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Rwanda as a Fragile State Analytical Essay

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Updated: Mar 9th, 2020


One of the great challenges of the new millennium is to ensure that all States are strong enough to meet the many challenges they face. If States are fragile, the peoples of the world will not enjoy the security, development and justice that are their right (Meisler 156).

There has never been a universal definition of the concept ‘fragile state’ but one of the most referred to definition of a fragile state is that by Zartman who conceptualizes state failure as “the basic functions of the state are no longer performing” (OECD/DAC 1).

The widely accepted and used definition of a fragile state is ‘‘those where the state power is unable and/or unwilling to deliver core functions to the majority of its people: security, protection of property, basic public services and essential infrastructure’’ (OECD/DAC 1). A state is classified as failed due to several factors.

These factors range from the inability of government to provide essential services to the poor handling of calamities like international crime, insecurity and environmental degradation. It concerns states fragility and weaknesses (Cojanu and Popescu 19). Rwanda is ranked as number 41 according to the fragile state index of 2010 with a score of 88.7. This was an improvement from the similar index of 2009 where it was ranked in number 45. Despite this index, the country is still categorized as in critical state.

Compilation of the foreign state index is based on various factors including how the country performs in the areas such as demographic pressures, human flight, group governance, refugees/ IDPs, uneven development, economic development, de-legitimization of the state, uneven development, public service, human rights, security apparatus, external intervention and factionalized elites (FP 1).

This thesis seeks to consider the possibility of Rwanda being a fragile state. It is imperative therefore that under these topic we should look at the following three main aspects

  1. What are the characteristics of a fragile state?
  2. What are the indicators of a fragile state?
  3. Is Rwanda a failed or prospective fragile state?
  4. What are the effects of a fragile state on international relations?

Characteristics of a fragile state

While the main aim of the thesis is to analyze the possibility of Rwanda being a fragile state and furthermore justifying that indeed it is a fragile state, it is important to first examine the characteristics of a failed state and arrive at a conclusion on whether these characteristics are evident in the state of Rwanda on not. The characteristics of a fragile state can be analyzed along the following four dimensions that include “…. the physical security, political institutions, economic management and social welfare” (Cojanu and Popescu 10).

Many countries experience critical gaps in any of the four dimensions. In terms of physical security, a fragile state is that which struggles to maintain monopoly on the use of force and often struggle to maintain public order. They are also unable to maintain their borders and territories.

In the economic sphere, a fragile state finds difficulties in discharging basic microeconomic and monetary policies. They are also unable to provide an environment that is favorable for investment and economic growth. On the political dimension, fragile states have ineffective structures of governance and this renders them unable to provide good administration hence accountability and transparency are alien to fragile states.

These fragile states also have poor record of human rights and fundamental rights and freedoms are not upheld, they also show no respect for democratic principles such as popular participation. In the social domain, fragile states cannot meet the basic demands of the population especially in providing social services and making investments in the sectors of health and education. According to the state failure taskforce of the U.S., the common problems experienced by the fragile states include:

Revolutionary wars: fragile states experience long period of violence and wars often between government and insurgent groups who might want to overthrow the existing central government or also those who seek to secede from that particular state. A revolutionary war may also result from popular uprisings by the population in quest for political emancipation (State Failure Task Force 29).

Another problem that faces fragile states experience is ethnic wars. A fragile state is characterized by violent conflict that might be national, ethnic or religious. It may also be from minority groups who seek recognition in a state that is dominated by one ethnic group. An adverse regime change is also another feature of fragile states.

This is experienced when there is a major shift in the governance structure that might result from collapsed state institutions or long periods of regime instability. It might also result when there is a shift from democracy to authoritarian leadership.

Genocides and politicides also characterize a fragile state; this may result from some policies by a state or its agents. It might also result from civil wars by unsatisfied parties of the state, which at times result to numerous deaths of a particular group.

Indicators of a fragile state

The indicators used to categorize fragile states vary depending on the criteria that an institution or organizations apply. This is evidenced by various sources quoting different number of fragile states. The United States of America estimates that there are close to 60 fragile states in the world whereas the department of international development (DFID) of the United Kingdom identifies 46 states classified as fragile states. The World Bank on the other hand recognizes 30 states as failed.

