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THE LAST WORD: Hubris of The Economist

FILE PHOTO: Paul Kagame

Hubris of The Economist: How this British newspaper ignores Rwanda’s context in its neocolonial desire to define that country

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | According to The Economist, a United Kingdom-based highly opinionated newsmagazine, President Paul Kagame runs a tight autocratic political system in Rwanda. The Economist arrives at this conclusion entirely based on its reporter’s personal feelings spiced by anecdotal stories told him/her by some fringe of that country’s citizenry. It is always good to be rich and powerful because then you can comment on other people’s lives with the confidence of a priest.

Let us subject the claims of The Economist to some scientific method in order to avoid relying on our biases and prejudices to draw conclusions. How should we scientifically i.e. in a neutral or impartial way, establish whether Rwandans are oppressed or free? One way to do this is to establish an abstract universal standard of freedom. This standard would have boxes to tick. If any country’s experience does not tick most of the boxes, such a country is not free.

Another way to establish whether a country is free or not is to ask its citizens how they feel about their situation: do they feel free or oppressed? This can be done through a scientific survey with a representative sample. If both methods produce the same answer, then there is no conceptual problem. But when the subjective feelings of the concerned people are at variance with the abstract universal standard, then we have a conceptual problem. The question in such circumstances is: whom would we listen to the most?

This is the dilemma those who comment on Rwanda politics face. In many indexes by Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, The Economist and other international organisations that rely on these abstract standards of freedom, Rwanda scores poorly. But whenever there are opinion surveys to gauge the feelings of Rwandans about their sense of freedom, the answers are always totally different.

For example, in 2015, IPSOS, a French International polling firm did a survey on political perceptions in Rwanda. In that survey, 76% of Rwandans said they are free to write and publish anything, 82% said their country is a full democracy. On specific questions like: Are you free to say what you think? A whole 91% said yes. To join a political organisation you feel close to: 92%. To vote for whom you want to: 96%. Talk about the problems affecting your country: 90%. Hold a public meeting: 87%.

Gallup Poll, the world’s largest and most credible polling agency has done similar surveys in Rwanda. In 2013, Gallup’s Global Press Freedom Survey ranked Rwanda 4th in press freedom in Africa, behind Senegal, Ghana and Niger, 30th in the world. Gallup found 78% of Rwandans saying there is press freedom while 18 per cent said there is no press freedom in Rwanda. Therefore, it is true as The Economist claims, that some Rwandans feel they cannot use the media to express their views freely. But why choose to focus on the 18% and ignore the 78%?

In their analysis, Gallup indicated that, “public opinion about press freedom serves as a useful barometer of residents’ perception of the media in their countries, while evaluations from Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders provide expert appraisals of media environments. Gallup added this because of the consistent variance in their poll findings and the “expert appraisals.” The question is: whom should we listen to about whether Rwandans are free or oppressed, the experts or the citizens?


  1. Great piece. I read a number of these scathing pieces about Rwanda, and obviously not being part of the Rwandan scene, I am keeping an open mind. Yet, one British analyst who claimed that Rwanda rigged it’s poverty data, and that Trump was supposedly enabling so called despots like Kagame, had me both annoyed and in stitches. I was annoyed because this analyst is himself part of a plot aimed at obstructing democracy in Britain and rejecting the Brexit vote. Therefore, he himself is not someone who can claim to support democracy. I was in stitches because I thought of all the humorous tweets Rwandese have come up with to deal with all this very Eurocentric hubris aimed at their political process. We in the West lack humility and self awareness when it comes to judging Africa. After somebody gave me the cold shoulder for pointing out to him that we ought to mind our own business here, and let Africans organise their politics as they see fit, I have decided to give up. Some have seen the light and are treating Africans as partners in mutual development. If our ignorance, arrogance and some would say neo colonial mentality ends up pushing us to the fringes, then we will only have ourselves to blame. My main criticism of ALL African leaders is that they are still allowing themselves to be seen as recipients of Western charity, thus enabling all the busybody ing on our parts. The Daily Mail pointed that Rwanda receives 64 million pounds a year, which it was said to not deserve because of fiddling its statistics. I checked Rwanda’s GDP and found that British aid is in fact 1% of the total wealth generated in this country. I asked myself: can Rwanda really not do away with this? But I am not Rwandese and I am sure the authorities of this country know better how to approach this issue. What hurts is that many Africans still form their views of their continent solely through foreign media lenses. Whilst it is not a bad idea to engage with those media houses, making an effort to travel or acquaint oneself with the realities of those neighbours is better. Hence my pleasure at seeing a program organised in Rwanda with Francophone Africans. Way to go…Thank you Andrew. We owe you a lot …I did find a piece in which you discussed the importance of manufacturing, the only show in town in my opinion when it comes to Africa and her agaciro…everything else is hubris

