Monday, June 25, 2012

Kings, running water, and Rwanda

A few days ago I mentioned how Snow White and the Huntsman's positive treatment of monarchy as a legitimate, even divinely-ordained political system might make sense if the alternative is primitive tribal anarchy. That is, even an oppressive and unjust kingdom is likely to develop a more prosperous society than a stateless society that is at risk from raids by migrating bandits.

Yesterday I saw this interesting article on the Why Nations Fail blog which argued that Rwanda is wealthier than DR Congo today, despite both being former Belgian colonies, because Rwanda was a state before the Belgians ever arrived:
By the 19th century it had spread to most of modern Rwanda, making Rwanda one of the few modern African countries whose borders correspond closely to a pre-colonial polity. The Rwandan state was highly militarized and run by a king and a cattle owning elite which became associated with the so-called Tutsis....

The historical Rwandan state was not a “developmental state”. It was highly militarized and in the 1870s succeeded in turning most of the rural population of farmers into serfs who had to pay heavy dues and do free labor services for their chiefs for half of the week. It was this act which helped to institutionalize the differences between Tutsis and Hutus, the latter bearing the brunt of this new set of economic institutions. But developmental or not the state brought order and rules and heavily influenced the behavior of people in Rwanda. 
The authors go on to link the legacy of this oppressive and violent state to the ethnic genocide of the 1990s, yet maintain that even this harmful system was preferable to tribalism, and contributed to Rwanda's post-genocide recovery, and its superior public services to neighbouring DR Congo.

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