Accepted paper:

Illegible livelihoods: Rwandan motari and the state rituals of development


Will Rollason (Brunel University London)

Paper short abstract:

Motorcycle taxi drivers in Kigali, Rwanda are successful in escaping poverty but do not constitute an instance of development defined as poverty reduction. Development it seem must take specific ritual forms to be valid, an observation we could apply more widely to the enlightenment project of economics.

Paper long abstract:

Around 10,500 motorcycle taxi drivers work in Kigali, Rwanda's capital. Within the context of a city marked by high rates of urbanisation, youth vulnerability and immiserisation, these young men are remarkably successful in making livelihoods. Yet paradoxically for a state committed to poverty reduction, their work is nowhere recognised as a positive force for development in the city. Rather, they are excluded and victimised by the city authorities, who are committed to the development of Rwanda through the spectacular modernisation of the capital. Despite the sector's success in raising vulnerable youth out of poverty, motorcycle taxis are invisible as agents of development, something which, it seems, must be enacted in rather specific ways to achieve visibility. We already know that for funders, development projects must take certain 'magic' forms to correspond to favoured strategies, a pattern which is usually understood in discursive terms. In Kigali, however, development appears to be compelled from the population as a practical, ritual demonstration of state success and legitimacy — an activity which simultaneously excludes and delegitimises heterodox praxis. A performative, rather than a strictly discursive interpretation — one focusing on the ritual act rather than the scriptural content of development appears most appropriate. This analysis has wider possibilities. Inasmuch as 'development' and economic policy (through totalising agendas of poverty reduction) coincide throughout much of the developing world, can we therefore likewise speak of contemporary economic policy as an exercise in performance? Could Adam Smith's quintessentially 'enlightenment' project be nothing more than a manual for ritual?

panel P29
Rituals of development: the magic of a modernising project