  2. Mwenda is like a coached dog in a circus arena. Whenever, wherever he is presented with a “Kagame hoop”, he will gleefully jump through it with a bark. He would belabour at the history of the genocide before he cherry picks from the economic performance of the regime in Kigali. One would rightly refer to him as a “crony” of Kagame. But outside their circus arena, there is a ridge that marks the real world where Kagame is not the absolute ruler and Mwenda the only man in the clan. Mwenda doesn’t want to listen to any blemish attributed to Kagame. He insists that Kagame is the best man and probably the last to ever grace that country. But even if he were to be right in this imagination, let’s try to “recreate” another world outside his fantasy. Let us imagine that Rwanda was some faraway land that was beyond our reach. And from that land there came two men: one man talked of Rwanda as a country next to paradise and the other compared it to near hell. The dilemma that would befall both men, would be that they are comparing abstracts (Rwanda would be unknown to their audiences as much as hell and paradise are.) The solution to this dilemma would be to bring that picture close to home. The wise step for these men would be to compare Rwanda to Uganda and Kagame to Museveni. And you, as a reader of this comment, can now judge, of the two men, who was close to “your” truth?
    Mwenda maliciously vilifies the character of The Economist as: highly opinionated, biased, prejudiced and vindictive. Mwenda accuses The Economist and other international organisations of relying on abstraction. And then he praises, IPSOS, Gallup and Legatum for carrying out surveys that support his beliefs about Rwanda. From the onset, it is very clear that Mwenda is hell-bent on crucifying The Economist. In the past, he has criticised “foreigners” or their agencies for being “experts” about Rwanda. I am convinced, that even if it were a Rwandan who expressed an opinion contrary to what Mwenda believes in, he would be dismissed as either “incompetent” or an “agent” of the foreigners. But Mwenda is being betrayed by his consciousness when he poses a rather “innocent” question: “whom should we listen to about whether Rwandans are free or oppressed, the experts (read: foreigners) or the citizens?” By posing such a question, Mwenda wanted to insinuate that the people of The Economist sat in their comfort and crassly formed an opinion that Rwanda was autocratic.
    This is far away from the truth. First and foremost, the IPSOS, Gallup and the Legatum are, just like The Economist; foreign. The fact that they come out with a report that is in his favour does not change this fact. Secondly, there was a survey carried out by The Economist. I want to believe that Mwenda holds a rather conservative interpretation of what a survey is? A survey is a fact finding mission, it is an assessment of a condition or situation. It can be qualitative or quantitative. The methodology used in carrying out a survey does not necessarily make it invalid. If, for instance, I interested myself in the Economy of Uganda. I can either decide to look up literature about the economy of Uganda (type “C” research) or, put up a “questioneer” out in the field (quantitative method). If in the first instance, I used the material from one Dr. Muhumuza and Andrew Mwenda and in the second instance, I sent my office assistance to the Ministry of Finance. If the findings of the office assistant were inconsistent with those of Dr. Muhumuza and Andrew Mwenda, would it be justifiable to discard one set of findings based on the method applied? The point I am making is that, a survey should be looked at, for what it is and for the purpose it intends to serve.
    The Economist carried out a survey in May, 2017. And among the people that were interviewed were, one Johnston Busingye, the minister of Justice, Diane Rwigara a young lady who has expressed in running for President but the election commission has refused to register her candidacy, Frank Habineza, the head of the Green Party, Jeanette Mukabyagaju a leader in Mbyo, a village south of Kigali, Mr Nkundiye a participant in the genocide. These are all citizens of Rwanda, only if Mwenda would wish to expropriate them. Mwenda also accuses The Economist for having focused on the 18% of Rwandans and ignoring the whole 78%. The Economist actually observed that President Kagame has previously won the presidential race with landslides (noting that he captured 95% of the vote in 2003 and 93% in 2010). The news magazine also noted that “in the two decades of Mr Kagame’s rule, Rwanda has become a much more peaceful place. It has also, in a modest way, started to become a prosperous one, with strong and consistent growth.” I have seen Mwenda’s pictures while having eyeglasses on, if these are real spectacles, then maybe Mwenda needs to upgrade to binoculars for him not to miss such salient information.
    Finally, The Economist noted that if the clean streets in Kigali and the landslide victories of President Kagame indicated a harmonious living- side by side with the citizenry, why are there soldiers everywhere? For every ten houses (mayumba kumi system) in Rwanda there is an RPF operative planted. Is this a measure to maintain the peace or, it is an operation to ensure a measured outcome? The Magazine observes two classes of people- those who are pro- Kagame and his opponents. The admirers of Kagame hold the view that a strongman with a long-term plan can be better for development than lots of squabbling factions. That given Rwanda’s past history a gamble to have multiparty politics could be dire. Those that are against, fret at the idea and pose the question: is it sustainable? Can a country’s future be tied to the longevity of one leader? The Economist notes, that the things Rwanda’s government does well, such as data-driven policymaking, are compatible with more pluralism. And a more open system would be more durable. The current set-up, which concentrates power in the hands of one man and one party, is a cul-de-sac that provides no viable options if the current venture turned out to be a mare’s nest. If Mwenda finds this to be “Hubris”, then, what isn’t?

