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S. Africa and Rwanda: tale of majority failure and minority success

Initially, it was by stopping widespread revenge killings in order to reassure Hutu masses that Tutsi were not out to finish them off. As their safety was guaranteed, the second need was to ensure there is food for survival. As this became normal, RPF moved to ensuring service delivery especially in health and education. Today, as these too have become the norm, the RPF is involved in making Rwandas productive agents in their own right, not passive recipients of state grants and NGO charity.

Thus, unlike South Africa, Rwanda’s economic and social indicators for the most ordinary people show a continuous growth curve in social and economic wellbeing: increasing household incomes, better housing, 97 percent primary school enrolment, 92 percent of the people on medical insurance, 75 percent access to clean water; 97 percent of pregnant women attending antenatal care, infant and maternal mortality are all going down etc. How come it is a minority-led government in Rwanda, not a majority-led one in South Africa that has succeeded in implementing a life-changing programme for ordinary people?

Having been stripped of window-dressed legitimacy of a few Hutu elites, the RPF went down to villages and organised people in a grassroots participatory movement. Here, people meet in their local councils and draw up a check-list of things they want done. These are sent upwards through the local councils to form government policy. The president then enters annual contracts with local community leaders to achieve set goals. He holds community meetings where ordinary people ask him questions and hold his ministers to account on unmet promises.

Interestingly, the first thoroughgoing attempt to democratise politics in rural Africa was initiated by Yoweri Museveni in Uganda through the creation of local councils as platforms through which ordinary people could manage their local affairs and also place their concerns on the national political agenda. This collapsed when Museveni embraced ethnic elite politics of patronage. Thus local councils became vehicles through which NRM mobilises support for its own programmes.

Returning to South Africa and Rwanda, the ANC that was drawn from a racial majority today largely services elite interests. It remains popular because its elites can use identity (that it is fellow blacks in power) to rally ordinary people for support and legitimacy. On the other hand, the RPF that was drawn from an ethnic minority failed to consolidate itself by bribing a few elites from the ethnic majority. This forced it to bypass Hutu elites and seek support from ordinary Hutu masses, hence the evolution of a state that fosters grassroots participation.

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