Human Development: Rwanda on the back of the pack

Nov 11th, 2011 at 0:07 | By | Category: Economy

With a human development index of 0.429, Rwanda is classified 166th among 187 countries in the global human development index ranking in 2011, released on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and is in the category of Countries with a low Human Development Index (HDI).



The report which is published annually for 21 years aims at providing through 10 statistical tables an overview “of the main aspects of human development level in countries and regions of the world” such as poverty, educational level or access to health care.


The report indicates that with regard to poverty, 50.6% of the Rwandan people live in extreme poverty while 63.5% of the Rwandan people have difficulties to access to clean water.

With regard to income, 8 Rwandans of 10 (76.8%) live with an income that is below $ 1.25 a day, the third worst record in the world right in front of Liberia (83.7%) and Burundi (81.3%), the latter being classified 185th (out of 187) at the global level. The DRC, which is last in the overall ranking (187/187), ranks better than Rwanda with regard to this indicator with some 59.2% of the population living with an income that is less than 1.25 dollars a day. According to the national poverty line, the Rwandan population living below the poverty line is 58.5% which is nearly 6 out of 10 Rwandans.


One out of two Rwandan children under 5 years (51.7%) suffers from rickets and one in five (18%) suffers from malnutrition. At this level Rwanda ranks better than its neighbor Burundi with 63.1% and 38.9% respectively but worse than its neighbor DRC where 45.8% of children under 5 suffer from stunting while 28, 2% suffer from malnutrition. From a global perspective, the three countries are among the last in the world on the above indicators.

Evolution of the Human Development Index 1980-2011

With an average growth of 1.4% of the HDI, Rwanda is one of the countries which have recorded the highest increase in their HDI over the period spanning from 1980-2011. The largest increase occurred between 2000 and 2011, where Rwanda has the second highest growth in the human development index, with an average annual increase of about 2.92%.  Progresses made in education, health and economy account for this significant improvement in the HDI in recent years.


With a literacy rate of adults (15 years) of 70.7%, Rwanda receives one of the best performances among the countries with low human development, well ahead of Mali, (26.2%) but far behind Zimbabwe (91.9%), the model student of the category with regard this indicator.

The growing interest in technology and information partly explains the performance in terms of education in the country. With growth of 5900% of users between 2000 and 2008, the Internet seems to become a reality for more and more Rwandans. However, the country still has a long way to go given that only 3.1% of the people use the Internet and less than 0.5% of the people have a laptop computer (1).

At the pupil-teacher ratio, Rwanda is the dunce world with 68.3 students per teacher, just ahead of the Central African Republic (84.3), which is last with regard to this indicator. In terms of teacher training, however, Rwanda is an honorable score with 93.9% of teachers who received training in pedagogy.


One Rwandan woman out of two (52%) was been assisted by a qualified personnel for her delivery. Rwanda ranks much better than Burundi (34%) at this level but is far behind the DRC (74%).

With 78.5 per million deaths due to malaria, Rwanda receive honorable performance at this level in terms of the average rate of death in the least developed countries (99 per million) but the rate is still very high at the  global level.

Life expectancy is at 55.4 years, one of the lowest levels in the world, four years below the average of the low human development countries (58.7) and 15 years below the average worldwide (69.8).

Economic growth

Despite the significant improvement in health care and education, the impressive growth of gross domestic product (GDP) of Rwanda in the period spanning from 2000-2010 is the most important explanatory factor for such an increase in the HDI. Indeed, with a double-digit growth of GDP in some periods, the country had one of the fastest growing economies in the world over the past ten years.

Strong growth in national income swelled the HDI given the large proportion (one third) occupied by the GDP in the calculation of the human development index. However, it is important to note that in general this is not problematic as long as the country has an egalitarian system of income redistribution, which is not the case for Rwanda.

By applying the inequality indicator, the Human Development Index for Rwanda decreases from 0.429 to 0.276, representing a reduction of more than 35%. With a Gini index of 0.531, Rwanda is indeed one of the most unequal nations in the world.

However, some economists such as Kuznets claim that income inequality is an obligatory stop for any growing society. In their view, the GDP growth is associated with inequality to a certain level and then inequalities decline.

Nevertheless, governments need to create micro and macroeconomic policies to efficiently fight against inequalities between people, a scenario that seems not to be the case in Rwanda. Reducing inequality is not mentioned among the objectives of the “Vision 2020”.

Life satisfaction

From a global point of view, with regard to the index of life satisfaction, Rwanda has a score of 4, the maximum satisfaction being 10, which makes Rwanda one of the countries in the world with the highest level of dissatisfaction rate, the same for DRC (4) and just ahead of Burundi (3.8), all three countries being below the average level of perceived satisfaction in the least developed countries (4.4).

Despite having one of the fastest growing of the HDI over the past 10 years and one of the fastest growing GDP in the world, most Rwandans still live in an extremely precarious situation, with nearly eight Rwandans out of 10 living with income that is below $ 1.25 a day and more than one Rwandan out of 2 living in extreme poverty. The overall level of performance of Rwanda is meanwhile still very low. Rwanda is among the 25 countries with the lowest human development index in the world.

This paradox is partly due to the widening gap each year between the rich and the poor.

As an illustration, between 2010 and 2011, the Gini coefficient increased from 0.467 to 0.531 which represents an upward variation of more than 13.7%. When one considers that the Gini index measures inequality of income in a given region (0 means perfect equality and 1 means that the wealth of the country belongs to one person), one may realize that the growing gap between the rich and the poor in Rwanda.

Will this gap between the rich and the poor continue to widen or will the government take drastic measures aimed at fighting against this problem? Is Rwanda heading towards an inequal system with the Gini coefficient of 1 or will it regain its 1985 level, where the Gini coefficient was 0.2892)?

Time will tell.

Translated by Amani Tuyishime

Original version by Clement Cyiza and Ruhumuza Mbonyumutwa


Click here to read the full report


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