In this paper I explore tensions and conflicts over poverty reduction and urban development in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital in terms of theories of performativity. On one hand, motorcycle taxis offer large numbers of young men good livelihoods – reflecting the government of Rwanda’s stated commitment to poverty reduction, especially amongst youth; on the other, motorcycle taxi drivers suffer harassment at the hands of city authorities and police, who are keen to eradicate motorcycle taxis from the urban scene altogether. I interpret this tension as a conflict over the appropriate performance of development in the city; I argue that in pursuit of urban development, the city itself becomes an image, projected in order to attract the investment which will give body to the simulated spectacle that Kigali present. Conflicts between the city and motorcycle taxi drivers erupt because motorcycle taxis cannot perform to the aesthetic standards of the new Kigali. In conclusion, I suggest that the rendition of Kigali’s development as image has broader lessons for studies of development in general. Specifically, these conflicts expose the operation of images and their performance as political resources, conferring intelligibility and legitimacy in the spectacle of national development.
Key words: Rwanda, poverty reduction, urban development, performativity