    • “Diane Rwigara a young lady who has expressed in running for President but the election commission has refused to register her candidacy”

      You conveniently avoid the fact she did not meet requirements (600 voters from different parts of the country)

      “For every ten houses (mayumba kumi system) in Rwanda there is an RPF operative planted” Wild and baseless allegation. Proof?

      5 people interviewed and you call that representative of Rwanda (12 million?)

      Don’t argue for the sake of it…otherwise you end up exposing yourself

  3. The Economist, the BBC and many outlets that we have all come to see as embodiments of journalistic gold standard, are increasingly coming under fire for bias and lack of journalistic integrity. This is not just when they cover Africa, but also when covering their own countries political affairs. African Presidents are rushing to Kigali in search of guidance, and many are incorporating some of Rwanda’s ingredients in concocting their own recipes. Democracy, development are processes, not events. Whilst journalists in search of overnight fame sensationalise Rwanda’s story, business leaders fromTony Elumelu in Africa, to Jack Ma in China via Warren Buffet, are all applauding Kagame’s leadership in being conducive of conducting business which will ultimately make poverty history in that country. I am afraid but President Kagame is becoming the scourge of those who only think that there is one way to deliver that precious ideal of democracy. They resent the fact that he is developing Rwandacracy, and that this might in turn create ripple effects across the continent, therefore undermining the idea that their way is the only way. Like I told somebody who shared an article with a colourful headline about Rwanda, measures of poverty are contested the World over. To some, Britain has considerably reduced poverty via the measures implemented by the Conservative government, hence the low unemployment rate. To others, Britain is becoming an increasingly unequal country, which delivers growth which keeps people insecure. Both schools of thought advance their arguments with a set of statistics aimed at confirming their bias. There are countries in Africa which exhibit most of the features expected by the West, yet many of those are incapable of retaining their people who prefer to risk drowning at sea in search of European eldorado. I am yet to hear that Rwandese are affected by this phenomenon in such a way. As far as I am concerned, this is the main criteria in assessing democracy in Africa. As for soldiers being posted every ten houses, how different is this from the eavesdropping in the West? One is said to describe dictatorship and the other, an inevitable part of modern democracy and her risks. Why not assume that policemen in the streets of Rwanda are dedicated to protecting it from terrorism, just like the army in Paris has been tasked with preventing terror attacks after what the City went through?

