Comparison of Economic and Social Development

Afghanistan and Rwanda:

Comparison of Economic and Social Development

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Since the advent of modern foreign policy, officials have used a myriad of names to refer to those countries that seem stunted in their growth. The term third world was first used during the period of bipolarity that was the cold war, but continues to be used today to denote those countries that have proven underdeveloped. The term developing is also often used as a more politically correct term for designating those countries that have not yet reached the standards of the developed world. Finally, the term least developed countries (LDCs) was coined by the United Nations to point out the least developed of the developing countries. Numbering fifty countries in all, the least developed countries are located on several continents, and seem to include a disproportionate number of islands (“List of Least Developing Countries” n.d.). The subject for this paper will be two of these states, Afghanistan in the Middle East and Rwanda in Africa. Both of these countries have quite a bit in common. In fact, both have engaged in civil wars within the last few years; both have received interventions from Western organizations; and both have felt the sour after affects of war. By first discussing the criteria for developing countries, then comparing Afghanistan and Rwanda in terms of economic and social development, a better understanding of what constitutes a developing country can be achieved.

Criteria for Developing Countries

Almost every country, in some way, can be considered developing. Maybe one country’s media is deficient, while another is struggling with a low literacy rate. Developing countries, on the other hand, are considered such because they can be described underdeveloped in key areas. That is, in order to be considered a developing state, a country must fulfill several requirements, ranging from economic and political development issues to social and literacy development. The United Nations lists the following criteria for its LDCs:

Economic underdevelopment: LDCs must have a low-income, defined as under $700 gross national income per capita.

Human resources underdevelopment: This is defined as a low Human Assets Index based on nutrition, health, education, and adult literacy.

Economic Vulnerability: This criteria, which consists of the country’s ability to produce income based on natural resources and resourcefulness, is related to the first, but measures the country’s potential rather than its current results (United Nations 2003).

In order to qualify as a LDC, a state must meat all of these criteria, according to the United Nations. Other criteria are necessary for the state to “graduate” from LDC status. Though the United Nation’s must have specific criteria to designate LDCs, as these countries represent the least developed of the underdeveloped, underdevelopment can consist of many more variables. For instance, Chaliand (n.d.) suggests that “poverty, high birthrates, and economic dependence on the advanced countries” (para. 1) are characteristic of developing nations. Chailand (n.d.) expounds on these characteristics, stating that many third world countries have economies that are based on producing goods and services for developed countries, and whose vast majorities are very poor. In addition, many of these countries are characterized by an extreme difference in lifestyle by the very rich and the very poor.

Politically, these third world countries must often deal with the reprocussions of colonialism or other “conquest or indirect domination” by the West (Chailand n.d.). Socially, the countries often lack the infrastructure to make services available to those who need them. Education and literacy are often low in these countries, and communities also remain uneducated in such progressive reforms as equality for men and women, ethnic groups, and human rights. Other characteristics of underdevelopment often focus on the political system and the effectiveness of government. Although a detailed examination of each of these characteristics, and others, would be valuable, this paper will focus on just two major areas — economic and social development. These terms are defined by the following descriptions:

Economic Development: Countries will be considered developing based on both the status of their current economies as well as their potential opportunities for growth. Countries unable to sustain their people, dependant on foreign aid, with a low potential for growth, and with a high rate of poverty will be considered underdeveloped.

Social Development: Countries that lack resources for citizens in the area of healthcare and education.

Economic Development

Both Afghanistan and Rwanda, survivors of wars that ripped their countries apart, show signs of poverty and economic need on both the national and per capita, or individual and familial, levels. According to Iraqi Finance Minister, Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, Afghanistan still faces “huge economic development challenges” (Bruno para. 1).

Although Afghanistan’s growth rate of 13.5% shows promise, two major areas of concern can be identified in Afghanistan’s economic development — the involvement of foreign powers in the country’s economy, and an agriculture-based economy. These two characteristics limit the potential of Afghanistan’s economic growth. Ahadi mentioned each in a recent interview, stating that Afghanistan is “totally dependent on foreign assistance as far as the development budget is concerned” (Bruno para. 10). Furthermore, the finance minister stated that many of the donations that Afghanistan has been receiving for reconstruction are not accessible by the national government, which he claims could use it better. Thus, Afghanistan is, in many ways, at the mercy of other states in terms of their economy. The country not only relies on economic assistance; but also foreign governments control how spending is done in Afghanistan. In terms of economic development, this suggests that the country is currently next to helpless, despite the evidence of growth. Adhadi mentioned that this is not about to change when he stated that he hoped Afghanistan could “generate enough domestic revenues to pay for [its] recurrent expenses” in four or five years while admitting that financing developmental assistance alone will take even longer (Bruno para. 11). This suggests that the country will not qualify as developed, economically, for quite some time.