These statistics clearly demonstrate that identifying fragile states is not unanimous (Stewart 1). Among the conventional indicators are:

World Bank governance index: This covers 213 countries and territories in the globe and uses around 700 variables. Governance is considered a fundamental indicator because it is necessary for any state to realize economic development. In addition, a governance system is important for the fundamental functioning of state.

The aspects of good governance that the World Bank focuses on are open policymaking, accountability and transparency in the government and professionalized bureaucracy together with a strong civil society that has a say in public affairs.

To achieve this the World Bank has devised the World Banks Worldwide Governance indicator (WGI) which rank countries based on “voice and accountability, political stability and violence, rule of law, control of corruption and government effectiveness” (Cojanu and Popescu 15). The massive fund for peace uses several indicators to classify a state as failed.

They also use economic indicators such as the level of economic growth, political indicators like the criminalization of the state and the quality of public services offered the level of external intervention and application of the rule of law (Fund for peace 1).

The Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI): This analyses political change in relation to market oriented democracy. BTI relies on two rankings and two trend indicators, the status index and management index. The status index seeks to analyze the level of development that a state has realized in relation to democracy and liberalized economy.

It only relies on political and economic transformation. Political transformation takes into account the factors such as statelessness, political participation, rule of law and stability of democratic institutions. Economic transformation on the other hand looks at the level of social economic development, market organization, currency stability and welfare regime.

Management index categorizes states based on transformation management. This provides direction of development in the form of democracy and liberalization of the market (Bertelsmann 1).

Is Rwanda a fragile state or a prospective fragile state?

This is the thesis subject and after looking at the characteristics of a fragile state and the indicators used to identify a fragile state, it is now imperative to use similar knowledge on understanding whether Rwanda qualifies to be a fragile state.

According to a research by the fund for peace carried out in collaboration with a foreign policy magazine in America, Rwanda was ranked at position 89 out of the 177 countries. The 2009 research index identified demographic pressures, factionalized elites and group grievance as the major factors that place Rwanda on a position that makes it a fragile state.

Rwanda also scored poorly on the issue of de legitimization of the state, which is an implication that the voice of the exiled elites carries some degree of influence (Rwanda news agency 1). Rwanda is a country that suffered one of the worst cases of genocide in the 20th century. Using the BTI indicator on the level of economic development, we can categorize Rwanda as a fragile state.

This is because just like the majority of third world countries, Rwanda is economically poor and majority of the population depends on agriculture and others landless. This exposes Rwanda to the donor community who can even manipulate the nation since they have to borrow money from donors and international financial institutions in order to be in a better position to provide basic social services to its citizens.

Consequently, the fact that Rwanda heavily relies on agriculture makes it a fragile state. This is because agriculture is prone to environmental catastrophes such as drought and climate changes. Furthermore, agricultural goods fetch little money in the international commodity market, which may not be in position to finance the country’s budget.

The desire by the people of Rwanda for more land for cultivation has led to widespread deforestation, which is a recipe for environmental degradation. Since inability of a state to protect environment is a sign of weakness and puts Rwanda on a critical position in the World Bank development index.

Environmental conservation in Rwanda is still not considered. Since the environment makes a state to be self-sustainable especially those countries that heavily, rely on agriculture. Rwanda experiences widespread cases of soil erosion, environmental degradation, deforestation and rampant cases of poaching.

All these may lead to the country losing revenue from foreign exchange since it heavily relies on agriculture and tourism, which largely rely on environmental conservation. The bi-ethnicity nature of Rwanda exposes its fragile nature. Rwanda is a state of two major tribes, the majority Hutu and the minority Tutsi.

This factor has contributed largely to the erosion of legitimacy. Exclusion of one tribe may attract rebellion and resentment. In fact, it is the bi-ethnic nature of Rwanda is largely associated with the historical problems of Rwanda and the inability of the Rwanda state to delicately handle this matter may result to instability (African studies quarterly 1).

