The New Times (Kigali)

4 December 2012

Rwanda: Aid Cuts - Now Isn?t the Time to Panic

opinion

I've been, for the last few days, in a place so remote that even the thought of surfing the Internet would have been a fool's errand. While being detached from my trusty Google alerts, Twitter and Facebook was somewhat disconcerting at first, eventually I allowed myself to mellow out and enjoy a simply, and honestly, less stressful existence. The news junkie in me didn't like going 'cold turkey' but I managed.

The last time I was exposed to any of my news sources, the UK was still debating revoking our aid, the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB) were still above the political posturing and the M23 was still giving the FARDC a good kicking up and down North and South Kivu. And all the while, the member states of the ICGLR were trying to find a path to a sustainable peace in the region.

So, imagine my surprise when I got online on yesterday. I discovered that the UK Development Secretary Greening has suspended aid, as did the World Bank and the AfDB. The M23 had left Goma and retreated to its environs while the emboldened FDLR had attacked Rwanda, killing a park warden in Kinigi, causing the American government to issue a travel warning to its citizens, advising them not to travel to see the gorillas. I was amazed by just how much things could change in less than a week.

Yesterday morning, while listening to the Ministers of Finance, Defence and Foreign Affairs as they addressed both chambers of Parliament, I instantly understood what they were attempting to do. They were cutting through all the speculation and rumor in order to reassure Rwandans that their world wasn't crashing around their heads. As Minister Rwangombwa said, GDP will fall by around 1.5 per cent next year, from the expected seven percent growth, if almost all the donor monies are excluded from the national budget.

I will not be one of those people who totally dismiss these cuts, because, if we are to be honest, they will affect us in various ways. Inflation will certainly rise, certain development projects will have to be shelved and Rwanda's international brand will be harmed. However, we mustn't allow ourselves to become demoralized.

Just look back and remember how far we've come. Only 18 years ago, our ministries were stripped bare by a retreating genocidal government, with nary a pen, chair or table to be found. We didn't have an economy to talk about, never mind foreign exchange reserves. Everything must be put in perspective. While the cuts will affect us, they will not make us grovel, nor should they. We are a proud people who've seen worse days than these. When we plunged to the depths of hell, we lifted ourselves up. We weren't saved by the western media, NGO's and governments. We sought our own solutions and look at us now.

Will the farmer abandon his farm? Will the moto rider park his motorcycle? Will the civil servant stop serving the populace? Will the shop owner stop stocking their shelves? No. Tomorrow, they, and I, will go about our lives.

'Sibo Mana'. 'They are not God". No truer sentiments have been expressed. There are people who think that they have the power to determine other people's lives and destinies. They believe that because they have money, they are allowed to trample on people's rights. This kind of thinking must be challenged. As the President said, "we are a small country, not a small people".

I think that these aid cuts will, fifty years from now, be looked at as the moment that Rwandans challenged the prevailing view on what 'poor' nations could and couldn't do.

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