    • sasha, truly only people who have never known how armies operate can say or accept such stories of “soldiers every 10 houses” no country on earth, not even China or India can get so many soldiers to deploy. Rwanda has an acceptable level of democracy and its citizens say so. we have heard severally how when their people are affected by accidents in other foreign countries, the Rwanda Airforce rushes to air-lift them to hospital in Kigali. When Libya was in flames, the Rwandair sent a plane to evacuate Rwandans; without any payment…just rescue. of course the Rwandan army is more related to UPDF (than its former murderous,rapist,looter army which is still carrying out orgies in unruly DRC) from which it hails…. with its impressive evacuation of Ugandans and other foreigners from South Sudan under the command of Gen Leopold Kyanda and his guys. Rwanda is exemplary whether journalists say ay or nay. it changes nothing.

  4. ejakait engoraton

    That AM is in total awe of all things Rwanda/ Kagame is in no doubt and anybody who says anything critical of his subjects will definitely rub him the wrong way.
    But he gives away his emotions right from the first paragraph, if not sentence when he says “……. President PAUL……….”

    • ejakait, be objective. kagame is a president and he is a performer and you know it better than most. of course his discipline is a bit stringent but how then, do you keep in line a mixture of murderers, rapists, orphans, traumatised survivors, traumatised veterans, killers who want to kill survivors before they report them, survivors who want to revenge on killers who are roaming free and other vested-interest-groups; then foreign meddlers. ejakait you must admit Kagame has a handful and needs everyone’s support not criticism. Remember he s also human and is prone to err. you visit that place and I know you secretly admire what they have so far achieved.

      • ejakait engoraton

        RWABUSUTARE, Im not faulting Kagame for whom I have a lot of respect despite the criticism , its just that AMs piece lacks objectivity and critical analysis.
        AM has said in these very pages that he is not a respecter or believer in PUBLIC OPINION unless of course when it suits his purposes.
        I have said time and again that statistics can be manipulated, by those who collect and compile it and/ or by those who use it.
        Does AM for instance have corresponding statistics for the same questions during HABYARIMANAs time.

  5. dear the economist report, conduct a survey in order to know how much we love Paul Kagame

  6. Very interesting rubric deer Andrew Mwenda .

    I as a professional journalist I can dare to day that all those western media outlets which are boycotting the path of democracy in Rwanda are the most corruptive media houses .

    I can’t imagine how people are ignoring what Paul Kagame has done in this country . From the ashes to the freedom that we all enjoy 24 hours to 7 days .

    We all know that all those westerns are ashamed that Rwanda has resurrected without their hands ,when Paul Kagame took risks to liberate Rwanda from the killers and genocid perpetrators some of them among others .

    That is why they do not want to see Rwanda in good position while Rwandans have already chosen to set their own Rwandacracy not following blindnessly that kind of some so called democracy made in Greece and London !

    Fortunately we as Rwandans will never allow these political disturber to undermine our country development today and forever .

    Marshall from Kigali

  7. Rajab, stop hiding behind Kiganda names and attacking whoever questions these self-appointed experts that you believe can never be biased or partial. Mwenda has every right to disagree with the Economist. Your government used to be a darling of the same western countries where these experts come from. And they still carried out a genocide. It’s very unusual to write a comment longer than Mwenda’s article where a person with the most basic writing skills would need 7-10 sentences at most. It must be hurting that your fathers and uncles were sent packing for good. Interahamwe will never stop amusing. Go join your brothers in DRC jungles.

    • Louise, I am what you make of me and frankly, I am what I represent. How then do I hide?

      • Just stop being an impersonator. You only come to this page when Mwenda writes something about Rwanda (Kagame), then you write a whole article of your own lecturing about Rwanda’s history and the paradise it was during your uncle’s regime. I have met countless ugandans some of whom have been to Rwanda or heard about Rwanda. They are critical (objectively) but are not animated or full of lies and hate. It would have made sense if you had disguised yourself as a congolese, zimbabwean or even cameroonian because there are many of your brothers there who also think they can overthrow a government using a keyboard. Your time on the dance floor came and passed. Period.