In much the same way, Afghanistan’s economic potential suffers because of its reliance on agriculture as a primary revenue generator. In his interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Ahadi stated that the agriculture sector is highly dependent on the weather. When weather conditions are not optimal for agriculture, then crops do poorly. As this is an uncontrollable variable, it does not bode will for Afghanistan’s economic stability (Bruno para. 3). In addition, much of Afghan’s agricultural produce consists of narcotics, and the country faces a great deal of pressure to phase out this harmful crop. In addition, Afghanistan faces economic pressure from the terrorist organization the Taliban, who are invested in the continued production of narcotics (Bruno paras. 4-6). Furthermore, the Taliban stand to gain members and stability from those individuals in Afghanistan who are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis. With around 40% of the population unemployed and around five million under the poverty line, some join the Taliban to escape (“Poverty, unemployment”). Thus, not only will Afghanistan continue to rely on food production as a means of producing revenue, but it will also have to make up for the money spent on narcotics through other crops, as the Taliban continues to gain political strength through its membership of the unemployed.

Thus, Afghanistan can easily be described an economically underdeveloped or developing state. This is true for two reasons. First, Afghanistan’s present economy is marked by a reliance on foreign aid. Even though they have recently been devastated by war, this suggests that they are not developed enough to care for their own needs. In addition, the fact that foreign agencies are overseeing the disbursement of much of this aid suggests that Afghanistan is not developing its ability to manage its own resources. Afghanistan’s economic future is similarly less bright. Currently, the country relies heavily on a farming economy that is highly dependent on weather. Furthermore, much of the products that Afghanistan currently produces are narcotics, which the country is under international pressure to abandon. Finally, the Taliban, a terrorist organization, is bent on thwarting attempts to do so. Thus, both Afghanistan’s present economy and its prospects for development are rather low, suggesting that it has miles to go before reaching the goal of economically developed.

Much like Afghanistan, Rwanda’s current economic woes are a result of war. In 1994, one of the most devastating genocides in recent history tore Rwanda apart, “devistat[ing] the Rwandan economy and destroy[ing] much of the infrastructure,” in addition to decimating “the human resource base, in particular, of trained personnel” (Murenzi). Like Afghanistan, both Rwanda’s current and prospective economies are far from developed. Currently, Rwanda experiences a low per capita GDP and a high poverty rate. Most Rwandans live on less than $1 a day, which is the poverty line in the country. This means the per capita income is around $260 (Murenzi). Like Afghanistan’s economy, which is based primarily on agriculture, much of the Rwandan economy is similarly founded in this form of revenue creation, which can be easily swayed by the changing weather. For example, in 2004, bad weather threatened the already strained economic conditions in the area (USAID). In describing Rwanda’s current economic situation, Murenzi states that the country cannot “meet food and nutrition needs of the population at large,” has “exploit[ed]” the land, does not produce a diverse enough amount of goods, cannot stimulate its own economy because of a lack of wealth, especially among subsistence farmers, and has too weak of an infrastructure to support “low value, bulk commodities.” High population density, large amounts of debt, and a great deal of foreign aid complicate the current economic crisis in Rwanda (USAID). Thus, the current state of Rwanda’s economy can be described as developing primarily because the economy as it is cannot provide for its people.

Though Rwanda currently suffers from many economic problems, its future prospects are aided by several key factors — a general willingness and desire to be self-sufficient, an emphasis on technology as a method for development, and a large number of external contributors who are willing to help Rwanda develop economically. Unlike Afghanistan, whose Taliban seek to inhibit economic growth, Rwandans welcome it. In 2004, Rwanda joined the Common market of Eastern and Southern Africa and accepted “a peer review of governance under the auspices of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development…and the African Union” (USAID). Across the country, women have been integral in boosting Rwanda’s economy, taking out micro loans and starting businesses to support their families, and supporting their country in the process. These women, many of whom are working for the first time, have helped to “fight the cycle of poverty,” through their own determination (Fiola A01).

Furthermore, Afghanistan’s focus on agriculture, especially the cultivation of narcotics, has limited its prospects for future growth. Rwanda, on the other hand, has decided to harness technology in order to develop, developing a Ministry in Charge of Science, Technology, and Scientific Research in 2006. The ministry has adopted several lofty goals such as developing legal standards for scientific development, establishing a fund for scientific research, and building facilities for scientific research (Murenzi). In addition, NGOS, the World Bank, and other contributors have expressed an interest in contributing to Rwanda’s lofty goals.

