The ideal of social justice means that a ‘free’ society is comprised of few things such as (1) the equal worth of all citizens that is expressed in political and civil liberties and equal rights before law, (2) right of citizenship and ability to meet basic needs for income, shelter and other necessities and (3) self-respect and equal citizenship that require more than just meeting basic needs, just to name a few.
One important question is how far such a vision of social justice can coexist with economic success, or even with economic survival, in a competitive world.
Rwanda has recorded impressive economic achievements over the last decade, and her economic policies are always deemed sound by the world’s financial institutions such as the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as the donor partners who admire the government’s anti-corruption stand and effective use of external aid money.
Granted all, Rwanda is trying to do more by any standard given her recent history and limited capacity to deliver social justice. Some would say that the government would meet its Vision 2020 given its impressive economic surge, sharp poverty reduction and reduced inequality.
Other critical voices, however, argue that this economic success alone is not sufficient enough to eradicate the growing inequality, or indeed raise the standard of living for majority Rwandans. Raising concerns in constructive ways is very healthy and legitimate and different opinions ought to be listened to, but understanding Rwanda’s journey, contextualising her challenges and acknowledging her efforts is critically important.
The point here is that social justice is indeed an ideal in its own right and in addition, there will need to be a greater measure of social justice.
In one’s opinion, not all inequalities are unjust [i.e. a qualified doctor should paid more than a medical student], so the task of the government in this case, is to reduce unjust inequalities and fight against all forms of discrimination among its people and eliminate them where possible. In examining the country’s efforts in dealing with massive social and economic challenges, it becomes clear that many strides have been made in different fronts such as poverty reduction (i.e. a million out of poverty), equal opportunities (i.e. free access in schools) and provision of safety net (i.e. HIV/AIDS affected groups) despite all issues of limited land, rapid population growth, landlockedness, less developed human capital and fewer natural resources.
A vision of social transformation and economic development that is fit for 21st century requires leadership that has strategies in place to make that design a reality, and there is no doubt that Rwanda has such an important ingredient.
However, there should be no illusion that the country’s problems have a ‘quick fix’, and if politicians or others suggest that there is, no one should believe them. For a country like Rwanda, one understands that the scourges of poverty, unemployment and low skills are barriers, not only to opportunities for people, but also to the creation of a dynamic and prosperous nation. No one can afford to waste the country’s most precious resource- the ordinary Rwandans whose skills and talents can make a difference, if and only their abilities were to be spotted, enhanced and utilised for the common good.
To state the obvious, however, one assumes that the government already knows that these challenges carry enormous economic as well as social costs; but more importantly use their minds to think creatively and innovatively on what path to lead in securing Rwanda’s future.
The need for accelerated economic growth is much greater in Rwanda because of the reasons already stated such as her rapidly increasing population, geographic location, and need for full integration in the East Africa Community all of which carry huge potential for economic opportunities.
In a post-genocide country with a Constitution that promises a kind of egalitarian society, failure to satisfy popular aspirations involves grave risks of instability, confusion and fierce political polemics. There are various ways of ensuring economic development- ‘Capitalist’, ‘Communist’, ‘Socialist’.
Today, however, it is for each country to determine, in the light of its circumstance, the stage of its economic growth, the character of its population, the extent of the foreign technical and financial assistance available to it, and how its development is to be shaped. The problem of development cannot be isolated from political and ethical considerations. The people of Rwanda have committed themselves to the free way of life. They are determined to achieve economic growth within the framework of a free society. For Rwanda, one believes that the leadership and people themselves fully know the cost paid for today’s stability.
Is economic growth with social justice possible? Let it be said that even in the developed world, social justice is an elusive concept at best of times as the evolution of the concept is about a shift in language than a shift in consciousness and institutional cultures. This is evidenced by endemic social ills and alarming statistics in crime and unemployment rates.
In underdeveloped countries, this possibility depends upon a number of factors. The government must be stable, resolute and with a progressive outlook, and the administration must be dynamic. In Rwanda, a number of steps have been taken to liquidate unjust privileges, institutions and practices, and fairly ambitious development plans have been implemented; and social and economic objectives have to be planned and achieved on a democratic basis.
But, both from the standpoints of economic growth and social justice, the results in less than 20 years after the genocide have been impressive; and one hopes that this trend can and will be sustained in the long run.