Problematizing state capacity: The Rwandan case

Leander Heldring, James A. Robinson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We argue that the effectiveness of Rwandan governments, both at implementing the 1994 genocide and inducing the current growth miracle, illustrates that the state has high capacity. Yet this capacity is not captured by conventional Weberian concepts, with their focus on taxation and formal bureaucracy. Rather, the capacity of Rwanda's state relies on its ability to leverage dense social networks which connect it to society. The origins of these networks lie in the construction of the historical state which expanded by merging with local lineages and kinship groups. Using data on the historical expansion of the Rwandan state as a proxy for the strength of state-society social networks we show they are uncorrelated with measures of Weberian state capacity. In a fieldwork exercise, we show that rule compliance today is positively correlated with our proxy, but uncorrelated with Weberian state capacity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-425
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Institutional Economics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 23 2023


  • Rwanda
  • social networks
  • state capacity
  • Weber

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Problematizing state capacity: The Rwandan case'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this