Rwanda:Africa’s 21st century epitome of endogenous development


First published on Pambazuka News 

The 21st Century has been touted as Africa’s to claim. In fact, at the risk of sounding like an Afro-pessimist, there has been many an encomium such as ‘Africa Rising’, a narrative notably fostered by Western publications.[1] At the centre of this ‘Africa rising’ debate, is the subject of development.[2] In view of the subject that is development, it is vital to take into account that all conceptions of development reflect a particular set of social and political values.[3] The debate has been what constitutes the hallmark of development with a number of paradigmatic oppositions emerging: traditional versus modern; agrarian subsistence economies versus highly productive industrialized economies. On the continent, consideration of what ‘development’ is to a large extent is accorded to the evolution implied and promised by the passage from the former paradigms to the latter.[4]Rwanda’s (endogenous) development model has largely defied this. The concept of endogenous development refers to ‘’the process of economic, social, cultural, scientific and political transformation, based on the mobilization of internal social forces and resources and using the accumulated knowledge and experiences of the people of a country. It also allows citizens to be active agents in the transformation of their society instead of remaining spectators outside of a political system inspired by foreign models.’’[5] Dr. Christopher Kayumba contends[6] that post-genocide Rwanda is largely understood two-fold: An authoritarian state waiting to disintegrate yet again as posited by the likes of Filip Reyntjens who argue that “rather than liberation, inclusiveness and democracy, the RPF has brought oppression, exclusion and dictatorship…it has concentrated power and wealth in the hands of a very small minority, practiced ethnic discrimination, eliminated every form of dissent, destroyed civil society, and massively violated human rights at home and abroad…it pays little attention to the fate of the vast majority of its population made up of ever poorer peasants, and little awareness of the structural violence its ambitious engineering project engenders. That people’s widespread and deep-rooted feelings of frustration, anger and despair are a fertile breeding ground for structural violence, and they are likely to again lead to acute violence” [7] Notably, the State of East Africa Report 2013, ranks Rwanda as the most unequal country in the East African Community.[8] Kagame has since hinted at running for the 2017 elections. READ Authoritarian? Not Rwanda . Secondly, Rwanda is deemed as a post-conflict reconstruction model on a developmental course to be emulated argued by the likes of Booth & Golooba-Mutebi[9], former US president Bill Clinton as well as former British premier Tony Blair.

President Paul Kagame.

Can we talk about Rwanda without invoking Kagame’s name? Photo:


