Rwanda shows gains in human development

THE United Nations Development Program (UNDP) last Thursday, 24 July, in Tokyo, Japan launched the global Human Development Report. The report, published since 1980, focuses on three key dimensions of human development: life expectancy, education and income. 
Sam Ruburika
Sam Ruburika

THE United Nations Development Program (UNDP) last Thursday, 24 July, in Tokyo, Japan launched the global Human Development Report. The report, published since 1980, focuses on three key dimensions of human development: life expectancy, education and income. It also ranks countries according to their levels in the composite human development index which is computed from the three dimensions mentioned above. Countries are then classified as; low human development, medium human development, high human development and very high development countries.

The theme of this year’s report is ‘Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Enhancing Resilience’ underscoring the importance of these two issues in human development. 

In The New Times of July 26, 2014, an article was published titled “UN report exposes poverty among East Africans”. The article may seem to indicate that there has not been much progress in the human development in the East African region despite the region being among the fastest growing regions in the world. 

In fact, the report casts a more positive outlook on East Africa, particularly Rwanda. One of the indicators cited in the article on life expectancy is also erroneously quoted for Rwanda as 55.7 years, instead of 64.1 years, according to the Human Development Report. 

According to the 2012 Rwanda Population and Housing Census life expectancy for Rwandans is 64.5 years. And the expected years of schooling are 13.2 not11 years.

Assessment of Rwanda in the report

The report shows Rwanda ranking 151 among 187 countries ranked. Other countries in the region were also ranked in the report; Kenya (147) position, while the others Tanzania (161), Uganda (164), Burundi (180) and DRC (186) – all among low human development countries.  In the main report, Rwanda is highlighted among countries that have adopted inclusive and progressive policies that have contributed positively to human development in spite of being in its early stages of development. 

The report highlights cases where universal provisions of social services like health, education, water, sanitation and public safety have made tremendous progress. Particularly, in China, Vietnam and Rwanda this has been done in less than a decade where it has taken more advanced countries like Korea close to five decades to achieve.

Among low human development countries, Rwanda is cited as a country where human development is ranked much higher than its income ranking. Rwanda is ranked 20 places higher in human development compared to its income ranking, the highest positive difference among low human development countries; an indication that Rwanda’s limited resources are invested in important areas of human development like education, health and gender equality. This also confirms the declining trend observed over the last decade in both inequality and poverty in Rwanda. 

Also, human development index scores for Rwanda have increased from 0.291 in 1980 to 0.506 in 2013. Rwanda has made the most gains between 2008 and 2013 moving up 17 places among low human development countries. The country is now only six places away from the last country in medium human development, Equatorial Guinea with a score of 0.556. It would be a fair expectation that if this progress is maintained in the next few years, Rwanda should move into this category.

This progress is even more impressive when put in context. Between 1980 and 1990, Rwanda actually declined in average human development (-2.21 per cent). Developments over the Genocide and war period show average HDI growth between 1990-2000 being 3.31 per cent. Considering the effect of the Genocide against the Tutsi and the war between 1990 and 2000, it is very likely growth between 1995 and 2000 was much higher than the average. Between 2000 and 2013, the average HDI growth for Rwanda was 3.35 per cent.

What messages can Rwanda take from the report? 

Inclusive policies adopted over the last two decades such as universal health insurance, universal basic education and overall economic development have had a positive impact on human development. Growth over this period has also been pro-poor and inclusive reflected in reduced poverty and reduced inequality.

But despite the progress realised, the country remains in the low human development category. Given the momentum from the last two decades, however, Rwanda is expected to be among the medium human development countries sooner than later. The policy and regulatory framework is already progressive in an inclusive manner with increasing participation of women, youth and vulnerable groups.

The writer is a communications specialist at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.