks and balances are essential to long-term stability and preventing government failure.

Addressing fragility has had and will continue to have beneficial effects for Rwandans living in absolute poverty. One framework included in Rwanda Vision 2020, the Vision Umurenge Program (VUP), aims to target absolute poverty and elevate Rwanda to a middle-income country. VUP provides financial assistance to accelerate poverty reduction through economic advancement schemes. This framework includes female beneficiaries, empowering women, who often belong to the poorest socioeconomic groups, by distributing funding more equitably among household members. This effectively targets some of the lowest-income individuals and accelerates poverty reduction.

Following Rwanda Vision 2020, which set targets to be achieved by 2020, Rwanda has introduced the Rwanda Vision 2050 policy. This policy outlines goals for improving health care and education provision, as well as increasing workforce productivity. By enhancing access to public goods and boosting productivity levels, Rwanda aims to reduce absolute poverty rates, ensuring more Rwandans have access to basic necessities, regardless of their household income. Overall, Rwanda is making steady progress toward eradicating absolute poverty.

– Hannah Bugeja
Photo: Flickr