Security Challenges in East Africa: Economic and Social Concerns – Part 2

By Nadav Morag, Ph.D., University Dean of Security Studies

CTU’s Global Security Series offers background on current national and homeland security topics. Dr. Morag recently participated in the Eastern Accord 2012 Counter Violent Extremism Exercise in Arusha, Tanzania. His third post in this series looked at some of the economic and social challenges facing Djibouti, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia.Today’s final post will focus on the same challenges facing Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

CTU Homeland Security Degree - East African Security IssuesDuring the first half of September, I had the opportunity to speak at and participate in an exercise held by the U.S. Army’s component of USAFRICOM (one of the United States’ regional combatant commands).  This exercise brought the United States together with senior military officers and police officials from seven African countries: Djibouti, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, and the new country of South Sudan, as well as representatives of the East African Union (EAC), to share best practices and concerns regarding violent extremism in east Africa.  This was a unique opportunity to gain insight into the concerns and issues facing east African countries.

The East African countries represented in this exercise are facing significant economic and political challenges. Let’s take a closer look at the primary social divisions and economic challenges facing Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

Rwanda is a tiny country, smaller than Maryland, that is very crowded and has a population of approximately 11 million. It is, in fact, the most densely populated country in Africa.  Over 90% of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture and GDP per capita stands at $1,400.  Rwanda, like other countries in the region, is primarily agricultural and only 19% of the population live in the country’s capital and only major city, Kigali.  Most of Rwanda’s exports are in minerals, coffee and tea.  The GDP per capita is $1,400 and the country’s literacy rate is 71%.

Rwanda’s population is primarily Christian (Catholics are 57% of the population followed by Protestants, which are 37% of the population) with a comparatively small percentage of Rwandans, 5%, being Muslim.  The country is divided primarily between Hutus (84%) and Tutsis (15%), which are not really tribes but more like economic castes. The official languages are Kinyarwanda, French, English and Swahili.  Rwanda’s history, post-independence from Belgium in 1962, was characterized by severe ethnic strife between Hutus and Tutsis interspersed between periods of calm.  During the Rwandan civil war and genocide in 1994, close to one million Rwandans were butchered by Hutu extremists, and the country and society, not surprisingly, are still traumatized by the genocide.  Moreover, about 55,000 Hutu refugees live across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and their guerrilla forces still represent a threat to the Rwandan state.

Burundi is another tiny country that is about the same size as Rwanda and with almost the same size population.  It too is a former Belgian colony that achieved independence in 1962.  Like Rwanda, Burundi is a primarily agricultural country and is resource poor and the country’s primary exports are coffee and tea.  As befitting an agricultural country, only 11% of the population lives in cities, of which the major one is the capital city, Bujumbura.  Burundians are significantly poorer than Rwandans, and, indeed, than any of the other populations in this survey, as their per capital GDP stands at only $600. This makes Burundi’s population, on average, as poor as Somalia’s and among the five poorest national populations in the world.  Burundi’s literacy rate is 67%.

The majority of the country is Christian (67%) followed by indigenous beliefs (23%) and the Muslim minority makes up 10% of the population.  The proportion of Hutus (85%) to Tutsis (14%) is almost identical to those in Rwanda and the country has two official languages, Kirundi and French.  As in Rwanda, Burundi has experienced periods of severe communal violence between Hutus and Tutsis (though nothing as severe as the Rwandan genocide). 

South Sudan
South Sudan is the world’s newest country – having achieved independence from Sudan in July 2011 –and is about the size of Texas.  It benefits from having plentiful natural resources including oil, diamonds, gold, silver, and a variety of other metals.  However, being landlocked (like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Zambia) it is dependent on neighboring countries’ ports and, crucially, on an oil pipeline through Sudan in order to export its products.  The rate of urbanization is low and only 22% of the population live in the capital city, Juba, or other large towns.  Not surprisingly, most of the population engages in subsistence agriculture and virtually none of the country’s mineral wealth trickles down to the average South Sudanese.  There are no official estimates, yet, as to GDP per capita in South Sudan, but its population is almost certainly even poorer than that of Burundi. The country’s literacy rate is also depressingly low, and far below any of the other countries surveyed here, standing at only 27%. 

Most of South Sudan’s population is either Christian or follows traditional African religions. The population is divided into over 60 tribal groups with the largest tribe being the Dinka, followed by traditional rival tribal groups, the Nuer and the Murle.  South Sudan has significant tribal rivalries and these are often exacerbated by the government of Sudan, which has an interest in destabilizing South Sudan (with which it fought a civil war between 1983 and 2005, prior to South Sudan becoming independent).  In addition to the tribal languages, South Sudan’s official languages are English and Arabic.

As can be seen from the data above and in last week’s post on Djibouti, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, the East African countries in this survey still face significant challenges in developing economically and, at least in some of the cases, in achieving political stability.  Economic development and a solid political system will allow these countries to unlock their human potential and to better manage their natural and other economic resources.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency – The World Factbook

Image credit: Instagram/bradpuet


CTU Faculty - Nadav MoragNadav Morag, Ph.D., is University Dean of Security Studies, at CTU. He works on projects for the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense and is a published author on terrorism, security strategy, and foreign policy. Connect with Dr. Morag on Twitter @CTUSecurity. 


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