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Rwanda’s donor aid cuts

By Andrew M. Mwenda

Doesn’t a country that lost a million people deserve to protect its people against the threat of another genocide?

In a space of one week in July, the Netherlands, Germany, UK and USA  announced they would cut their aid to Rwanda over its alleged involvement in the ongoing rebellion in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are another pointer to the dangers of Western aid to poor countries. The use of aid as an instrument of blackmail is a common practice by Western Europe and its offshoots in North America, Australia and New Zeeland. In almost all official and unofficial relations with recipients, Western donors keep rubbing in the fact that those recipients should behave themselves lest… This “lest” includes a series of threats such as cutting aid, sending a leader to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or imposing sanctions.


A Western NGO may launch a campaign against a poor country for behaving in a manner inconsistent with its (the NGO’s) desires. This NGO will immediately receive support from the Western journalists and their news organisations as the platforms for this campaign. Then a Western academic who is an “expert” on the poor country will appear in the media and publish a paper supporting the claims of the first two. These will win over a section of the local African elite with an axe to grind against their government to legitimise their claims. This concerted action will “force” the governments in the West to act with the blackmail of cutting aid or even worse.

I put “forced” in inverted commas because often, Western NGOs, journalists and academics have a common agenda with their governments based on a shared attitude, values, interests and norms. The result is that threats of aid cuts force governments of poor countries to respond by working to please aid givers rather than their own citizens. Thus, although Western governments, journalists, academics and activists are the leading self-appointed vanguards in the cause of democracy in our countries, the effect of their actions is to undermine democracy. Aid is the vehicle through which the interests of the donors are placed above the interests of citizens.

I used to think that anyone who gives you money would tend to act in such a manner. Yet Western countries are not the only ones that give aid. China and Japan do. But hardly does anyone hear them issue threats. This cannot be because they are undemocratic. Japan is as democratic as it gets. Besides, the worst dictatorships in Africa – wakina Mobutu Sese Seko, Samuel Doe, Siad Barre, etc have historically been propped by the West whenever it served their interests. Thus Asian restraint from interfering in the domestic politics of the recipients of their aid seems to be born of a deep seated and genuine respect for the sovereignty of poor countries.

Western aid comes with too many lectures and sermons on how our leaders should manage our affairs – always by adopting the policies, practices and institutions of the donor country. It is difficult to develop or emancipate one’s people when the actions taken are aimed at pleasing international masters rather than domestic constituencies. It is through aid and these emergent international institutions like the ICC that the West seems to be seeking to regain what it lost through decolonisation.

In the week the donors cut aid to Rwanda, a low level official in the State Department had the audacity to threaten President Paul Kagame with indictment before the ICC – an institution his own country has refused to subject itself to. All this is based on allegations in an addendum to a UN report. Never mind that the authors of the report did not even bother to ask Rwanda government officials to respond to accusations made against them individually and collectively. The authors say their sources are DRC officials and civilians. Western nations say they have deeply entrenched principles of fairness and natural justice. Was the disregard of such principles a mere oversight?

But let us assume, just for argument’s sake, that Rwanda is actively involved in arming M23 and supporting its operations. In 1994, it lost one million people in a space of 100 days and an entire country was devastated. The perpetrators of this evil are right across the border from Rwanda in eastern DRC – fully armed and sometimes supplied by Kinshasa. In eastern DRC live Tutsis with a shared existential threat as many in the leadership of Rwanda. Yet Rwanda is expected to do nothing about it. The country that is hosting these criminals is not being asked to account for its complicity in this problem. The UN has 17,000 troops in DRC who have never arrested even one killer. Instead it is asking the victims of genocide to sit back and wait until they are exterminated – exactly what it asked them to do in 1994.

Let us assume that it is the principle of international relations that a country should not get involved in another directly by having troops there or indirectly by supporting a local militia whose interests converge with its own. Therefore, Rwanda is only being asked to respect this established practice that all other nations adhere to. If Rwanda adopted this do-nothing-policy and the criminals invaded, who would be held accountable? The UN which failed it in 1994, Human Rights Watch and its leader Kenneth Roth who seems to care more about Africans in Congo than the millions of African-Americans rotting in jails in America, or is it the Americans, British, Germans and Dutch who by cutting aid are forcing the Rwanda government into inaction?

On September 9, 2011, the United States lost 3,000 people, four planes, two prominent buildings and a quarter of another. In response, it mobilised its NATO allies and they have for the last eleven years occupied Afghanistan – a country that is 20,000km from America. Among these NATO members are the Dutch, UK and Germany. They bomb, they kill and they rule there. Note: there was not a single Afghan citizen involved in 9/11; they were all Saudis and Egyptians. The only thing Afghanistan did was to harbour the perpetrators. Doesn’t Rwanda that lost a million people and an entire country deserve to also get involved in DRC – right across its border – where there is no state to protect its people against the threat of another genocide?

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