Despite these positive trends, however, Rwanda, like Afghanistan, faces many challenges in its economic potential. Despite the desire of Rwandans and the emphasis on technology, Rwanda still will face the problem of overcoming an agriculturally-based community. The scars of genocide have yet to heal, and violence still erupts in the country, making it unstable. In addition, Rwanda’s dependence on foreign aid money to launch effective programs makes self-sufficiency a difficult achievement. Thus, when assessed in terms of their present and potential economies, both Afghanistan and Rwanda can be considered developing because they have severe economic woes currently, as well as significant problems to overcome in the future, or limited future potential. While Rwanda’s economy might be more ready to develop than Afghanistan’s, it is clear that both economies, as well as the potential for economic growth, are underdeveloped.

Social Development

Still wrecked from the wounds of war, social development in Afghanistan is more than necessary. Still, when assessed, Afghanistan’s development in the areas of healthcare and education has much to be desired. In the area of healthcare, citizens are often left fighting diseases because they cannot afford the cost of private hospitals. Citizens who cannot afford these hospitals must often travel many miles to free hospitals set up by charities, or use government hospitals. Although the numbers of hospitals have risen, and the government claims that free hospitals are available for most, citizens say that this isn’t the case, that the free healthcare is not adequate and is often too far away. With high infant mortality rates, underweight and dying children, ill-equipped hospitals, and limited technological advances, some compare the amount of money spent on healthcare with the amount spent by the United States on the war effort (Lyn). Those citizens who cannot afford to pay for hospital care might even be more at risk of getting certain diseases, as Leslie et al. confirmed that “knowledge about reducing exposure” to bird flu was “associated with socioeconomic status,” among other factors (1459).

Rwanda, as well, suffers deficiencies in healthcare, but the emphasis in Rwanda is not on bird flu, but HIV. In fact, Allen et al. state that Rwanda has a high rate of HIV infected patients, as well as a high infant mortality rate. In their study, which compared pregnancy and hormonal contraception use with HIV, the researchers recommended that HIV education and family planning should be intertwined and used to teach Rwandan men and women how to avoid both HIV and pregnancy (1017). Currently, the infant mortality rate is at 11%, and 1.4% of mothers die in childbirth. More than five percent of Rwandans are infected with HIV (USAID). Like in Afghanistan, preventable diseases kill many children; one-fifth of children die before they reach the age of five (USAID).

Other health issues in Rwanda stem from the limited access to clean water and overpopulation (Murenzi), along with a life expectancy rate of 40 (USAID). Thus, both Afghanistan and Rwanda have proved to be underdeveloped when it comes to healthcare. In Afghanistan, numbers seem to reflect available facilities, while citizens argue that that these facilities are not available to all. In Rwanda, statistics tell of death, disease, and HIV and AIDS. While healthcare seems to be mutually deficient in both countries, scholars suggest a campaign for education in both areas will see results. For example, education regarding the bird flu in Afghanistan may help prevention, while education regarding HIV and AIDS in Rwanda, some believe, will slow the outbreak.

Education as a whole in both countries, however, leaves much to be desired. In Afghanistan, the decision to go to school is a risky one, since the Taliban tend to focus on students leaving schools as a method of intimidation. Students are shot and sometimes killed. Because of this, many parents choose not to send their children to school. Even with this risk, however, the advent of the U.S.’s intervention in Afghanistan began a new trend — women in school. While females were not allowed to attend school in the recent past, based on Taliban law, they are now able to get an education, not only in learning, but also in equality, a lesson whose significance is not lost on their male peers. In 2007, education enrollment as a whole appeared to have doubled since the Taliban days. But the attacks on schools deter some who could otherwise choose education and literacy (Bearak). These brutal attacks do not discourage many girls, however, who often walk for hours and pledge to go to school despite injuries they received while attempting to attend in the past. In fact, many institutions specifically for females and their education have been developed (Gayle). Despite these encouraging stories, only about half of school age students in Afghanistan are enrolled, and these numbers may be inflated (Bearak). With students serving as targets, educational development will most likely refrain from improving in the near future.

