5 December 2012

Rwanda's Aid Cuts - a Blessing in Disguise?


One of my favourite modules during my post-grad studies was scenario planning. The concept of envisioning the most radical and unforeseen changes in the future, and planning for such situations seemed like a fun game rather than an academic exercise.

In a nutshell, scenario planning builds on identifying, and reacting to, key forces both known and unknown, that are outside the control of one's organisation or community. Originally a military concept, scenario planning has gone on to be adopted by corporate organisations, and various think tanks on a national level.

Some of the scenarios we'd plan for as students included a world where air became a valuable commodity. Or a future where books were made obsolete by new advents in technology. We would form multiple futures, and imagination and creativity were key in this process, challenging various assumptions and values. A key feature in scenario planning is asking "what if?" and then identifying what it takes to be successful in each of the futures identified. What it is really, is thinking the unthinkable in a methodical way so as not to be taken aback and left paralyzed by an unforeseen event.

That is why, for certain scenario planners in Rwanda, having observed the politicization of aid by Western powers to aid-recipient states, the recent £21 million aid-cut to Rwanda last week Friday hasn't come as a surprise. The UK's on-and-off switching of its aid tap to Rwanda, simply illustrates aid's arbitrary nature. It brings to the fore the widely-held view that aid is often a means of reward and punishment, a sort of carrot-and-stick for aid recipient states that comply (or don't) to various donor interests.

As Rwandans, we shouldn't regard this so much as a slap in the face, but rather - a case of the wool being lifted over our eyes. That our exhaustive rebuttals to a super dubious, highly contested report by an anonymous Group of Experts alleging Rwanda's involvement in the DRC influenced this particular aid cut; speaks volumes. It speaks volumes on the concept of "development partners" and how perhaps there was never real mutual interest between various donors and Rwanda, with regard to the development of this country, or for that matter the DRC. It speaks volumes on the significance of Rwanda's voice in this saga, which is constantly ignored in favour of lazy Western journalism, or propagated untruths by various self-serving individuals. It doesn't even make logical sense that cutting aid to Rwanda will solve the issues in the DRC. Those issues are multiple in nature, and the abrupt un-negotiable aid-cut from the UK to Rwanda in light of all this clearly shows the supremely volatile nature of aid in an increasingly uncertain world.

Really, we shouldn't be shell-shocked by all this.

Rather, what should come as a real surprise would be the concerted effort by Rwandans to expedite the process of self-sustenance, in light of this aid-cut. We already begun with the Agaciro Development Fund, but we should be embarking on making real a future scenario of a self-sustained Rwanda, and the different implications this will have not only in the country but the region.

One can only imagine the strides, if Rwandan leaders applied the same level of energy and commitment they have for the Kigali Master Plan towards a long-term Aid-Free Rwanda Plan. Or something to that effect.

This aid cut at this particular time could very well be a blessing in disguise for all we know, one that expedites commonly held views of a country that should no longer rely on other people's taxes. There's no harm in seeking solutions in unconventional ways, in unusual places. After all, we're known quite well for that. We could also learn from others, who faced with similar challenges on a national level, "scenario-thought" their way out of them and successfully achieved a particular vision. The Mont Fleur Scenarios are one such example, which tells the story of how scenario planning was used to build shared vision and action in post-apartheid South Africa.

A lot of research is needed, a lot of planning is needed, new financial behaviours need to be adopted in this process, but when it's all said and done - it seems we may have just been given an incentive to start.

The author is a social critic based in Kigali.

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