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When is a group marginalised?

By Andrew M. Mwenda

In an ethically diverse state, change in government is not change in governance; it’s replacement of one looting coalition by another.

A lot of studies show that societies, nations and communities that have high levels of ethnic, racial or religious diversity tend to be poor at delivery of public goods and services.


It does not matter whether a society is democratic or authoritarian; diversity tends to polarise politics, thereby making it difficult to organise public goods. Thus, from India’s democracy to Iraq under Saddam Hussein, from ethnically and racially diverse communities in the USA to Kenya under Daniel arap Moi, this story holds.

Yet there are also many cases (certainly not a majority) where an individual leader, a political party, a social movement or an ideology can overcome the negative effects of diversity. Some leaders, like Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, were able to build a strong national consciousness that transcended ethnicity. In the former Soviet Union, the presence of a strong ideology (Marxism) tended to diminish the appeal of identity. Hence, ethnic diversity is not a sure sentence to public sector dysfunction.

Post-genocide Rwanda may also be succeeding. In a very short time, it has been able to build institutions that can ensure an impersonal application of public policy. Thus, whether it is in agricultural extension services, education scholarships, health insurance etc, one is able to receive public services largely (but certainly not entirely) without recourse to personal connections. Even in public sector jobs, Rwanda has a greater commitment to meritocratic recruitment than many of its contemporaries in Africa.

Of course Rwandan politics and society is still characterised by many iniquities. Many Rwandan elites who are Tutsi use personal connections and influence within the system to gain unfair advantage over rivals in business and for jobs. Indeed, it is impossible for any society to achieve complete meritocracy in anything that involves politics. Even in the private sector, it is difficult to completely eliminate favouritism. Yet even with these caveats, it is clear post- genocide Rwanda is building a more equitable society. It has promoted equality before the law, equal access to available opportunities and hence, a shared concept of citizenship.

Yet last year, former senior leaders in the government of Rwanda – Patrick Karegyeya, Kayumba Nyamwasa, Gerald Gahima and Theogene Rudasingwa launched a new political party in exile called the Rwanda National Congress (NRC). I know Rudasingwa well. He was director of cabinet in President Kagame’s office; and each time I was in Kigali I would pass by his office to share with him one idea or two. I know Karegyeya even better because we related a lot, shared ideas and jokes and debated often.

In one of their documents, “Rwanda Briefing” the NRC claimed that the Hutu in Rwanda are marginalised. Never mind that this newly formed “movement to liberate Hutu” is organised and led entirely by Tutsi – the four men above who formed it are all Tutsi. I sent an SMS to Karegyeya asking what they meant by the claim that the Hutu in Rwanda are marginalised. “Can you name for me one senior Hutu who has influenced anything in the government since 1994,” he replied.

This argument is both diversionary and simplistic. How can the influence of one or even ten Hutu in government reflect whether the Hutu generally have been marginalised or not? The measure of marginalisation should be the extent to which public policy impacts on citizens generally i.e. are there deliberate policies that exclude people of a particular ethnicity from the benefits of public policy?

Yet there are many Hutu politicians who have influenced policy in Rwanda even at cabinet level. A lot of the public policy innovations in Rwanda like health insurance were introduced through the political parties’ forum and through cabinet by Hutu politicians. Yet to gauge the marginalisation of a particular ethnic group, one would need to assess whether the state in Rwanda serves all its citizens equitably.

I replied to Karegyeya saying that 98 per cent of Rwandan children are going to school, up from less than 30 per cent in 1994. Also 92 per cent of all Rwandan citizens have medical insurance, up from less than one per cent in 1994. Today, 97 per cent of Rwanda’s pregnant women get antenatal care at least once during their pregnancy, up from less than 10 per cent in 1994. And 98 per cent of Rwandan women give birth with help of a medical professional, up from less than 15 per cent in 1994.

These achievements are even more striking because the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) inherited a collapsed state and economy. Both had been destroyed by the very leaders who claimed to represent the interests of Hutu masses. Yet in almost every indicator listed above, the Hutu masses had gotten a raw deal under Hutu leaders. According to most observers, the Hutu are the majority in Rwanda, some even suggesting as high as 85 per cent of the population. Therefore, the beneficiaries of all the public sector programmes above are largely Hutu.

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