The contradictions of an aspiring developmental state: energy boom and bureaucratic independence in Rwanda

Barnaby Dye, Benjamin Chemouni

Research output: Working paper


Scholars have typically explained the developmental performance of late-late developers through the analytical lens applied to East Asian developmental states, a lens that focuses on bureaucratic capacity and the bureaucracy’s relationship with businesses and with society more broadly. In contrast, relatively limited attention is devoted to the relationship between bureaucrats and politicians. This is surprising, as a rich literature exists on this topic in developed countries and recent work has underlined the importance of the bureaucratic–political interface in poorer countries’ reform processes. This article contributes to addressing this gap. It demonstrates the significance of internal regime dynamics between politicians and bureaucrats as a factor explaining states’ ability to create functioning economic development. Using the case of the electricity sector in the aspiring developmental state, Rwanda, it shows the importance of what we term bureaucratic independence – the ability of the civil service to formulate technical advice and to deploy it in policymaking. We demonstrate how the absence of such independence produces economically-wasteful, even developmentally-detrimental, outcomes. This is notable, given the capability of Rwanda’s bureaucracy, the resources available for projects and the strong commitment of ruling elites to long-term development ambitions. By limiting the space for administrators to assert their professional perspective on policymaking and implementation, the executive branch of government and the wider ruling party have created an electricity production system poorly attuned to Rwanda’s energy demand profile, and one that is prohibitively costly, particularly in the African context. Thus, we argue that understanding a state’s development potential involves analysis of the power relations between rulers and the wider state apparatus.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
PublisherFutureDAMS/IUKDP Working Paper
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020

Publication series

NameFutureDAMS Working Paper Series


  • political economy
  • Rwanda
  • Electricity sector
  • Bureaucracy
  • Developmental state

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