What Rwanda can learn from China’s poverty alleviation journey

By Théophile Niyitegeka
On 31 December 2023 at 04:10

Under President Paul Kagame’s leadership, Rwanda has made remarkable progress in enhancing citizens’ well-being and reducing poverty since the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. From 2002 to 2022, life expectancy in Rwanda soared from 51.2 to 69.6 years. Notably, poverty rates saw a significant drop from 60.4% in 2000 to 38.2% in 2017, with extreme poverty plummeting from 40% to 16% during the same period.

Despite Rwanda’s population being considerably smaller at 13.2 billion compared to China’s 1.4 billion, both nations have demonstrated noteworthy achievements. In 2022, China’s GDP surged to a staggering 18.1 trillion USD, while Rwanda experienced a substantial increase in its GDP from $11.07 billion in 2021 to $13.31 billion in 2022.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations with Rwanda in 1971, China has proven itself to be a friendly partner, setting an example with its bold ambitions and impressive strides in poverty alleviation. To this end, the need for interdependence and the sharing of best practices cannot be understated.

China’s prowess in poverty reduction is marked by remarkable progress and innovative strategies. As of 2020, China witnessed an astonishing pace of poverty reduction, lifting one person out of poverty every 2.24 seconds translating into 10 million every year since 2012. The Chinese government’s commitment to this cause is evident in its annual funding increase of US$14.3 billion.

From 2013 to 2019, the disposable income of rural poor citizens in China experienced a notable growth of 19.7%, surpassing the national average by 2.2 percentage points. Key to this success was the substantial improvement in rural infrastructure, providing safe housing for 57 million residents and relocating 10 million to new communities, resulting in a fivefold increase in rural per capita housing area.

China implemented comprehensive rural development initiatives, including paved roads, universal electricity coverage, broadband accessibility, and widespread adoption of universal health insurance in impoverished regions. Impressively, over 95% of impoverished counties in China maintained school retention rates.

China, despite possessing only 9% of the world’s arable land and 6% of its fresh water, manages to feed 22% of the global population. Per capita consumption of staple foods in China grew from 209 kg to 472 kg annually, surpassing the international 400-kg security line. This progress is reflected in the decline of Engel’s coefficient, addressing concerns about food and clothing.

China’s commitment to agricultural advancement is evident through increased subsidies for machinery, surpassing a 70% mechanization rate for major crops, and the abolition of agricultural taxes. Targeted poverty alleviation efforts lifted nearly 100 million people out of poverty from 2012 to 2019, reducing the rural impoverished population from 98.99 million to 5.51 million.

China’s comprehensive approach involved officials working in impoverished areas, significant central government funding, and broad societal participation. This collective effort contributed to a global poverty reduction exceeding 70%, with over 700 million people lifted out of poverty since the 1970s.

By 2020, China achieved its goal of poverty alleviation, surpassing the UN Sustainable Development Goals by a decade. In 2021, China declared the eradication of extreme poverty, lifting 770 million people out of poverty since 1978 and establishing a moderately prosperous society.

By drawing inspiration from China’s experience, Rwanda can further its journey toward alleviating poverty and creating a brighter future for all.

Poverty relief assistants and village officers help carry melons planted by villagers in Dongqin Village, Congjiang County of southwest China's Guizhou Province, Nov. 11, 2020. (Xinhua/Yang Wenbin)
Aerial photo taken on April 28, 2020 shows a view of a poverty-relief relocation site in Nandan County, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Cao Yiming)