The political dimension of Rwanda also makes it fragile state. Since World Bank uses political establishment and governance, as an indicator to measure the failure of a state, Rwanda scores poorly in this dimension. Some of the political aspects used by World Bank when rating the degree of fragility in states are popular participation, transparency and accountability, presence of active civil society, respect for human rights and freedoms.

Since the government of Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) came to power, it has failed to embrace multiparty politics. This is because RPF had links with the politics of ethnicity and ethnic animosity that is associated with the 1994 genocide. In Rwanda media, freedom is considered alien, the civil society is weak, and this has led to an enlightened dictatorship by president Kagame who has achieved it by suppressing the opposition.

Rwanda’s political system is a hard line one with an authoritarian one party and a highly secretive police force that is used to unleash terror among its citizen. The government of Rwanda has maintained its control of the population by employing draconian tactics on the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals.

The civil society and the press are denied the opportunities to operate and to express themselves. President Kagame has repressed and dominated the population hence exposing them to limited or no democratic space at all. Despite the success of Rwanda in recovering from the genocide and its success in reconciliation, it has done poorly in matters of good governance and democracy by maintaining monopoly over political and economic power.

Since authoritarianism signifies a fragile state, the one party dictatorial regime where Kagame and a political and military enclave of Tutsi reign by terror. Another indication that Rwanda is a fragile state is the exclusion of the Hutu by the Tutsi minority. The Hutu have been relegated from a political power, they have been repressed by the state institutions and are marginalized from the enjoyment and allocation of resources.

This situation especially in a third world country raises doubts about the countries future stability since Rwanda can not be peaceful when repressive regime reigns, also it can not be peaceful when a section of the population regard the existing government as illegitimate. It is the personal rule of this kind that often leads to revolution and coups and make states to be failed.

The poor governance in Rwanda is largely associated with RPF and the Kagame leadership. This is because they largely have traces of the genocide regime. They hold on to principles of governance that resulted to the genocide. Despite them having been party to the genocide regime, they have not learned from the pre 1994 events that lastly culminated to the genocide (Daily monitor 1)

The level of external intervention in Rwanda also indicates that Rwanda is a fragile state. Donors have a lot of influence on the running of affairs in Rwanda. It is argued that donors have put a lot of pressure on the government to introduce some polices. These policies include decentralization of power and responsibility, introduction of debates in school to widen democratic space.

Donors have heavily aided the country in eradicating poverty. The donor community in Rwanda has been instrumental for the government’s survival and the capability to constitute and hold on state legitimacy (OECD 1). The critical issue in Rwanda is the contradicting perception of the government and the donors on the principles of media freedom.

The government of Rwanda still has the genocide hangovers which are largely attributed to media legacy which was used as a tool to spread propaganda that led to the genocide, on the other hand the donors insist that media freedom is a fundamental tenet of democracy (Forster 16).

The issue of Gacaca courts and the introduction of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration though very good idea to heal the country from the genocide menace, it hurts the nation and perpetuate hatred and more so refreshes the memories of genocide. This is because some people have been reported to disappear after testifying before the Gacaca courts, which clearly indicates the pain that the people harbor and it brings to fore the fact that reconciliation is still miles away from being realized.

This also means that Rwanda has not recovered from the genocide and that the animosity still exists. It may mean that the possibility of going back to the genocide (The east African 1). The Colonial legacy of the Rwandan state is also an indication of it being fragile. This is where the rivalry between the Tutsi and the Hutu originated.

The idea of the Tutsi being the ruling class and the Hutu being the subjects despite the numerical strength of the Hutu, the Tutsi also feel superior compared to the Hutu because the Belgians associated their light color to the race of Caucasian leading to their treatment as more civilized than the Hutu.

This colonial legacy characterizes the relationship between the Hutu and the Tutsi and has led to historical conflicts sating back to 1959 when the Hutu overthrew the Tutsi. This events of 1959 resulted in a revenge by the Tutsi in 1990 that defeated the Hutu and which climaxed into the genocide of the 1994 (Journal of arts and science 1).

The sporadic grenade explosions that went off in Kigali as reported in the East African of 2010 was an indication that Rwanda is still a failed state and there is high chance that the state will experience a more dangerous chaos more than the genocide of 1994 (The East African 1).

