State-building and political order in post-genocide Rwanda
Following one hundred days of genocide, the country inherited by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in the summer of 1994 lay in ruins. With hundreds of thousands of Rwandans dead, millions more displaced, and a defunct government, the challenge confronting the RPF was immense. What emerged from this devastation, however, was a unique process of state-building which began with the restoration of political order and culminated in a resilient authoritarian regime. The central argument of this dissertation is that the success of the state-building project which unfolded in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide was due to the regime’s suppression of ethnicity. That single factor—institutionalized through the 2003 constitution, as well as laws about genocide ideology and “divisionism”—allowed the regime to stifle political opposition, constrain civil society, and channel economic development through the state under the guise of unity and reconciliation. The first phase of the process, from 1994-2003, was characterized by persistent conflict—both within Rwanda and in the ungoverned eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although this instability placed challenges on the recovery of political order, it also granted the young regime the opportunity to earn legitimacy through the provision of security and basic services to the traumatized population. That effort was further aided by an endowment of latent state power, left behind as a perception of the state’s authority in the haste of retreat by the previous Hutu government. The second phase of Rwanda’s state-building project, from 2003 to 2020, saw the regime consolidate political power and sharpen its tools for elite control. With ethnic politics effectively outlawed by 2003, the RPF cinched the political noose tighter with each passing year. During this period the regime also expanded the dominance of state-owned firms in the economy, which provided a deep well from which rents could be extracted to maintain elite support. Finally, during this phase a previously unstudied approach of frequently shifting elites between political appointments to prevent challenges from within the regime became routine. The result of these developments is the rise of one of the most resilient authoritarian regimes in the world.