By Claire Leigh – Consultant at UNDP, 2015 Labour Parliamentary Candidate and former Chair of LCID – @
It is almost frustrating to start every discussion on Rwanda by referencing the infamous genocide that took place there twenty two years ago. The country today is almost unrecognisable from the place that tore itself apart in 1994 at the cost of some 800 thousand lives, and its grim reputation abroad is starkly out of step with the feisty, controversial and modernising nation’s reality. Ask anyone what they know about Rwanda, and they will say the genocide. When pushed, they might mention gorillas. Pushed further they might have read a newspaper in which President Paul Kagame was slated as ‘another typical African dictator’.
But its government is faced with a dilemma when it comes to not allowing genocide to define it. Within Rwanda itself, the state has pursued a distinctive approach to reconciliation that makes ‘never forget’ more of an order than an entreaty. Constant and visible reminders of the genocide are everywhere; Memorials – often gruesome – appear in every town, while Reconciliation Villages bring perpetrators and victims together to give regular talks to Rwandans and visitors about the terrible events of April 1994. And the genocide is central to the governing regime’s domestic political narrative.
At the same time the country is attempting the unthinkable: to become a ‘hub’ for African business and a middle-income economy within a generation. Already, the country seems to be making this vision seem less hallucinogenic, with GDP growth regularly in the double digits, and new sky-scrapers crowding the capital Kigali. But the PR issue remains very real; How to both ‘never forget’ at home while moving perceptions on abroad.
The result is that, despite its startling successes in maintaining the peace (against all expectations, the return to conflict being a miraculous non-event that the state fails to get credit for) and improving citizens’ prosperity, foreigners remain for the most part ignorant of the pretty astonishing changes taking place in Rwanda.
Observers who know more about its transformation are often deeply sceptical of the means by which it is being achieved. Part of the reason for this is Kagame himself, who is anything but a ‘typical African dictator’, but who is dictatorial nevertheless. Political space has been tightly controlled since the genocide, and democracy is simply not a priority of the Regime. As Harvard MBA students learn, Kagame runs Rwanda like the CEO of a large corporation. The government is ruthlessly performance-focused, and if it were judged by one of its own famous performance cards, it would get an A* for things like reducing maternal mortality, increasing incomes, and keeping kids in school. But the international community have in recent years awarded it a D- for democracy, with many withdrawing aid money in protest.
I lived in Rwanda six years ago (full disclosure, I worked for a charity and was based in the President’s Office) at a time when the international community was still in love with Kagame. And it is easy to see why; One of the safest countries in Africa, Rwanda is also the second least corrupt, and spends aid money incredibly effectively. And it was clear to anyone living there that the lives of ordinary Rwandans were being changed dramatically. Fast forward six years and the international romance is over (even ending in divorce for countries like the UK), with donors citing political repression as a growing concern. But Kagame, among the vast majority of Rwandans, remains wildly popular. Most Rwandans I talk to genuinely don’t seem to regard democratisation as either a priority or even desirable in the immediate future. After all, Rwandans have seen what majority rule can do in a country with a large ethnic minority. The government looks to Singapore – only recently democratising after decades of state-led development – as its role model, and surrounded as it is by weak democracies with even weaker development records, who are we to argue?
Twenty two years on from one of the greatest human tragedies of the modern era, Rwanda finds itself famous for all the wrong reasons, and criticised for achieving all the right things in all the wrong ways. The defiantly unorthodox path being taken by Rwanda raises uncomfortable questions for the international community. We must continue to criticise where human rights abuses are apparent. And clearly Rwanda, like Singapore, needs an exit strategy from authoritarianism. But we must also be humble enough to admit that we might not have all the answers when it comes to Rwanda’s broader exit strategy from the tragic events of 1994.
By Stephen Doughty MP, Labour and Co-operative MP for Cardiff South and Penarth and LCID Vice-President – @SDoughtyMP
Aid is risky. Let’s be honest.
But it is absolutely in our national interest, the global interest – and it is our moral duty.
If you are going to operate in unstable and impoverished communities and countries to address challenges like disease, poor education, corruption, conflict and instability – there are going to be mistakes. Try telling any small-business entrepreneur working in this country, let alone the developing world, that they have to get it 100% right all of the time.
If you are going to try and work in countries like Afghanistan or Yemen, Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo to support women standing up against sexual violence; to attempt to inoculate and educate children who would die before they are five years old, or fall prey to mass unemployment that could leave their hands idle to be exploited by extremists or criminals; to build up government institutions so countries can collect their own taxes and end their need for aid in the first place; then you are not always going to succeed.
If you are going to try and support refugees fleeing Dae’sh/Isis in the volatile regions surrounding the conflict, rather than see more make the perilous journey across the seas to Western Europe; or to attempt to support people in far flung communities in Nepal or Haiti hit by a devastating earthquake; it isn’t always going to work out like you might have planned in Whitehall. I saw that for myself visiting Afghanistan at the height of our military, development and diplomatic intervention there.
