Rwanda is not as peaceful a country as government officials say — at least not in the eyes of the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank that promotes greater understanding of economics, business and peace.
The institute’s Global Peace Index Report for 2013 on the trend of peace in the world ranks Rwanda 135th out of 162, which contradicts official accounts that it is among the most peaceful.
The researchers found Nordic countries, which also had stable democracies, to be the most peaceful — meaning there is a correlation between rule of law and citizen participation in the presence or absence of peace.
Regionally, the report puts Uganda at 106, Kenya 136 and Burundi 144 while Tanzania is ranked the most peaceful East African Community state, at 55.
Observers attribute that to the political elite in Tanzania adhering to the constitution on presidential term limits and the country having never had a major internal conflict like the majority of its neighbours.
“The three countries that had the largest improvements in peace over the past six years were Chad, Georgia and Haiti while the three with the greatest deterioration were Syria, Libya and Rwanda,” it says.
Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo however disputed the ranking, saying: “Anybody who thinks Rwanda is not peaceful certainly doesn’t have information, or measures backwards.”
Anastase Shyaka, the chief executive officer of the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), also faulted the report.
“When you look at the 22 qualitative and quantitative indicators they used to measure peace, you find systematic mismatches between the score they have attributed to Rwanda and the reality on the ground,” Prof Shyaka said. “We will do an analysis on the report… point out where they got it wrong."
“We encourage them to go the extra mile, use the right information and credible data sources to make GPI more accurate not only on Rwanda but also on other countries.”
A senior political analyst stated that there is a difference between peace and security, saying absence of war does not mean the citizenry is at peace. The university lecturer noted: “Peace means that people get an opportunity to advance.
“People want to participate in running the affairs of their country. Look at our parliament; it is not representative. It is ironical that we have an elected president but not an elected parliament. We are not sure of transition. We have also been under scrutiny over our relations with DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). Walking unharmed at night is not enough.…”
However, Andrew Rugege, formerly of Higher Education Council, noted that the authors could have interviewed the enemies of the government scattered in the West.
“It depends on the source of the report. You need to research on the authors. The important thing is that we know who we are. The way they rank us is immaterial,” Prof Rugege argued.
The report, which accuses the state of clamping down on independent media as well as its political opponents, nonetheless clarifies that although Rwanda has sustained the third largest decline in its GPI score over the six years, it is not classified as being in a fragile situation in 2013 and therefore makes an interesting comparison with the aforementioned countries.
Least peaceful nations worsened
Besides losing points in several external indicators related to the conflict in neighbouring DRC, the report says, Rwanda has seen increases in homicide and terrorist activity. Kigali has lately witnessed grenade attacks which the state links to dissidents.
Outside the Arab Spring countries, Rwanda is pooled with nations that account for a significant majority of the global fall in peacefulness, with the report showing the least peaceful countries as becoming less peaceful.
Among the factors in disfavour of Rwanda is its proximity to the DRC, which has been a source of tension and conflict dating back to the 1994 Rwandan genocide with both governments often accusing each other of supporting armed rebels.
On the alleged clampdown on media and attacks on dissenting voices, the destabilising effect means Rwanda has seen an increase in what the report terms “Political Terror Scale, the number of people jailed per 100,000 people, political instability… homicide rate, and terrorist activity.
"These factors have contributed to Rwanda experiencing the third largest fall in the GPI since 2008.”
Reporters Without Borders rates Rwanda’s press climate as one of the 10 worst, with a ranking of 168th out of 179 countries, while Freedom House categorises the local press under “Not free”, at 178th out of 192.
Observers also link Rwanda’s continual poor ranking by rights groups and think tanks to strict controls the ruling class maintains on civic and political life.