Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department


Reader 1

Peter Uvin

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© 2017 Stephen M. Powell


Rwanda is a small resource poor country in East Africa that has experienced almost two decades’ worth of significant growth following a genocide that claimed almost 10% of the country’s population. This paper explores the role of positive autonomy in the countries path to development hoping to demonstrate that countries that are ready to pursue independent policy initiatives ought to be encouraged to do so by their international partners. Positive autonomy has three defining characteristics; the ability of a country to pursue its own internally driven policy choices, especially in the face of external opposition but not necessarily in the face of opposition, “ownership” of a community over policy developments that affect them, i.e. their involvement in the administration of policy, and lastly, the ability of a country to reject policy propositions from the outside. Negative autonomy would be a lack of two or more of those conditions. Using this model, I seek to show that these three characteristics have been pursued by Rwanda as a result of its pre-genocide history. I also seek to show that these three characteristics have played a vital role in the development of Rwanda by allowing the government to pursue innovative strategies outside of international norms. To demonstrate this conclusion, I first look to the pre and post-colonial histories of Rwanda in order to examine the role of negative autonomy, seeking to build a case that demonstrates its lasting impact in Rwanda’s political character. I then examine an extreme case of negative autonomy in the case of the CFA monetary union followed by an extended examination of a clear case of positive autonomy in Rwanda and the benefits and failures it has produced. I then briefly examine the relationship between development aid and influence also demonstrating that Rwanda’s position on development aid mirrors its position on positive autonomy in general. Finally, I briefly examine three different examples of positive autonomy in Rwanda as a supplement to the extended example to demonstrate that some of the biggest policy initiatives undertaken by the Rwandan government are either the result of positive autonomy, are successful because of positive autonomy or can be drastically improved by a better implementation of positive autonomy. I hope that this research can be seen as a fresh lens for examining the relationship between weak and powerful states to validate the position that more autonomy for weaker states in their decision-making processes can produce much more successful results in their development drives.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.