Is Kagame succeeding at nation-building?

This is from a paper that is forthcoming in the Journal of Political Economy:

Can a government in an ethnically divided, conflict-ridden society help bridge the ethnic divide?

…. This paper examines the role of propaganda as a tool of nation-building in Rwanda – a country in which Hutu extremists massacred more than 70% of the minority Tutsi population in 1994 in one of the worst genocides in recorded history. Critics of the government’s program of post-genocide nation-building (e.g. Thomson (2011a)), have noted how difficult it is to assess whether progress in ethnic reconciliation is cosmetic or real. In large part, this is because, under President Kagame, Rwanda is a quasi-autocracy that controls the media and tries to manage the narrative on reconciliation. In fact, according to a recent report on Rwanda in the New York Times: “Mr. Kagame has created a nation that is orderly but repressive…Against this backdrop, it is difficult to gauge sentiment about the effectiveness of reconciliation efforts.”

We exploit variation in exposure to the government’s radio propaganda due to the mountainous topography of Rwanda. Results of lab-in-the-field experiments show that individuals exposed to government propaganda have lower salience of ethnicity, increased inter-ethnic trust and show more willingness to interact face-to-face with members of another ethnic group. Our results suggest that the observed improvement in inter-ethnic behavior is not cosmetic, and reflects a deeper change in inter- ethnic attitudes. The findings provide some of the first quantitative evidence that the salience of ethnic identity can be manipulated by governments.

Taken together the evidence suggests that exposure to government radio leads to higher inter-ethnic trust and cooperation as well as lower ethnic salience.

Recall that the use of broadcast media — especially by Radio Television Libre des Mille Collineswas critical for mobilization that resulted in the Rwandan genocide.

The questions raised by the paper are a reminder that is in the long run, ethnic heterogeneity is endogenous to stateness and state capacity.

See, for example, the famous case of France.

Finally, Rwanda is still a personalist autocracy that is allergic to political freedoms and is a serial abuser of human rights. Whatever economic or socio-political developments Paul Kagame achieves while in office are at risk of unraveling as long as the entire political system remains organized around one mortal man.