By David Himbara
I have a troublemaker comedian friend called Jean-Claude Cameau. He is from Haiti. Jean-Claude enjoys embarrassing his friends by asking them hard questions he hopes they won’t be able to answer. A few days ago, I fell in Jean-Claude’s trap. Here is the tough question he unexpectedly asked me:
“Why is Rwanda a development success story while Haiti is a failed state? Yet, Rwanda is poorer than Haiti. How do you explain this?
To prove his point, Jean-Claude clicked on his smartphone to the World Bank’s site to hunt for Rwandan and Haitian data. We compared three sets of statistics, namely, 1) per capita incomes, 2) age dependency, and 3) poverty rates.
Haiti’s per capita income is higher than Rwanda’s
TABLE 1 compares Rwandan and Haitian per capita income from 2000 to 2017.
TABLE 1: Per Capita Income Rwanda and Haiti, 2000–2017 (US$)
As shown in TABLE 1, Haiti’s per capita income was consistently higher than Rwanda’s from 2000 to 2017. Even when Haiti was hit by a massive earthquake that destroyed much of its infrastructure in 2010, its per capita income remained higher than Rwanda’s. For 2010, the per capita income in Rwanda was US$563.4 against Haiti’s US$662.3.
Rwanda’s age dependency is worse than Haiti’s
The age dependency ratio is concerned with the number of younger and older people that are sustained by the working population. Put in another way, the dependency ratio is the ratio of dependents — people younger than 15 or older than 64 — to the working age population defined as those aged 15 to 64. The higher the dependency ratio, the poorer the country. According to the World Bank data, in 2017, the age dependency ratio in Haiti was 61%, against Rwanda’s dependency ratio of 76%.
Rwanda has worse poverty rates than Haiti
As shown in TABLE 2, Rwanda’s poverty rates are much higher than in Haiti. The population that earns less than US$1.90 a day in Rwanda is nearly 60% while it is 23.5% in Haiti.
TABLE 2 — Poverty rates in Rwanda and Haiti
The population that earns less than US$3.20 a day in Rwanda is 81% versus 44% in Haiti. The population that earns less than US$5.50 a day in Rwanda is 91% versus 77.6% in Haiti.
The Rwandan and Haitian comparison reveals something very strange indeed. Kagame’s Rwanda is marketed as an African development success story. Meanwhile, Haiti is generally known as a failed state. Yet, Rwanda is poorer than Haiti. So, how do we explain this? Somebody pose this question to President Paul Kagame who says he has turned Rwanda into the Singapore of Africa. Thanks to my Haitian friend Jean-Claude Cameau who asked me this question.