LSE’s Benjamin Chemouni reviews the book, Rwanda Fast Forward: Social, Economic, Military and Reconciliation Prospects co-edited by LSE alum, Patrick Noack.
This edited book is ambitious and somewhat unconventional since it “focuses on the possible outlooks and on the future of [Rwanda]” (p.5). Albeit unusual, this perspective is justified in the case of Rwanda as its trajectory remains uncertain and puzzling to many. By seeking to “identify and assess key areas that will shape the course Rwanda might take” (p.5) the book, through its 17 chapters, asks the right questions: on what path is Rwanda currently? Is its rapid development, and the inequality and resentment it creates in its wake, sustainable? Will its authoritarian character escalate? What is its future after Kagame?
This is welcome because the debate permeating the scholarship on Rwanda precisely revolves around these questions. Current literature on Rwanda is polarised around two extreme narratives. On one hand, Rwanda is presented as the African miracle that has defied the odds by embracing an ambitious trajectory of recovery and development. On the other hand, Rwanda is considered a repressive state, whose forced march towards development is likely to fuel resentment and violence as it chiefly benefits the small minority in power while demanding a lot from the whole population. Interestingly, both views, and the shades of grey between them, are represented in the book. Here lies its first contribution as the book moves beyond the polarisation of the literature by bringing together different points of view.
The book is divided into four parts. The first sets out its objectives. The second part focuses on reconciliation and civil society issues. It addresses crucial questions such as the possibility of democratisation and the impact of inequalities (chapter 2), the legacy of gacaca courts (chapter 3), the closing of the political space (chapter 4, 5 and 7) or the interaction with donors (chapter 6). Overall, this part is useful in presenting the main trends of Rwandan governance. Unfortunately, while most chapters denounce the authoritarian character of the regime, they barely discuss the role of such character in the return of peace in Rwanda’s deeply traumatised and divided society. Nor do they assess its possible contribution to the remarkable economic and social development highlighted in part III of the book.
Part III addresses the economic and social development of Rwanda by presenting an overview of some key topics such as regional integration (chapter 8), the industrial strategy (chapter 9), the Chinese and Indian direct investments (chapter 10), the communication (chapter 11) and education (chapter 12) sectors. These positive accounts contrast with chapter 13 of Andrea Purdekovà. This interesting chapter links the developmental trajectory of Rwanda with the nature of its governance. It contends that such trajectory is underpinned by an effort of the Rwandan government to forge the “perfect development subjects” through ideology, discipline and mobilisation. However, it underlines that this forced march to development fuels many tensions and might ultimately lead to violence.
Part IV, on conflict and the role of the military, is the most interesting section of the book. Chapter 14 reviews the spread of the genocide ideology in the Great Lakes Region while the remaining chapters provide a compelling discussion on the nature of Rwanda’s leadership and its possible evolution. This topic, although crucial in understanding Rwanda’s past and future trajectory, is often overlooked or addressed in an anecdotal way. The authors are among the first to attempt to open the black box of the current Rwandan leadership in an informed manner, departing from the speculation widespread in the literature.
Informed readers might be frustrated by the lack of in-depth analysis in some chapters, partly imputable to their short length (the book has about 280 pages for 17 chapters and 21 authors) and the choice of some chapters to adopt a resolutely speculative tone. Nevertheless, this interesting book is useful to get a quick grasp on Rwandan political, social and economic challenges while familiarising oneself with the current debate surrounding the nature of its trajectory.
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Your readers may be interested to know that there will be a book launch of “Rwanda Fast Forward” on October 29 at 14:00 at Chatham house. More information, including about registration, can be accessed here: