Rwanda Blog Posts

Post Two

Scholars Pitcher, Moran, & Johnston argue that in patrimonial societies, the state tends to become the personal domain of a single leader.[1] More broadly speaking, clientalism as defined in Lemarchand’s article on political clientalism in Tropical Africa as “a more or less personalized relationship between actors (i.e., patrons and clients), or sets of actors, com- manding unequal wealth, status or influence, based on conditional loyalties and involving mutually beneficial transaction,” also factors in to the undemocratic political institutions that dominate sub-saharan Africa.[2] In this blog post I ask, does ‘contemporary Rwanda meet the criteria for clientalism and neopatronialism?’  I contend that indeed, the political dealings of Rwanda both domestically and abroad is overwhelmingly dictated by personal relationships between a small set of elite actors.  This is manifested in Rwanda’s recent economic development policies since the wake of the genocide, as well as its system of war-time plundering.

Upon capturing Kigali in 1994, after a protracted civil war against Hutu-dominated government, the Rwandan Patriotic Front(RPF), set about rebuilding Rwanda’s devastated economy. To jump-start economic growth, the RPF financed development projects out of the coffers of its own war-chest.[3]  Under the new regime, Vice President Paul Kagame would become a poster-child of new African Leaders, and personally appealed to guilty Washington elites who poured millions into Rwandan development projects, who quickly partnered up with Kagame, despite his dubious human rights records.[4] Thus economically, development has been spearheaded by the ruling elite in association with the Washington Consensus. Certain development projects are managed by Crystal Ventures, the investment arm for the RPF which some critics claim enjoys competitive advantage in securing contracts from the government.[5] On the local level, advancing projects continues to rely on currying favor with local elites in the form of rents from projects. Anecdotally, a friend of mine working for the World Bank in Kigali has reported that in order to advance an irrigation project in a rural jurisdiction near Gisenyi, the bank had to promise that some of taxes paid by farmers on the water would go into municipal coffers, despite the fact that these municipalities were not fronting any of the funds for the canals’ development. Thus, while economic development in Rwanda is more egalitarian than in states such as Equatorial Guinea ( where rich oil resources pour into the bank accounts of strongman Teodoro Obiang nguema Mbasogo), nonetheless such arrangements are overwhelmingly decided by a small set of governing elites on both the national and local levels.

We can trace the current system of clientalism and patrionalism all the way back to colonial and precolonial times. During the Second Congo War (1999 -2003), the Rwandan Patriotic Front received massive sums of money from exploitation of mines in the occupied Kivus provinces of the Eastern Congo. The ‘Congo Desk’, the unit that managed such operations within the Rwandan government, took in some five times the official budget for the RPF in 1999.[6] Such activities mirrors the Belgian colonial predecessors, who established private enterprise to engage in extraction of the rich territory of DRC( i.e King Leopold II’s  Congo Free State).[7]  During the Colonial period, subjects paid tribute to the Mwami, or king who with the support of German and then Belgian powers, was able to expand the kingdom of Rwanda’s territory.[8]  As patronage continues to be a hallmark of Rwandan politics, such a legacy clearly endures to this day.

[1] Anne Pticher, Mary H. Moran, Michael Johnston, Rethinking Patriomonialism and Neopatrimonialism in Africa, African Studies Review, Volume 52,

[2] Rene Lemarchand, Political Clientalism and Ethnicity in Tropical Africa: Competing Solidarities in Nation-Building, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 66, No. 1. (Mar., 1972), pp. 68-90.

[3] William Wallis, Rwandan Patriotic Front: Party Builds a Formidable Business Group, Financial Times, September 24th, 2012.


[5] ( Sam Learner, Rwanda: Term Limit Contraversy Masks Real Issues, Atlantic Council, October 15,)

[6] Colin M. Waugh,  Paul Kagame and Rwanda: Power, Genocide and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers

[7] Adam Hoschschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, Mariner Books: 1998.

[8] Léon Delmas, Au pays du Mwami Mutara II Charles Rudahigwa. Généalogies de la Noblesse (les Batustis) du Ruanda. Vicariat Apostlique du Ruanda. Kabgaye


Journal 3 – Rwanda-American Relations

The Rwandan Genocide was a major embarrassment to western leaders, particularly for the United States which had only just risen to the spot of global hegemon upon the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991.  Rwandan Vice President Kagame capitalized on this embarrassment to advance the economic standing of his impoverished nation, calling on Washington for aid in reconstruction and development. From 1994 to 1999, USAID alone contributed $61 million to Rwanda.[1] A host of other Washington Consensus institutions, such as World Bank also extended aid to Rwanda, all eager to realize successful outcomes in a region where rampant corruption made such positive outcomes highly elusive. Thus, beginning into the 90s and extending into the first decade of the new millennium, Rwanda became ‘a partner to advance democracy’ in the region, with Bill Clinton praising Kagame as “one of the greatest leaders of our time.”[2] On the surface, the Rwandan-American partnership has the trappings of a great-success story; rebuilding American’s damaged public profile on the African continent on the one hand, while elevating Rwanda to a position of relative prosperity for the region. This is not the full story.

All the while Rwanda’s government has been complicit in major atrocities in Congo. The U.S remained silent when Rwanda toppled the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko during the First Congo War(1996 – 2007), and was also mum when Rwanda helped ushered in one of the most violent periods of modern African History during the Second Congo War(1999-2003), supporting proxy militia groups(namely RCD-Goma) that raped, pillaged, and plundered across the Congo.[3]

This has put the United States in an awkward position, as while aid programs enjoy positive press from successful development projects, the American government has nonetheless been indirectly abetting a government accused of human rights abuses.  The metaphorical ‘blank cheque’ that the United States provided the Rwandan government over the past fifteen years may be finally tearing. M23, the most recent iteration of Rwanda’s proxy militia group overran much of the Kivus provinces in 2012.[4]  Amid pressure, from the U.N and the U.S, Rwanda halted supported of M23, leaving its proxy in the dry ( the group subsequently retreated from territory captured). Kagame, himself has also come under scrutiny from the American government, and the state department openly criticized his decision to seek to run, unconstitutionally, for a third term.[5] During this election cycle, the Clinton Foundation may come under scrutiny for its work with the Kagame regime.[6]

To conclude, The U.S’s interest in Rwanda is primarily noneconomic in nature, but nevertheless the superpower has forged a historically important partnership with this small, war-torn nation for public diplomacy and regional security purposes. Kagame has sought economic aid and legitimacy for his regime from a strong relationship with Washington. Given Kagame’s remarkable capacity to maintain stability and lay the groundwork for effective development programs within his territory, both governments have benefited from their relationship. However, such a relationship has been undermined by the bleak reality that Kagame’s regime continues to be responsible for sustaining the most brutal and enduring human conflict since World War II.

[1] September 28, 2016, History of USAID, Rwanda,

[2] David King, Financial Times, May 25, 2016.

[3] Christophe Williams, Explaining the Great War in Africa: How Conflict in the Congo Became a Continental Crisis, the Fletcher Forum on World Affairs.

[4] Federico Borelli, The Death of M23: Ending Rwanda’s Proxy War in the Congo, 20 December 2013.

[5] John Kirby, Reaction to Rwandan President’s Decision to Run for a Third Term,  Bureau of Public Affirs at State Department, January 2, 2016.

[6] Kevin Sack, Rwanda Aid Shows Reach and Limits of Clinton Foundation, October 18, 2015.

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