Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, is under growing pressure from international donors to end alleged support for a fresh rebellion in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Netherlands on Thursday became the first European country to announce it was suspending budget support to the Kigali government as a result of evidence in a report by a United Nations group of experts. The report accused Rwandan officials of violating a UN arms embargo by supplying weapons, ammunition and fighters to the M23 militia in eastern Congo responsible for the heaviest outbreak of fighting in the region in several years.
Mr Kagame’s government has won international plaudits for the way it has used development aid to reduce poverty and foster economic growth. It still depends on foreign aid for more than one-third of its budget, but has actively sought to reduce its dependence. However, relations with donors have been strained as a result of human rights abuses at home and Rwanda’s military involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Congo.
A spokesman for the Dutch foreign ministry told the FT the Netherlands will, in concert with EU partners, determine its stance on development aid to Rwanda on the basis of the country’s formal reaction to the UN Group of Experts report, and on “developments in the field, including an immediate end to support from Rwanda for the rebels in the DRC”.
Scandinavian countries on the board of the African Development Bank also forced the delay of a decision on the disbursal of $38.9m of budget aid from last week to a September meeting, according to donor officials.
A Swedish official said that the Nordic countries, along with India, called to delay the cash transfer due to concerns raised in the UN report. “We are very concerned about the UN report and we need to see how Rwanda and the region will respond before making our move,” the official said. “The ball is very much in Rwanda’s court right now,” he added.
The M23 emerged earlier this year when a militia allied to Kigali — but integrated into the Congolese army as part of a 2009 peace agreement — mutinied under the leadership of Bosco Ntaganda. Mr Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.
The mutiny has triggered further defections from the Congolese army and a resurgence of violence by other militias operating in the region.
Rwandan officials have reacted furiously to the UN report, dismissing its allegations as “ill-informed” and questioning the expertise of the expert authors. According to a spokesperson for Mr Kagame the government has issued a detailed rebuttal to the UN which has not yet been made public. And, unlike in similar crises in the past, Kigali has continued talking to the Congo government throughout.
The Dutch decision follows the US move to freeze $200,000 in military support – an unprecedented signal from Washington, which has been a staunch ally of Mr Kagame since his own rebel movement overthrew the former Rwandan government responsible for the 1994 genocide.
But there is no unanimity in the donor community. Britain, the largest single bilateral provider of foreign aid to Kigali, has been more cautious.
“If Rwanda has breached Security Council resolutions by breaking the UN arms embargo, we will need to evaluate our position,” the Foreign and Commonwealth office said. “However, suspending an aid programme would only serve to hurt those who most need our assistance, so any response would need to be carefully assessed,” it added.
Another senior donor official in the region questioned the value of punitive action.
“They [the rebels] could overrun Goma for breakfast tomorrow morning. The only restraining force I see is Rwanda; the UN’s not going to do anything.”
The UK will give £80m to Rwanda this year, rising to £90m in two years’ time. The European Union earlier this year increased its five-year aid programme to Rwanda by 30 per cent, citing the country’s “exemplary progress”. Asked on Wednesday whether there had been any change to its funding, an official said no decisions had been taken.