The policies adopted by the ruling regime in Rwanda are an indication of how fragile Rwanda is. These policies include Rwanda’s involvement in the two wars in the democratic republic of Congo (DRC), its centrist and intolerant mode of governance and unlawful killings of the citizens by the security forces has eroded the states legitimacy (Fund for Peace 1).

In addition, laws that stifle free speech should be abolished. The recent election that the incumbent president Paul Kagame won by 83% of the votes. This election was marred by crackdown on any opposition and clampdown in the freedom of expression, which is only aimed at avoiding any criticisms

Effects of a fragile state on the international relations

A feature of such conflicts is the collapse of state institutions, especially the police and judiciary, with resulting paralysis of governance, a breakdown of law and order, and general banditry and chaos. Not only are the functions of government suspended, but also its assets are destroyed or looted whiel experienced officials are killed or flee the country.

This is rarely the case in inter-state wars. It means that international intervention must extend beyond military and humanitarian tasks and must include the promotion of international reconciliation and the re-establishment of effective government (Boutros-Ghali 176)

The international reaction regarding fragile and failed states has been a delicate one. This is because the collapse of state institutions leads to anarchy and violence, which amounts to the violation of international law. Balancing between the legitimacy and state Sovereignty together with equality of states has been a major challenge facing the international community in dealing with the matter of fragility of states.


The term fragile state has on several times but made to be synonymous with third world countries. This is because fragility of these states is historical rather than artificial. Rwanda just like any other third world state may retain legal capacity but lack the institutional capacity and structures to implement and exercise it. These countries still suffer from colonial handovers and hence their institutional capacity is not well established.

This makes Rwanda a fragile state is because of the 1994 genocide and thus it still has the deep-rooted hatred among the people. Consequently, the fact that Rwanda is home to two equal tribes, the Tutsi and the Hutu makes it fragile due to the ethnic animosities associated with African countries where people identify themselves by their tribes as opposed to the state (Rwanda news agency 1).

It is not however fundamental to regard Rwanda as a fragile state because of its efforts to recover from the genocide. Rwanda has been referred as the US in Africa due to its ability to recover quickly from the genocide. Rwanda can only be rated as a fragile state when the political or governance system is used as the main indicator where it scores low together with the media freedom

. This is because Rwanda has done well on the economic dimension as evidenced in its bid to seek second rating as it prepares to sell its first Eurobond and that Rwanda joined the East African community (EAC) a six-member economic integration bloc in the east African region (Rwanda news agency 1).

It is always important to aid the fragile states since they can affect international politics. This is because if not assisted may be a threat and can destabilize global and regional security. Insecurity in Rwanda for example can indirectly influence the affairs of its neighboring countries like DRC and Burundi.

Works Cited

African studies quarterly. Patterns of state collapse and reconstruction in central Africa: Reflections on the Crisis in the Great Lakes. 2007. Web.

Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. Unvanquished: a U.S.-U.N. saga. New York, NY: I.B. Tauris. 1999.

Cojanu, Valentin and Popescu Irina. The Romanian Economic Journal, 2010. Web.

Forster, Triza. Analysis of Failed States: Some Problems of Definition and Measurement seminar presented at the University of Basel; Rwanda: The Invention of Ethnicity. 2004. Web.

FP. Fragile state index of (2010) in American Foreign policy. 2010. Web.

OECD. Joint study by the London School of Economics and Pricewaterhouse Coopers 2009. Web.

Rwanda news agency. Rwanda “in danger” of becoming failed state Aug 2009. Web.

State Failure Task Force. State Failure Task Force Report: Phase III Findings, McLean, VA: Science Applications International Corporation, 2000.

Stewart, Patrick. . Washington Post. 2006. Web.

Meisler, Stanley. Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War. New York: John Willey & Sons. 2008.

Fund for peace. Fund for Peace Country Profiles Rwanda, 2010. Web.

Daily monitor. . 2010. Web.

Bertelsmann. Bertelsmann Transformation Index, 2006. Web.

Fund for peace. Failed states index. 2010. Web.

The east African. Africa. 2010. Web.

OECD/DAC. Fragile States. OECD, 2011. Web.

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