But it is a damn sight better to make that effort and succeed most of the time, than having not tried, or worse still taking the foolish decision to withdraw and ignore the turbulent and impoverished world around us.
A world whose convulsions have consequences for our streets and our cities. And a world whose horrors should shame every British citizen, whether the 800 women who die every day in childbirth due to preventable causes, or the 20,000 children who die every day under the age of five due to diseases like malaria or diarrhoea.
Any investigation or newspaper can find examples of where money is wasted, or where mistakes are being made – whether it’s in our local council, the NHS or in the overseas aid budget. It is vital such work continues.
It is absolutely right that any new allegations that have come to light are robustly examined, and action taken urgently where necessary, not least where allegations are made about money ending up in the hands of extremists – an allegation DfID has strongly denied.
I have every confidence that such an investigation will take place, and robust action taken if proven. This is because the Department for International Development is one of the most scrutinised and examined departments in government – including by specialised independent bodies that have been set up like the Independent Commission for Aid Impact which reports to Parliament, not the Government.
But – a leap from exposing specific faults, or even dangerous or corrupt practises, to making a general dismissal of our aid budget is a dangerous and foolish mistake to make in our volatile world.
The Mail on Sunday claim on the basis of a series of stories: “Rather than helping people who desperately need it, much of this money is wasted and…fuels corruption, funds despots and corrodes democracy in developing nations.”
Let’s take each of those lazy allegations in turn:
Corruption thrives in conditions of extreme poverty and insecurity. It’s no coincidence that countries like Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan hold up the bottom of the global Corruption Index produced by Transparency International.
We have withdrawn our aid (or never even permitted) support on occasions where we had clear evidence that corrupt or indulgent leaders or governments planned to misuse it – Malawi and Zimbabwe being just two examples in recent years.
And democracy will only truly thrive when people in the world’s poorest countries perceive a real link between voting and paying taxes, with governments that are able to improve their safety, job prospects, education and health to take but a few examples.
There are many things that this Tory government has done which I deride, but in all fairness, they have taken a number of crucial steps in the right direction to improve the scrutiny and effectiveness of our aid budget.
They have regularly reviewed the countries and international bodies that receive our support. They don’t always get this right (e.g. in scrapping aid to volatile Burundi) but other decisions such as scrapping aid to rapidly developing India, whilst a tough choice given the levels of poverty that remain, were absolutely right.
They have increased the independent oversight and scrutiny of the aid budget – which is widely regarded to be one of the most professional and impactful in the world.
And they have rightly increased the coordination between our defence, diplomatic and development activities under the National Security Council. The nonsense that there is a zero-sum game between military spending and aid must be taken head on. That doesn’t mean this government are always pulling in the same, or right direction – as the current and growing questions around UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia being used in Yemen shows.
But – I like many others am as strong a supporter of the 2% defence target, as I am in maintaining our extensive diplomatic network and aid spending. And the truth is that in 2014/15 defence spending made up about 75% of our total international focussed spending – with aid, diplomacy and intelligence making up 25%.
For all of our efforts on “soft” development and diplomatic paths – sometimes “hard” (and expensive) military intervention e.g. to cope with a barbarous regime like Da’esh / ISIS is crucial.
The Mail on Sunday make eight “recommendations”:
- First, they want to scrap the aid target. What the Mail don’t tell you (like many financial adverts) is that the new law means that the amount of aid can go down as well as up. The law passed to meet the 0.7% aid commitment will actually now result in the UK aid budget falling by £650million over the next few years due to declining economic growth.
- Second, they tell us to “only spend on what’s needed”. This is a vacuous suggestion that takes no account of disasters, complex conflicts or rapidly emerging situations like the Ebola outbreak. Of course DfID should not make up projects to spend money to a target, and there is a genuine challenge of coping with an increased budget with lower back office staffing.
- Third, they tell us to “hit the fat cat contractors”. This is one of the few areas where they make a good point. Like in many areas of the public sector under this Tory government, we have seen an explosion in poor value for money contracting out to profit-making enterprises delivering public goods. DfID need to get this under control.
- Fourth, they tell us to make sure that projects are reviewed and audited independently. They are.
- Fifth, they tell DfID to stop funding “despots”. The truth is the UK has for the last 15 years taken huge steps to ensure money doesn’t get into the hands of repressive or corrupt governments. There will always be an element of risk however, and there are inherent difficulties in judging a government such as Rwanda who has as many ardent supporters in the West as critics.
- Sixth, they tell DfID to end Programme Partnership Agreements – large grants to charities. They are already doing this, although some argue this will lead to less efficient support of charities, not better.
