Saturday, December 1, 2012

UK Terminates Rwanda Aid: Kagame you Reap what you Sow

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UK has now announced the much anticipated decision to terminate $23m budgetary support to Rwanda. This comes in the midst of yet another report that leaves little doubt on Rwanda's destabilizing role in neighboring DRC.

Earlier on, there had been some push back spearheaded by Phil Clark, a SOAS, University of London lecturer. On Twitter, I had a rather interesting debate with him extending for about two days

Clark's main point is that cutting budgetary support to Rwanda would mostly hurt the poorest. He further suggests that Rwanda is one of the most effective aid users. The two points are hardly reassuring when one considers the humanitarian calamity that Rwanda's actions are causing--more than 500,000 have been displaced from their homes. But there are more reasons that cast doubt on his position.

First, the idea that Rwanda uses aid effectively merits serious scrutiny. Such a position does not augur well with the conduct of the Rwandan state--both internally and externally. For all intent and purpose, Rwanda is a brutal dictatorship, which disallows free expression and whose executive has personalized its institutions. This is why I've remained skeptical of reports by Transparency International suggesting zero corruption levels. Given the climate of terror, one would have to bear the courage of a lion to complain about the simplest forms of corruption. The consequences for speaking out tend to be dire.

Second, there is little evidence to suggest that aid to Rwanda reaches the very poorest. In fact, reality does tend to suggest otherwise. Much of the touted "economic miracle" seems to have benefited Kigali (the capital) at the expense of everywhere else. This is strategic for Kagame's PR purposes. Far from this facade; however, most of the country's villages remain chronically destitute. Journalists who praise Rwanda's capital for "clean streets" tend to forget that more than 93% of Rwandans are rural dwellers--the poorest among them forbidden from entering the capital.

In deed, Kigali may be the only capital in the world that is 100% free of homeless people. However, don't be deceived! This is hardly a a proof of social progress. Rather, it is a reminder of the lingering repression.

Terminating aid will certainly have a negative effects on the poor, but not for the reasons suggested by Clark. Rather, as a Rwandan colleague recently told me, the government will capitalize on extorting more money from an already impoverished population.

I've learned of numerous (and growing) cases where the government is forcing public servants to surrender a portion of their salary for the proposed sovereign fund. Those most affected by this scam are primary school level teachers whose current starting salary is a meager $50. 

It is also likely that taxes will hike to offset the rising cost of public spending--especially if the government continues to purchase arms for terrorist groups in the DRC.  

On a positive note, terminating aid will surely remind Kagame that it is not business as usual (despite what Tony Blair tells him). It is important for dictators, blinded by their oversize egos, to be reminded that the world will hold them accountable. Kagame has an opportunity to learn and perhaps change his criminal ways.

In the meantime, kudos to Britain for showing a dictator his place!

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