Why I find Rwanda interesting and think you may too

See original post and follow up discussion on /r/slatestarcodex here

The whole world fascinates me but there are some countries I find particularly interesting and valuable to learn about. Countries like Singapore and Israel are commonly discussed in communities like this because of how much they can reveal about important social science related questions. One country that I think is very interesting and worthwhile to learn about is one I rarely see mentioned here, which is Rwanda.

In light of this, I thought I would share some things I find interesting about Rwanda. I am not going to give a history of the country, so if you are curious for that, this seems like a good place to start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Rwanda


  • Rwanda and Burundi should be similar countries yet they are not. Both countries share the same ethnic groups in roughly similar proportions. While evolving from two historic and independent kingdoms, they have a significant overlap in their histories (both countries were part of German East Africa and united under the Belgians as Ruanda-Urundi and only became separated/independent in 1962). They speak the same languages and practice the same religions. Their countries are similarly sized and have similar terrain/natural resources. Despite all of this overlap, Rwanda and Burundi are very different countries, in very different positions with very different outlooks for the future. Apparently geography and demographics are not always destiny.

Tutsi Hutu Divide

  • Rwanda’s history is filled with essentially back and forth rule/domination and killing between the two main groups; Hutu and Tutsi (85% Hutu, 15% Tutsi). Ethnic conflict and civil war is ubiquitous all over the world. What I find interesting about this dynamic in Rwanda is the Hutu and Tutsi’s share the same language, religion, and arguably have the ethnicity.
  • Historically, the Tutsi referred to people who herded animals while the Hutus worked the land. Over time, as herding animals became economically advantageous, the animal herders became wealthy and as a result of being wealthy, evolved into being the ruling and cultural elite. Because the distinction was a difference in profession/economic position, mobility and transition between groups was common. When the Europeans came, they took advantage of the pre-existing social divide to help rule the country, which caused the distinction between the groups to become more pronounced.
  • We now know there are some genetic differences between the Tutsis and Hutu today. I suspect this likely comes down to the fact that those in a given society who are more likely to choose to herd animals rather than work the land are probably slightly different than those who choose different economic paths. Regardless the historical Hutu-Tutsi divide seemingly is quite different than many instances of historical ethnic divide as experienced in other conflict-prone countries.
  • Despite experiencing a brutal civil war and genocide less than thirty years ago, life goes on in Rwanda in a shockingly non-terrible way. While the country has been ruled post genocide by a Tutsi and is less than a free democracy, the Tutsi government has broad support from the Hutu population and ethnic/cultural divide is seemingly no longer an essential part of life.

Rwanda Criticism

  • Post-genocide, Rwanda has been (by African standards) extremely successful at growing its economy, reducing corruption and making life better for its citizens. It is commonly viewed as one of, if the not the most competent African governments. Inspired by Singapore, the government is highly technocratic but not an open and free liberal democracy. Despite the tremendous success, Rwanda is one of the most frequently and aggressively criticized African nations in the West. It appears as if the more successful/functional a country, the more of a target it is for criticism for its deficiencies. Anecdotally, I have been part of many conversations with people fiercely (and emotionally) criticizing Rwanda to me, while I really haven’t experienced anything remotely similar for other comparable African nations. It is worth noting that the criticisms of Rwanda I most frequently heard almost always centre on the nature of Paul Kagame and the challenges with Rwanda’s democracy – and not issues like Rwanda’s actions historically and presently in Congo.

Paul Kagame

  • The leader of post-genocide Rwanda, Paul Kagame has a fascinating personal story. Kagame, grew up as a Tutsi refugee in neighbouring Uganda. As a teenager, Kagame volunteered and became a very important fighter in Musevini’s guerrilla army and assisted in the overthrow of Idi Amin. Kagame then took advantage of his (and other Tutsi’s) position in the Uganda military to build his own Tutsi militia. Kagame then used this militia to invade Rwanda to overthrow the Hutu government. After taking over the country, Kagame’s forces chased the Hutu’s over the Rwandan border and into Congo, which eventually led to Rwanda causing the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko and installing their preferred leader, Kabila (this helped precipitate the first and second Congo War which resulted in the deaths of millions of people).
  • For context, in addition to taking over Rwanda as a badly outnumbered Tutsi, the entire population of Rwanda is 12,500,000 while the population of Uganda is 45,000,000 and Congo 85,000,000.