        • ride him Louise. Me I ceased long ago. I like your term “overthrowing a government with a keyboard” I tried to make the fellow understand that Kagame in his childhood lived in Mwenda’s land Tooro; of course Mwenda wasn’t born yet. But the fellow fails to even guess why ahd how Mwenda and Kagame came to relate. dig deeper kakyama. your feeders are idiots. the first president of Rwanda Kayibanda (who could not speak a single English word) used to visit Obote(who could not speak French) purposely to vilify Tutsi refugees who were there.

        • Unknown to both, Frank Kalimuzo (Vice Chancellor of Makerere) who was translating for both was sympathetic to Tutsi and even had some Tutsi students in his home who he provided for. This ‘kakyama’ is so ill-informed that he does not know that the present border was demarcated in 1921…. leaving families belonging to one man belong to two countries. Imagine to seek a visa to visit your wife.

          • ejakait engoraton

            I think we are wrongly bashing AMO(rip), because if that be the case how come he had MUNTUYERA who is the father of MUGISHA MUNTU abd HERBERT NUWAGABA , a man who actually died in his house in Dar and I do not think that he did not know Kalimuzos background or if he knew that too says a lot

  8. hakizimana deogratias

    I 100% sure that Rwanda its not a Democratic republic because even if kagame claims it to be a Democratic country its a lie totally lie i remember one day when I was watching a football at the certain ground a very small boy came slap an old man and that boy was Tutsi what made me upset is that when a big man tried to correct that little boy police men came and an old man was arrested. this shows that in Rwanda only one tribe has power because Hutu and anybody who try to talk about president will be arrested and none will know where that person will go cause they don’t come back they love hail and killed so this also shows that citizens in Rwanda has no freedom of speech. I am very shocked to hear Rwandans saying that thy have the right to vote for their choices which is not true ask observers thy know it very well during election time at the polling station citizens are forced to vote for only kagame if you neglect it they will followi you by your place and arrest you so my brothers and sisters where is the freedom you’re talking about? let’s open our eyes and see where where we are going. we need the right leader who can be fair to any citizen of Rwanda.

    • “I was also there deogratias and I saw what you saw as you describe it. I also have video track of the incident” SUCH IS THE STUPIDITY KAKYAMAs feed on… now who in their right mind would accept this? it cannot happen in the most oppressive of countries. this idot implies that all policemen and womena re tutsi and that they recognise all tutsi and all hutu like black and white…..kakyama there you are.

  9. Rwanda is an abnormal country (coz of the genocide) so don’t expect a correct analysis on the political situation in Rwanda what if the questions were from the State operatives?

    Every one who has collected data using questionnaires knows that it has limitations; first of all a questionnaire is for the elite,(How many Rwandans can read and write?Secondly most elites have alot to do they dont have time to answer such boring questions ,thirdly was the data physically collected by a white man from the Economist coz Africans have a tenancy to pretend when they are with whites especially if they collected data using the observation method.

    @ Sasha:You seem so excited by the visit of Tony Elemelu and Jack Ma to Rwanda Ug has seen and received most of that kind at times, their visit means nothing besides that the how many Rwandans can trade on line using Jack Ma’s Business?Jack Ma ‘s kind of business reduces on job creation coz transactions are done online dont Rwandans need jobs?

    BOU is weak can you imagine Ugandans rejected legal tender of 1000 and 50 shilling coin and they did nothing about it?

    • ejakait engoraton

      They say even a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day and may actually be exact on these two occasions where one that is broken might not be exact all day.
      Opinion polls in Rwanda and in African countries for that matter, but also universally can be misleading unless we know the context in which the poll was done.
      In Rwanda for instance , responses are politically inclined (political correctness), just like even in developed countries where sensitive issues are involved.
      In the UK for instance, if you asked a question whether peoples standard of living has improved over the last 5 years, your answers will be divided thus;
      50% will be truthful
      25% will be leaning towards correctness to the party in opposition
      25% will be leaning towards the party in government.
      It means for instance a person whose life may have improved slightly but belongs to a party in opposition will say NO
      Likewise a person whose life may not have improved but belongs to the party in power will say they are better off.

