The Suspension of Aid to Rwanda: A Late but Welcome Decision.

By: Emmanuel Hakizimana, Ph.D., Economist, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada and Gallican Gasana, Genocide survivor, Toronto, Canada

Kabila, Moon and Kagame
Kabila, Moon and Kagame

(WASHINGTON DC) – On February 21st, 2013, Tony Blair and Howard G. Buffet published an article in The Foreign Policy in which they denounced the suspension of aid to Rwanda by many Western donors as a path in the wrong direction. They claim that suspending aid will destroy one of the biggest success stories in Africa and further destabilize the entire Great Lakes region. There are two major problems with this premise: (1) The so-called success story is a myth that does not withstand in-depth analysis of recent economic performance; (2) The trade-off implied is that economic success trumps the worst human rights record in and outside the national boundaries.

At first, Blair and Buffet argue that cutting aid does nothing to address the core issues of the Great Lakes region. What they fail to mention is that Eastern Congo had known peace and stability until the massive exodus of Rwandan refugees of 1994, shortly followed by the first Rwandan invasion of 1996 and then the first “African World War” of 1998. More than five million people are estimated to have perished as a direct consequence of the involvement of Rwanda in Eastern DRC. The ongoing humanitarian crisis in that part of the world was recently exacerbated by the M23 rebel group insurrection, created, armed and commanded by Kigali. In a nutshell, Rwanda is at the very core of DRC problems, and solving them requires first solving the political conundrum that is Rwanda. Congo’s problems are the symptoms of a grim syndrome from its smallest neighbor: cure that neighbor, and Congo will be on its way to healing. We believe the cascade of foreign aid suspensions triggered by Rwanda’s unquestionable involvement with M23, albeit overdue, is a welcome response. Should it had happened earlier, who is to tell how many lives it could have saved. Instead, Rwanda has come to realize it does not need to respect its citizens’ rights or its neighbor’s sovereignty to sit at the negotiation table.

Secondly, Blair and Buffet contend that the Rwandan economic miracle is too rare to stop in its course by cutting vital funding. However, the much hyped success story loses much of its weight when put in perspective. Data from the World Bank show that Rwandans suffer from mass poverty, growing inequality, and low standards of living. Income inequalities between the rich and the poor have reached their highest point in recent history.

Between 1985 and 2011, the share of gross domestic product by the 10% richest almost doubled from 24.58% to 43.22%, while the poorest 10% saw their share reduced by more than a half, from 4.41% to 2.13%. These are not just figures on a spreadsheet: According to the United Nations Development Programme, three Rwandan out of four (76.8%) live below the poverty line on less than $ 1.25 per day. Obviously, the majority of the Rwandan population is not part of the success story alluded to by Blair and Buffet.

Compared to Sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda is far from being an island of prosperity in an ocean of misery. The UNDP report on the human development index puts the gross national income per capita at $ 1,133 in constant prices of 2005, or $ 800 below the average of the region ($ 1,966). Business towers and posh neighborhoods may be changing the skyline in Kigali, but the rest of the countryside stagnates.

The causes of this mass poverty and large disparities can be traced to the policies in place. In Rwanda, political and economic powers are concentrated in the hands of General Paul Kagame plus a few close generals and businessmen. In addition to being President of Rwanda, he is the chairman of RPF, and as such, the CEO of Crystal Ventures, a conglomerate owned by his ruling party.

It controls key sectors of the economy ranging from construction, food processing, and communication to retail and public utilities. It is estimated that Crystal Ventures is the second largest employer in the country after the public sector. As is to be expected, numerous conflicts of interest, disguised monopoly situations and high-level corruption are common practices in Kigali.

Policies prevailing in the agricultural sector maintain rural Rwanda in poverty. Farmers cannot grow or dispose of their crops as they see fit for them and their natural markets. They are forced to sell their crops at low prices in cooperatives where a few RPF officers control the entire system of storage, transport and commercialization of agricultural products.

Discrimination among the victims of the Rwandan tragedy is also another source of continued impoverishment of a large fraction of the Rwandan population. Although the wholesome destruction of human life that culminated in the 1994 genocide and extended into DRC made victims in all groups of the population of Rwanda, survivors’ assistance is granted on a discriminated basis. Added to the multiple violations and abuses widely documented by human rights organizations, these elements show that talk of history of success for Rwanda is, to say the least, misinformation and cynicism.

Rwandans and human rights watch groups have been stating the obvious for so long that the belated recognition of the troubling patterns in Kigali came as a vindication. The international community is still nursing the guilt of not having intervened in 1994 while the genocide against Tutsis was being committed in broad daylight. She subsequently looked away when the victorious RPF methodically massacred Hutus inside Rwanda and in DRC – crimes that multiple UN reports indicate could be defined as genocide by a competent jurisdiction. In short, Blair and Buffet advocate for knowingly continue funding a regime that closed the political space, slowly steering Rwanda to another tragedy. They advise the world to keep looking away while Kigali entertains a climate of insecurity for millions of neighboring Congolese. That can’t be right.

Submitted by: Jennifer Fierberg

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