A persistent unanswered question has been on the lips of everyone who has been observing conflicts and politics in different parts of the world. What are the criteria the Department for International Development (DfID) follows to distribute British taxpayers’ money as aid to different countries? Unless you assume there are hidden pointers that ordinary Westerners aren’t allow to know, no one would understand for example how Rwanda led by Paul Kagame could be one of the favourite beneficiaries, knowing that its record of human rights abuse is unprecedented.
Let’s forget the UN/ Gersony report of October 1994 or the Garreton report of 1997 which, though covered up and therefore not followed up, documented killing of thousands of Hutu population the first in Rwanda and the second in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). But the UN report published on October 1st, thanks to its leaking by the newspaper Le Monde a month earlier, accuses openly the Rwandan Patriotic Army and its AFDL partner in war of having committed acts of genocide in DRC. Since October 14th, 2010, the President of Rwanda has imprisoned Ms Victoire Ingabire, leader of FDU-Inkingi, an important opposition personality on Rwandan ring-fenced political space, and this occurring without any clear condemnation from the international community.
On the Mo Ibrahim Index Rwanda scores 47.2% and stands at no. 31 out 53 African countries. For a reminder, this index measures annually four parameters across the continent. These are safety and rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity, human development. Overall the country has moved backwards by 2.2% from previous period of 2007/8. There has as well been a significant decrease in safety and rule of law by 8.4%, while in terms of sustainable economic opportunity, a 2.2% increase had been registered.
In its press freedom index, Reporters without Borders indicates that Rwanda was ranked 157th out of 175 countries in the 2009 listing. The country was featured among the four lowest African scorers of the record. Eritrea, Somalia and Equatorial Guinea were the only countries below Rwanda in the ranking. Transparency International has on the other hand referred to Rwanda as the least corrupt country in East Africa. But it is arguable because, according to the country’s critic, there may not be official corruption following the fact that Rwanda is a police state. As Transparency itself points it out, ‘it was unable to produce a comparison of how Rwanda’s institutions fared because reports of bribery were so low – and no Rwandan organization was included in the regional comparison.’ For example, the South African newspaper Sunday Times uncovered in February 2010 the case of two luxury jets worth around one hundred millions of US $ belonging to the Rwandan president, and this may only be the tip of the iceberg.
At a time of drastic measures that the British government is currently taking to deal with its massive deficit, very few departments have seen their budgets increased. International development is among the handful winners. Apparently the department budget is ring-fenced, but even there fundamental changes may be planned in its spending. Anne McElvoy, writing in The Evening Standard, seems to be sceptical about supposed changes. ‘Ring-fencing of spending of international development, (which) means that less rigour will be applied there than in other areas – and in a department whose inefficiencies are legendary in Whitehall,’ she argues.
It has been announced that aid budget will mainly focus on ‘fragile states’ such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen and other countries deemed important for Britain’s national security, with less for prosperous nations such as India and China. The aim is seemingly to tackle underlying problems, such as poor education, governance and healthcare, which are exploited by militants seeking recruits for terrorism acts. However, such prioritisation supposes that hopefully, there won’t be any recruit from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi or Democratic Republic of Congo who will come to London to blow himself with other members of the public, since some of these countries could be as well called fragile states, when considered the total absence of political space for dissent voices.
Tim Whewell’s film, ‘What is the true price of Rwanda’s recovery’, which was shown on Newsnight in March 2010 on BBC Two, explained that whoever between Labour and Tories British political parties would’ve won the general elections, support to Paul Kagame’s regime would’ve remained. As for Britain’s role in supporting Rwanda, Mr. Cannon, British ambassador in Kigali, says that: ‘Although there are aspects of the country’s human rights that are not perfect – certainly we wouldn’t be here or doing what we’re doing if we didn’t think there was a commitment on the part of the government to the values we share.’ He points in particular to a shared commitment to pro-poor policies – thanks in part to British aid, the proportion of poor Rwandans fell from 70% of the population to 57% between 1994 and 2006. He however forgets to mention that in 1990, before the guerrilla war led by Paul Kagame, that proportion of poor Rwandans was according PNUD only 47%.
The particular treatment of Rwanda responds to a number of specific interests the country represents or defends for Britain in the Great Lakes region. French was replaced by English as national language, without any public consultation, despite the consequences of such decision on thousands of Rwandan public servants who had been educated in French for several generations. The Rwandan president was rewarded admission of his country to the Commonwealth though Rwanda and countries of the ex-British empire didn’t share any common heritage. Such admission maybe could’ve been tolerable at least if Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and other human rights organisations hadn’t vigorously denounced the level of human rights abuse by the Rwandan president.
But this was without considering current cuts that the coalition government Lib. Dem/ Conservatives would impose to the British nation or the exposure to compelling evidence of Paul Kagame’s crimes to the public which had turned a blind eye on his excesses because of his country’s recent history. Despite an increasing and unprecedented record of abuses of human rights particularly against Rwandan politicians from the opposition, Kigali doesn’t look worried to loose the support of Britain, this even after the publication of the UN report on crimes committed in DRC. The fact of pointing an accusatory finger to Paul Kagame seems to have rather radicalised his attitude towards his opponent politicians: Victoire Ingabire from the FDU-Inkingi and Me Bernard Ntaganda from Socialist Party Imberakuri are paying with tortures and imprisonment for the frustration of the Rwandan president. But this may not apply for Andre Rwisereka, vice-president of the Green Democratic Party of Rwanda who was apparently assassinated by the regime’s handlers in July 2010 for political reasons. On this particular case, Kigali has refused an independent inquiry into the death of this politician, but instead imprisoned probably innocent people to calm pressing calls for justice.
At the Conservative conference held a few months ago, the issue of human rights in Rwanda was apparently raised but couldn’t find any ear ready to listen to the point of concern. Those who tried to highlight the question found it played down because Rwanda is seen as a flagship for Britain in the matters of aid to development. But what the whole picture of support to Paul Kagame doesn’t tell is how that provided financial support enables Rwandan authorities to get a hand on Eastern Congo mineral resources with the complicity of private companies based in Western countries, or to oppress and legally discriminate among its citizens, and spread internationally its propaganda of being a success story in the midst of an African continent marred with conflicts and all sorts of negative clichés. Another hidden reality was uncovered by UN experts on the consequence of aid in the Great Lakes region. They found that, for example in the case of Uganda, ‘(it) gave the Government room to spend more on security matters while other sectors, such as education, health and governance, are being taken care of by the bilateral and multilateral aid,’ asserts the UN report of 2001 on ‘Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.’
In the light of current cuts, would British taxpayers continue to see their money which would have helped them or else to deal with ongoing tough times be spent as aid to development of dictatorial and oppressive governments such Rwanda, without asking pertinent questions to their leaders? I don’t think they would knowingly. As international aid budget is scheduled to increase during the current parliament, British public should be more attuned to asking from their ministers a minimum of criteria of human rights and press freedom, and democratic credentials, beneficiaries of British aid should comply with rigorously.