In Rwanda, however, education receives a much grander status. Although Rwanda’s literacy rate is only 69%, each adult has only about 2.6 years of formal education (school), and enrollment in primary school is just above 50% (USAID), the idea of education in Rwanda is exploding. Rwanda’s emphasis on technology has instilled in the country’s citizens a desire to harness this power in order to advance their technology. Thus, the respect for technology and science learning is great. In fact, Breen states that “the Rwandan government is currently investing a great deal of time and resources in improving its education system as a means of emancipating its people from the poverty and ignorance of the past” (1). Technology has been helping Rwanda further that goal by providing distance education courses for those in Africa who want to train in the teaching or other professions (Breen 2). One of these distance learning programs is called “Twese Hamwe,” which means “all together.” The program combines technology, classroom education, and an emphasis on theory, interaction, and collaberation (Breen 3). The goal of the project, which is a partnership between a university in Rome and one in Rwanda, is to help the developing country and then pull out, allowing the developing country “become independent in using their own courses independently without the assistance of external agencies” (Breen 3). Despite the fact that Rwanda’s attitude toward education is favorable, however, it still remains true that literacy and education rates in the country are low, perhaps because families must work instead of spending time in schooling, tuition is too high, or schools are not centrally located.

Thus, in terms of social development, both Afghanistan and Rwanda can use improvements when it comes to healthcare and education. Although some improvements, such as an increase in the number of hospitals, scholars’ interest in AIDS education programs, and a common understanding of the importance of education, have been made, still more must come. Currently, in terms of healthcare, both Afghanistan and Rwanda can be considered underdeveloped, though in different ways. Afghanistan’s primary worry is a lack of facilities and equipment, as well as an unequal healthcare system, while Rwanda’s major problem is HIV and AIDS, as well as the educational programs needed to conquer it. In terms of schooling, both those in Rwanda and Afghanistan want to receive an education, for the most part, but are prevented by fear and logistics. In considering these topics of social development, it becomes clear that other issues of underdevelopment, such as equality issues and government corruption, will need to be addressed before the countries can attain a developed country status.


While many terms have been used to denote countries that are in need of development, the term least developed country was created by the United Nations, and signifies the least developed of the underdeveloped. Both Afghanistan and Rwanda are on this list. Although many characteristics exist, which denote states as developed or developing, this paper chose to focus on two in the spirit of the UN requirements for least developed nations — economic and social development. Within these topics, though, it becomes clear that humanitarian development, equality development, and political development, as well as other characteristics, are woven together to suggest the idea of the fully developed nation. Both Afghanistan and Rwanda have many miles to go before they can achieve this. While these countries show different levels of development within different subtopics, both are characterized by a mixture of success and failures, as well as a desire to succeed. After comparing these nations, it becomes clear that developing countries are those who do not have a few easily defined problems, but barriers that stretch back years and centuries that prevent them from developing. Still, with desire, technology, and foreign assistance, this comparison has also proven that there is hope.

Works Cited

Allen, Susan, Stephenson, Rob. Weiss, Heidi, Karita, Etienne, Priddy, Frances, Fuller,

Laurie, Declerco, Andre. “Pregnancy, Hormonal Contreceptive Use, and HIV-Related Death in Rwanda.” Journal of Women’s Health. 16.7 (2007): 1017-1027.

Bearak, Barry. “Education in Afghanistan: A harrowing choice.” The International

Herald Tribune. 9 July 2007. 8 March 2009.

Bruno, Greg. “Ahadi: Afghanistan’s Economic Fortunes.” The Council on Foreign

Relations. 15 April 2008. 7 March 2009.

Chaliand, Gerard. “Third World: Definitions and Descriptions.” Third World Traveler.

A n.d. 7 March 2009.

Fiola, Anthony. “Women Rise in Rwanda’s Economic Revival.” The Washington Post.

16 May 2008: A01.

Gayle, Helene. “In Afghanistan, Education Under Attack.” The Washington Post. 22

December 2008. 8 March 2009.

Lesie, Toby, Billaud, Julie, Mofleh, Jawad, Mustafa, lais, and Yingst, Sam. “Knowledge,

Attitudes, and Practices regarding Avian Influenza (H5n1), Afghanistan.” Emerging Infectious Diseases. 14.9 (2008): 1459-1461.

Lyn, Tan Ee. “Afghanistan struggles to provide decent healthcare.” RAWA News. 21

April 2008. 8 March 2009.

Murenzi, Romain. “Poverty Alleviation and Economic Growth in Rwanda through S&T.”

The World Bank Institute. October 2008. 7 March 2009.

Breen, Paum. “Coming out of the Darkness of the Past.” Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education. 7.4 (2006): 1-8.

Poverty, unemployment driving Afghanistan towards instability.” RAWA News. 28

September 2008. 7 March 2009.

United Nations. “List of Least Developed Countries.” UN Office of the High

Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. n.d. 7 March 2009.

United Nations, “The Criteria for the identification of the LDCs.” UN Office of the High

Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and small Island Developing States. n.d. 7 March 2009.

USAID. “Rwanda.” USAID. 14 June 2005. 7 March 2009.

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