  10. Andrew you are too protective of Rwanda to me, criticism whether negative or positive ,creates room for improvement.i dont think Rwanda is on a watch list of media and human rights groups for selfish reasons.

  11. I now understand why so many African Nations prefer to bow to Western orthodoxy. The level of vitriol in most of the pieces I read is incredible.
    @winnie: I am usually a lot more excited about what Africans do for themselves…and Jack Ma in Rwanda amazes me as much as Gerard Sina, a Rwandese businessman and philanthropist who never set a foot in a school and has done so well for his country via job creation, creation of a brand, giving back to his community etc. Citing Elumelu, Jack Ma and Warren Buffet was aimed at reinforcing the view that even outside Rwanda, those who are in charge of wealth creation look up to Paul Kagame.
    We in the West have to approach the democratic process in Africa and her 54 countries with more self awareness, and in an almost philosophical way. What is democracy? Is it all these processes: election, term and age limits (which do not even exist in many Western Nations), or is the power of the people measured via indicators in which Rwanda has consistently scored highly on the continent? I was pleased to read a Le Monde article devoted to Umuganda tonight, which I think has been adopted by Gabon too. It is exactly the philosophy of the big society which underpinned David Cameron’s Conservatism in the UK, before he came into office. Criticizing is fine, although it has consequences on morale and countries perceptions. Witch hunts are wrong… Let us trust our Rwandan friends that they have chosen the path best suited to their own circumstances. In Europe, we have a multitude of countries with various political systems which reflect their particular histories …why can we not afford this to Africans? Why do we want a one size fits all model for Africa? Rwanda will be even more respected by all those who currently criticise its leadership in the long run, for having stood her ground.

  12. @Sasha: I thought you meant Le Monde of Beyonce not the newspaper(never trust some ladies’ source of information)

    Umuganda is a form of forced labour why doesnt Rwanda just create employment opportunities for youth in waste collection and those houses i see them build during Ugmuganda are they supervised by engineers or its a matter of just laying bricks?

    Worldwide,Businessmen are more concerned about market opportunities than a country’s leadership style.

    There are best practices for leaders dont you see how Trump is blundering by trying to be unique?

  13. There are such standards or ideals as liberty, equality, autonomy (of thought). Using contextualization is one clever way of smuggling in non-issues to divert attention from what is at issue, namely the democratic ideals of freedoms of expression, assembly or association and rights: The content. Indeed some of Kagame’s assistants conceded that Rwandans do not enjoy the same freedoms and rights that people from other countries do and that their circumstances may never change. Statistics are not science. Statistics can be and are usually routinely used to manipulate and deceive those who are not trained in understanding how they are gathered, analyzed to infer results, meaning and significance. If the Gallop Poll and all these entities Mwenda seems to have faith in are that good how come they failed to predict Trump’s victory? Until somebody satisfactorily explains how they arrived at some statistical figures and made subsequent inferences you would be naive to blindly take them at their word. For example: What questions did they ask? Who did they actually talk to? In most cases these are made up results. Everybody knows Kagame is a dictator or be it a benevolent dictator but a dictator nonetheless. Benevolent dictators have no respect for their fellow citizens; they treat them like children, to be told what to do or say. They are never their equals who should have equal rights and freedoms. Moreover we didn’t need the Economist to tell us that. But their conclusions are correct.

  14. Anybody interested in getting more insight in the murky world of British politics should follow on twitter : @jameschappers…though I disagree with him about Brexit, his insights into what goes on in British politics is quite fascinating. After he started doing his revelations, he was repeatedly blocked from twitter (more likely hacked)…this is not without bringing back memories of docteur David Kelly, whose mysterious death remains an unsolved mystery Kenneth Roth from Human Rights still has not been investigating. I hope I make it to Kampala , if not good luck to all of you in East Africa….you will lift the rest of the continent from its slumber towards the West…never lose patience with Francophone West Africa…the depth of her trauma is very big. The master has stripped her of all sense of self initiative…but she is waking up too

  15. Andrew Mwenda’s articles on Rwanda remind me of Nigerian movies. Irrespective of the title, they always end in the same way.

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