[2] Rhetoric of Development

“Leadership is not about gaining power for one’s own benefit but about being a vehicle to improve the world”[25]


To build a new nation, the first phase was to achieve peace and stability, and now we are moving forward with development” – President Kagame [24]

As pointed out by Kagame himself and Desrosiers [23], in addition to relying on the rhetoric of unity, significant attention in Kagame’s rhetoric is also allocated to economic progress and development. The fact that Kagame claims to be in service of his people and he can actually point to a record of success that has benefited his citizens, has earned him the respect of Rwandans, the business world, and other foreign leaders. Kagame’s harsh leadership style has therefore often been justified by his development achievements. In response to accusations that he violates human rights, Kagame contends that he does not sacrifice them in the name of results, but rather that “results are the best kind of rights”[7]. Notably, in an interview with Alex Perry, of Time Magazine, Kagame argues:

“I don’t think anybody in any human rights organization can claim to have contributed to human rights more than me. There is none. I have saved children, I have empowered women, I have actually fought repression and dictatorship and won over it and powered the people…. These people who talk about human rights, I don’t know what they mean. When I have enabled Rwandans to put food on the table and each can fend for themselves.” – President Kagame [19]

[2.1] Serving the people

Through rhetoric, Kagame’s regime projects the image that Rwanda’s enlightened, benevolent leadership cares deeply about it people, shows real dedication to the country, and has always worked to benefit the Rwandan people – not its own selfish interests. Kagame explicitly shared this view of leadership to visiting students from Stanford’s GSB, when he said “successful businesses and countries depend on their leaders’ willingness to work for the common good of those they serve”[1]. Moreover, in an interview at Stanford in 2014, Kagame underscored his commitment to serving the people by stating, “everything we do is focused on how Rwandans will benefit” and that “ordinary people are the primary beneficiaries of what is being done”[22]. This last point alludes to what makes Rwanda’s development unique among other African countries’: a significant amount of Rwanda’s economic growth is actually benefiting the poor. Kagame has consciously focused on ensuring that reductions in income inequality accompany economic growth. As the country has progressed, Kagame’s regime has expanded access to education, healthcare and other social safety net programs that target fulfilling the primary needs of the poorest sectors of the Rwandan population [12]. Lootsma believes that “from this perspective he is the best performing president in Africa, for sure”[12].

[2.2] Results and Achievements

Kagame’s rhetoric of development has not just been an empty promise, he has actually been able to implement and execute change. As one of Africa’s economic success stories, Rwanda, under the leadership of Kagame, has made dramatic gains in health and development indicators. In fact, “according to just about any indicator, whether it’s health, the environment, the economy, women’s rights, Rwanda is the envy of the region”[1]. It must be acknowledged that while it is true that Rwanda suffers from severe poverty, it has achieved in terms of development what “Western experts had said was impossible in a destitute African country”[5]. Recognizing the important role that this plays in legitimizing his regime, Kagame of course promotes his successes on his website. The info graphics below, posted on the “Achievements” page of Kagame’s website [19], highlight some of the most significant developments realized during his time as President of Rwanda.