Why you should care
Because Rwanda is full of surprises.
The next time you complain about the state of politics in your country and some wiseacre cracks that “at least we’re not in Africa,” tell him or her to read this. Turns out most Western governments could learn a thing or two from a country many associate only with tragedy: Rwanda.
Twenty-two years after its genocide, the tiny landlocked nation of Rwanda ranks as the seventh most efficient government in the world and the most efficient in Africa.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2015 rankings, Rwanda comes ahead even of Switzerland and Luxembourg. And where’s the United States, you ask? In 34th place. The WEF measures the efficiency of the world’s governments based on many variables, including the transparency of policy-making, the bureaucratic burden (aka the amount of red tape) and the wastefulness of government spending. It’s in this last category that Rwanda excels thanks to its lack of corruption, transparent public accounts and tightly controlled budget. It ranks fourth worldwide in terms of wastefulness while the U.S. sits in 72nd place beside Algeria and Sierra Leone.
Rwanda’s East African neighbors don’t look good in comparison either. Corruption-ridden Kenya stands at 51st, while politically volatile Burundi ranks 121st. Rwanda’s not-so-secret weapon? Ruthless anticorruption efforts with zero-tolerance policies and long prison sentences. “Rwanda has proven that it is possible to tackle corruption if you make a serious effort and show no tolerance,” says Timothy Longman, director of the African Studies Center at Boston University.
This helps explain why Rwanda’s economy grew at an average pace of 8 percent per year from 2001 to 2015 and is making strides in all directions, from the promotion of green energy to fighting for women’s rights. Cranes tower over the fast-growing capital, Kigali, and international investment is pouring in, yet there are no shouting matches in Parliament. Meanwhile, Rwandan bureaucracy would make Swiss people blush with its easy online access, well-trained personnel and accurate waiting times at every office.
To be sure, being a nation of 11 million makes things significantly easier. So does the lack of meaningful political opposition. “There isn’t really any democracy that one can speak of in Rwanda,” says Carina Tertsakian, a Rwanda researcher for Human Rights Watch. President Kagame (who is gunning for a third term thanks to a recent constitutional tweak on term limits) rules the country with an iron fist and almost absolute media control — something that many less efficient but more democratic presidents may secretly dream of.
Still, totalitarian tendencies aside, in just over two decades the Rwandan government has managed to build strong institutions, curb corruption and do away with most red tape. And as Longman points out: “You don’t need to be an autocratic regime to do all of this.”