Gross National Product growth statistics might mean a good deal to an economist or to a maharajah, but they do not tell us a thing about the quality of life in a ‘developing’ country’s fishing village.[10] As opposed to the top-bottom approach of the orthodox neo-liberal prescription of development, Kigali has fashioned the alternative view of development which is participatory and reliant on local appropriate knowledge.[11] This underscores the role of politics in espousing an ideology that guides mobilization and allocation of development resources. Published in 1975 by the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, What Now: Another Development asserts that the process of development should be need-oriented (material and non-material), endogenous (coming from within a society), self reliant (in terms of human, natural, and cultural resources), ecologically sound and based on structural transformations (of economy, society, gender, power relations). Rwanda’s endogenous development initiatives are as numerous as Rwandans’ venerable cultural practices. Umugunda– community work, has seen to it that every last Saturday of the month, Rwandans aged between eighteen and sixty five (it is mandatory for this age bracket) come together to do public works ranging from cleaning to building of schools and medical centres. Umugunda is estimated to have contributed more than US $ 60 million to the development of the country since its institutionalization in 2007.[12]  This is in no uncertain terms illustrative of what Nyerere once said of the African; he/she is ‘Communitary’ in his thinking. Girinka– One Cow per Poor Family, an initiative necessitated by the high rate of child hood malnutrition and the need to reduce poverty rates, has resulted in an increase in production of milk products in Rwanda, effectively reducing malnutrition besides augmenting incomes. 350,000 cows are expected to have been distributed by 2017. No less than 180,000 people have benefited from this programme since its 2006 introduction. Enshrined in Article 168 of the Rwandan Constitution, Umushyikirano– the National Dialogue Council- with thematic variations, annually affords the Rwandan hoi polloi the opportunity to directly ask their leaders questions concerning their plight. Noteworthy is that, the questions are recorded and a summary report and recommendations are produced and archived for future reference. Umushyikirano depicts democracy at its peak. Ubudehe, an age-old practice among the Rwandans seeks to enhance participatory development within the community. Ubudehe allows communities to define their development priorities for instance by determining their own conceptualisation of poverty. Thomas & Evans, 2011 note that the monetary-based conception of poverty has been almost universalized among governments and international organizations since 1945. This mainstream conceptualisation perceives poverty as a condition suffered by people who do not earn enough money to satisfy their basic material requirements in the market place.[13]Of significance in this instance is that Ubudehe additionally helps communities to determine ways of funding their development projects. At least 1.4 million people in Rwanda have been beneficiaries of Ubudehe since its re-introduction in 2001. The list doesn’t end with Ubudehe. Geared towards reconstructing the Rwandan identity, Ingando-solidarity camp[14] trainings are anchored on six pillars: the man and the universe, the history of Rwanda, human rights and conflict management, the Rwandan nation, good governance, the economy and social wellness. Somewhat related, Itorero serves to inculcate Rwandan cultural values into its young populace- half of which are under 20 and nearly three-quarters under 30[15] and rebuild the nation’s social fabric. That the year 1988-1997 was declared the World Decade for Cultural Development by UNESCO, lends credence to Kigali’s culturally-inspired development model. Underpinning this were the then prioritized objectives of acknowledging the cultural dimension of development, affirming and enriching cultural identities and broadening participation in cultural life. In his Kwibuka 20 speech, Kagame observes that Rwanda relies on universal human values, which include Rwanda’s culture and traditions, to find modern solutions to its unique challenges. Anti-globalists have argued that the values being globalized are conveniently those found in the West. The politics of donor aid has been and still is a pertinent issue on the continent. Africa’s foremost political organization- the African Union is sixty percent donor-funded. That Rwanda has been labeled a ‘donor darling’[16] shouldn’t be lost on us and that much it knows: We want you to know that we appreciate your contributions, precisely because we do not feel you owe us anything.’[17]In launching the Agaciro Development Fund on August 23rd 2012, an idea conceived during the 2011 Umushyikirano– the National Dialogue Council, Rwanda scored another first yet again as far as ‘African Solutions to African problems’ is concerned. The Agaciro Development Fund (a sovereign wealth fund) looks to secure Rwanda’s financial autonomy. The dignity of the AgDF (now standing at about 21 billion Rwandan Francs) is that it is entirely Rwanda-funded. Images of hunger stricken Africans have dotted if not entirely been spread across international news headlines for quite some time now, something that keeps rearing it’s not so beautiful head every often. Food insecurity certainly continues to be a developmental challenge to many countries on the continent. Rwanda, in its culturally-inspired development model has established a communal food store, to which each family contributes at least 20 per cent of their harvest during a good season. It is with initiatives like this that Rwanda has managed to reduce stunted growth among its children, according to a UNICEF report, from an estimated 52% in 2005 to 44% five years later.Gacaca (Traditional Courts), Imihigo (Performance Contracts), Umwiheroro (National Leadership Retreat) and Abunzi (Mediation Committees) constitute the country’s other culturally-underpinned programmes that are indeed the mark of endogenous development.[18]As Rwanda commemorates its 20th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi, and moves towards a knowledge-based economy, the ingenuity with which the home-grown solutions come with, akin to Isidore Sankara’s Burkina Faso can only get better.

READ: Taking Sides in Rwanda and How Rwanda’s Paul Kagame Exploits U.S. Guilt

[1] See Time Magazine,9171,2129831,00.html & The Economist

[2] Charles Robertson and Michael Moran argue that ‘Africa’s Rise is Real’ . Rick Rowden says it’s nothing but a myth , the former underscores the concept of human development.

[3] Thomas, C. & Evans, T. Poverty, development, and hunger in Baylis, J. Owens P. and Smith, The Globalization of World Politics. An Introduction to International Relations.2011

[4] Mudimbe, V. Y. The Invention of Africa; Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge, 1988

[5] Demba Moussa Dembélé. Thomas Sankara: An Endogenous Approach to Development, available at

[6] In an Opinion Piece in The East African: It’s been 20 years of unimaginable success; more needs to be done available at

[7] Reyntjens, F. 2006, Politics in Rwanda: Problematising ‘Liberation’ and ‘Democratisation’, Third World Quarterly, 27 (6)

[8]The State of East Africa  Report 2013  by Society for International Development available at

[9] Booth, D. & Golooba-Mutebi, F.  Developmental Patrimonialism? The Case of Rwanda available at

[10] Roberts, R. Questioning Development, 1984.

[11] Thomas, C. & Evans, T. Poverty, development, and hunger in Baylis, J. Owens P. and Smith, The Globalization of World Politics. An Introduction to International Relations.2011

[12] Rwandapedia

[13] Thomas, C. & Evans, T. Poverty, development, and hunger in Baylis, J. Owens P. and Smith, The Globalization of World Politics. An Introduction to International Relations.2011

[14] Ingando. Rwandapedia available at

[15] Speech by President Paul Kagame at the 20th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi available at

[16] Stefaan Marysse, An Ansoms, and Danny Cassimon, ‘The aid “darlings” and “orphans” of the Great Lakes Region in Africa’, European Journal of Development Research 19,3 (2007)

[17] Speech by President Paul Kagame at the 20th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi available at

[18] For further discussion on Rwanda’s Home-Grown Solutions, see


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