4 December 2012

Rwandans React to UK Aid Freeze

Photo: WFP/Marcus Prior
Receiving aid (file photo).

British government's recent decision to freeze its financial support to Rwanda has sparked concerns among Rwandans, with many criticising the move as ill-conceived.

British International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, last week, announced that she was withholding the next tranche of aid totalling 21 million UK Pounds (about Rwf21 billion), which was due for disbursement in December.

Greening's decision based on a controversial report by the United Nations Group of Experts (GoE) which accuses Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels opposed to the government in Kinshasa.

"I am very disappointed, not because they suspended the aid but because of the unfounded reasons they gave. They claimed they took the decision based on that flawed (GoE) report, which was full of lies," said Marie Immaculee Ingabire, chairperson of Transparency International -Rwanda.

"Yet in doing so, the UK ignored Rwanda's own rebuttal to that report. It is clear that the donor community is punishing Rwandans, yet most of the beneficiaries actually have little knowledge about the so-called M23 and have no idea what is really happening in the Congo, they are the biggest beneficiaries of this aid but are punished unfairly," she added.

The allegations accusing Rwanda of providing logistical support to the rebels first surfaced mid this year from a group led by Steve Hege, a man accused by Kigali of being sympathetic to the genocidal FDLR militias and promoting an anti-Rwandan government campaign.

In the years that preceded his appointment to the GoE on DRC, Hege published a series of articles in which he downplayed the threat posed by the Congo-based FDLR and described Rwandan leaders as Ugandan invaders.

In an article he wrote in 2009, he suggested that international opinion would ultimately "sour on Rwanda", which would give FDLR a political advantage.

Following release of the draft GoE report, a number of western countries withheld their aid to Rwanda.

However, the UK, the single largest donor to Rwanda, unfrozen part of its aid to Rwanda - US$12 million (7.5 million pounds) - in September and was due to release the other batch of funding this month.

Over the last one week, FDLR has attacked Rwanda twice from their bases in eastern DRC, killing two civilians.

In a statement, the Rwanda Civil Society Platform expressed concerns over the likely increase in the number of people living below the poverty line, and accused western countries of ignoring the fact that Rwanda is a leader in effective use of aid.

"We are aware that developmental aid is politicised but that shouldn't be done at the expense of people's lives. The same donors who are accusing Rwanda of providing logistical support to the M23 have evaluated Rwanda on several occasions and concluded that the aid that is given to Rwanda is used very effectively, it is strange how the same people turn around and claim that that aid is used to fund a rebellion," Eduard Munyamaliza, the Chairman Rwanda Civil Society Platform, said.

He added: "Currently, 44 per cent of Rwandans live below the poverty line and with aid suspension, this situation will worsen. The civil society is ready to do all it takes to ensure that the political crisis in the region does not affect the welfare of the people of Rwanda."

The Director of the Centre for Conflict Management at the National University of Rwanda, Prof. Paul Rutayisire, accused donors of bias against poor countries.

"Let's call a spade a spade; if anyone was genuinely looking around for an African country where they could withhold their aid, that country is DRC. That would be for obvious reasons which the donors know very well," Rutayisire said.

He accused the west of babysitting the Congo because of they are interested in the country's minerals.

"When a government minister in a western country is questioned about aid that goes to some countries, they don't say the truth. In the case of Rwanda, their citizens don't know the truth; political and economic interests take precedence,"

He called on Rwandans to work harder for self reliance, and rallied for continued support of the Agaciro Development Fund.

The Director of Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP), Prof. Peter Rwanyindo, said the UK should have engaged Rwanda more before taking such freezing aid.

"There are agreements that are normally signed between donors and the aid recipients. As such before the donor country decides to terminate a standing bilateral agreement, they are required to call for a review of the partnership with the recipient country and then a conclusion reached. In this case what we are seeing are unilateral decisions by donor countries to withdraw aid...all of a sudden."

He proposed that a joint independent team should be set up between the UK and Rwanda, and tasked with reviewing the credibility of the basis upon which the aid was frozen (GoE report), with the purpose of determining whether Rwanda breached the principles of the bilateral partnership that exist between the two countries.

In the meantime, Rwanyindo said, the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning John Rwangombwa will need to revise his 2012-13 budget.

Public spending in the current financial year had been projected to rise above Rwf1.3 trillion, with local revenues amounting to Rwf745 billion.

Lawmakers also expressed their disappointment in the donors' move to withhold aid to Rwanda based on a highly questionable report.

"The main problem is that donors are really failing to address the issue at hand in the Congo. The roots of the current crisis in Congo can only be traced in that country. The central issue is governance inefficiencies in that country," MP Zeno Mutimura said.

He added: "Secondly, by trying to portray that conflict more as an external issue, the west is directly undermining the efforts of the ICGLR (International Conference on the Great Lakes Region), which have showed signs of potential success. It is a shot in the arm which I think, is very unfair."

MP Gédéon Kayinamura, the Chairperson of the Chamber of Deputies' standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security, suggested that something suspicious is unravelling about aid and donor practices.

"Normally, governments should work and take decisions based on facts, in this case there no credible facts that implicate Rwanda in what's going on in the Congo.

"Another important element is that before suspending aid or any form of assistance, at least be courteous enough to respect the procedures; there should be minimum level of respect for the other partner" he said.

MP Ignacienne Nyirarukundo, Deputy Chairperson of the Chamber of Deputies' standing committee on Social Affairs, said, "Aid is always beneficial but what is very bad is the unexpected suspension yet we had planned for it in our national budget."

"There is nothing good about what is happening but it should also be an opportunity for us to re-examine the broad impact of aid. What is aid in the actual sense?" Nyirarukundo posed.

She added, "This is food for thought. Aid could be stopped for various reasons; it's really up to the giver to decide whether and when to give it to you. Of course, you want to see justice done; the reasons should be really sounding, as opposed to the current case. But still it's a lesson; we must continue to work hard to get out of aid trap."

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