Development and democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa: Rwanda and Mozambique

LAURA JAGLA

Last year, while interning and conducting research in Rwanda, I often
mused on the trade-offs in the country’s development and democratic
transformations. While Rwanda certainly has visible signs of
development, the country still ranks low for democratic freedoms, such
as freedom of speech. Now during my time in Mozambique, I pose the
same question. How do democracy and development relate in Sub-Saharan
Africa?

In terms of recent economic developments, Rwanda has positive
indicators; it experiences steady GDP growth, low inflation rates,
increased financial access, and general macroeconomic stability.
According to the Government of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 plan, the GOR aims
to move the country to middle-income status by the year 2020.

However, Rwanda has far to go regarding of human development.
According to UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), Rwanda still ranks
below average for Sub-Saharan African countries with barriers in
health, education, and inequality, a sign that the country may not
reach its 2020 goals. 

Still, Rwanda’s trend of a steady increase in human development
signals that the leadership intends on coming close to reaching its
goals, despite other development trade-offs such as democratic systems
and rights. Rwandan President Kagame has received international praise
for his implementation of economic and educational programs, though he
is also often criticized for having such a tightly controlled
government. Rwanda is far from democratic. As one sign of limited
democracy, Reporters Without Borders ranks Rwanda 161 out of 179
countries for freedom of press/speech on the 2013 World Press Freedom
Index.

Yet, is a more democratic society in the region necessarily linked to
development? While analysts characterize Rwanda as a “not free”
society, Freedom House characterizes Mozambique as “partly free”. In comparison to
Rwanda, Mozambique is ranked 73 out of 179 countries for press
freedom. Though Mozambique seems more democratic than Rwanda with
respect to freedom of speech, a more democratic society is not
necessarily linked to an increase in human development.  Mozambique is
ranked third from the bottom on the HDI (185 out of 187 countries).

Visible signs of development in both countries are also telling. In
Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, and surrounding areas, the society is
bustling with Rwandans constructing new buildings, children walking to
school on immaculately clean roads lined with flowers, and people
working with various businesses throughout the country.  Mozambique’s
capital, Maputo, is bustling with new businesses and significant
economic development, but it is not quite up to par to Kigali in terms
of human development.

Thus, Rwanda, which has a less democratic society than Mozambique, is
higher on the human development scale. I am not suggesting a negative
correlation between democracy and development; I am only offering food
for thought in the cases of Mozambique and Rwanda, where democratic
freedoms and human developments do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.
The Sub-Saharan Africa region has far to go in development and
democracy.

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2 thoughts on “Development and democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa: Rwanda and Mozambique

  1. Jacob Price says:

    Another interesting angle is the international perception of Rwanda v. Mozambique in the democracy/development discourse. Typically, Rwanda is presented very favorably – nearly everyone mentions the clean streets. What I wonder is whether or not this is truly deserved. As you say, Rwanda has a very ambitious development plan in place, and has achieved significant results in terms of education, but at the same time there are legitimate concerns that Rwandan development is more spectacle than substance. Since independence Rwanda has followed along with whatever popular development plan internationals have pushed at the time – like the current Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper known locally as Vision 2020. Several pieces have been written in the past five years which argue that the very goals and programs of Vision 2020 are actually exacerbating Rwandan underdevelopment, despite the clean streets. For example, land and inheritance reforms under Kagame have made it more difficult for subsistence or small time farmers to keep their land, or for women to inherit family property. My point, in following internationally prescribed development plans, are Rwanda’s shortcomings overlooked or outright dismissed in ways that Mozambique’s may not be?

  2. Daru Taye says:

    Recently I start reading about Rwanda and found that it is on the right truck to economic advancement. You also mention about Mozambique. Let me add you the case of Ethiopia whereby we are experiencing rapid growth rate but no improvement in the life condition and freedom.

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