The explosiveness of rural Rwanda

20RwandaThe Silicon Valley of Africa, the smooth Rwanda, is a façade, build on economic growth. Rwandan, living on the countryside, suffers under a repressive regime.

The commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda is in all media. 20 years later Kigali is probably the most smooth capital in Africa.

Investigative journalist Anneke Verbraeken describes in her opinion in the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant how, for the rural population, income is not the most important, but the piece of land they own.

‘And that is getting smaller the last few years, for every family.’

Nearly ninety percent of Rwandans live in rural areas. The last years, agriculture has gone through a governmental driven industrialisation. With land reform to monoculture and forced removals.

Kris Berwouts

Rwanda runs on a two-speed development, says Central Africa expert Kris Berwouts. The agricultural policy encourages agri-industry and large-scale entrepreneurs, with a focus on growth but not on poverty reduction. Leaving aside the millions of Rwandans which depend on family farming.

They can not escape poverty despite the relative economic success of the country. This growth is no progression, but a time bomb.

An Ansoms

The Belgian researcher An Ansoms signals that the  first problem is caused by the current agricultural policy that requires farmers to be more ‘market-oriented’.

This means that they are only allowed to grow a limited number of plants. The intention is to profit from the increased scale when a particular region specializes in one crop and another region in another crop. And both regions must compete.

Risks and power

This policy has two major disadvantages for small-scale farmers. Previously, they grew an average of eight crops to spread the risk. Fewer crops means more risks.

Second drawback: Small farmers have little bargaining power. Usually it’s the middlemen who take the profits of trade between different regions.

The requirement for small farmers to produce ‘market-oriented’, makes these agents actually more powerful.


The grouping of small farmers into cooperatives should counteract this problem, but mostly this is an illusion.

There is little transparency in how cooperatives are governed and small farmers have little to say.

Economic growth leads to more inequality. Reforms lead to less freedom. Freedom which is already limited in this densely populated country .

The densely populated country, with 480 inhabitants per square kilometre , outlines Verbraecken, will double to 850 in 2050.

‘That’s why President Kagame would like to annex a part of eastern Congo.’

Explosive situation

The underlying tension in Rwanda is high. Rwanda has a glaring lack of press- and political freedom, the repression in the countryside is vast and the population benefit slightly from the growing economy.

Verbraeken calls it an ‘explosive situation, thanks to the much vaunted economic growth.’

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