Rwanda's dark past is no reason to withhold aid

A country trying to mend itself needs more, not less, help

Share
Related Topics

There is something of the hokey-cokey about Britain's attitude to Rwanda at the moment. Aid was cut off in July. Then restored in September. Then cut again on Friday. In out. In out. Shake it all about. But there is more to this than incompetence or political swithering. It reflects one of the deepest dilemmas about the whole business of giving aid to poor people.

Our policy is to give aid to countries making efforts to improve democracy, root out corruption, promote peace and respect human rights. Aid works better in those conditions. Rwanda is – like Uganda and Ethiopia before – a "donor darling". It has lifted a million people out of poverty through good government and a clampdown on corruption. Schools, hospitals, roads and communications have been built and staffed. It will meet the Millennium Development Goals. It has shown that the cycle of African poverty can be broken when aid is combined with free-market principles.

But the architect of that success, Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame, has been accused of arming the M23 rebels in neighbouring Congo where violence has displaced almost half a million people, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis. So the UK has decided it must send an "unequivocal message" to Kagame to stop supporting the militias.

Yet stopping aid will also cause long-term social and economic damage. It could reverse the huge progress that has been made for the very poor. So the choice is not between right and wrong but between human rights and economic rights. Does harm to the former outweigh the good of the latter? And where is the balance between the short and the long term?

Rwanda was, less than 20 years ago, the scene of the biggest and most brutal genocide of modern times. Some 800,000 people were slaughtered in their homes because they belonged to the minority Tutsi tribe; 200,000 Hutus participated in the crime, backed by the state. Today, Kagame's style as a "developmental paternalist" may look to some like a repressive regime but it allows a power-sharing that might otherwise not be possible. There are also trade-offs between democracy and development: Zambia has a good peaceful democracy but a stagnant economy because political choices override economic ones. There is always a price to pay.

The same is true of peace and security. The M23 rebels are not just fighting the Congolese army but also the FDLR militias – the very Hutu killers who perpetrated the genocide and who routinely stage grenade attacks into Rwanda. The presence of rich mineral resources in the area complicates the motives of all factions. But Kagame is clearly not prepared to risk obeying high-minded instructions from the same Western policymakers who saw preparations for the 1994 genocide unfold and did nothing. Failure to prioritise state security, including downsizing the army, could more than undermine aid efforts.

There is another problem. Intelligence on the extent of Rwanda's support for M23 is based on a July UN report. Many donor nations cut aid after it. But the report is not so clear-cut as many suppose. Its analysts spent only a few days in the area and relied on the testimony of Congolese intelligence officials and army defectors whose impartiality is in doubt. They reported details of transport of military equipment that would have been technically impossible and military training at a place that turns out not to be a barracks but a military hospital. The report is insufficient if not inadequate.

Cheap-shot critics of Britain's largely excellent aid programme may yet see the balance swing back in favour of aid to Rwanda.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?