- Seventh, they say there should be an “independent whistleblower” and “hotline”.This already exists, and in my own experience of reporting allegations, these are dealt with thoroughly and swiftly.
- Eight, they want a “beefed up watchdog” to investigate aid. This already exists. And DfID is regularly and robustly scrutinised in Parliament.
On the basis of a list of poorly researched recommendations, the Mail on Sunday misleads its readers that none of these things are being done, and exhorts them to “stop the madness” and sign a petition to scrap the 0.7% aid target.
The usual suspects from the hard right of the Tories and Ukip have weighed in support, forgetting to remind us that they are equally as happy to slash support for the poor and vulnerable at home, regardless of the size of the aid budget.
But the growing chaos in Yemen, Somalia and across parts of Northern and Central Africa show exactly what the consequences of ignoring the gross poverty and instability in our back yard can be.
A tiny investment as a proportion of overall government spending, amounting to less than a penny in every pound of national income – helps us to tackle those threats, and help change millions of lives for the better. It also can show the world that Britain is at its best a compassionate and moral global power.
What would be madness is slashing the very budget focused on tackling the gross poverty, instability and insecurity that threatens our national and global security, drives people to flee their countries to drown in the Mediterranean, but most importantly – degrades us all as human beings.
This piece originally featured on the Huffington Post website – HERE
When a close friend of mine mentioned on a group chat that Emma Watson had just launched a book club, I was immediately thrilled. Ever since her speech at the UN for the launch of ‘He for She’ had moved me to tears, I had been following the campaign. This book club had the promise of bringing together my new found fascination for Watson’s work on feminism, my love for reading, and my inappropriate adult obsession for Harry Potter. What could possibly go wrong? Within minutes I had visited the book club page, called ‘Our Shared Shelf’, and downloaded the first book on my reading tablet. I was ready to be part of the movement.
Since January, Watson has been uploading a new thread announcing the book she will be reading on the first day of every month. Initially, it was explained that members had three weeks to read the book, and it would then be discussed throughout the remaining week of the month. However, that rule was quickly disregarded by the overwhelming ever-growing following of the club, as eager members were creating dozens of different discussion threads every day. With such a wide variety of questions and topics, the forum had to acquire more than a handful of moderators to keep it all in check. Anybody can start a discussion thread, whether about the books, related themes, or really anything that the feminist topic inspires. You can also join in on threads others have already started. From pornography, to the representation of women in the media or the complexity of religious belief as a rape victim, the forums have plenty to offer. There are even discussion threads in different languages, such as Spanish and French.
‘My Life on the Road’ by Gloria Steinem was the first book on the list. Steinem is one of the most prominent feminist activists of the 20th, and even of the 21st century so far. The book is all about her life as a feminist activist, her love for the road and is full of highly satisfying juicy anecdotes. This first pick was a perfect introduction to feminism because it unveils the inner works of her life as an activist, effectively bringing a human touch to historical events and feminist theory. It was incredible to learn from her experience about the different ways the feminist movement had evolved throughout the decades. Most importantly, it taught me that her work had such a large-scale impact because she truly cared about listening, learning and building deep relationships with others.
The book club does not just link people together behind the screen. Dozens of members have quickly taken the initiative to organise meet-ups and reading groups in their respective cities. And last month I saw the club come to life as Gloria Steinem took the stage to be interviewed by Emma Watson at the ‘how to: Academy’ in London as part of her UK tour. At first, I was sceptical about the idea. I was afraid I would be stuck queuing up along with a crowd excited about coming face to face with a celebrity. I am glad I was proven wrong when I realised that everyone was incredibly open-minded and diverse, crossing generations and races. I was also glad to see men sympathetic to the cause disseminated amongst the audience.
Despite the event having been organised in the context of the release of Steinem’s book, other topics were addressed such as the place feminism should take in international conversations on development. Watson expressed her frustration with regards to gender issues being constantly pushed down further on the agenda, rather than being considered a priority and an issue that encompasses all others. Instead, development or conflict concerns should also be examined with a gender lens, as they will always be either caused or aggravated by the exclusion of women and girls and widespread violence against them. In fact, every issue deemed more important than gender equality cannot possibly be solved without gender equality. A perfect example of this is how we currently think of international security. Watson mentioned a figure she came across in the book ‘Sex and World Peace’ that shocked the audience just as much as herself – ‘(…) more lives are lost through violence against women from sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, suicide, egregious maternal mortality, and other sex-linked causes than were lost during all the wars and civil strife of the twentieth century,’ thereby effectively resulting in women no longer constituting half of the world’s population. The devaluation of female life is an international security threat but is often regarded as a separate issue. Steinem followed up by stating that the best indicator of the likelihood of violence occurring in a country or even of that country’s willingness to use military violence against another is not poverty, access to resources, religion or degree of democracy, but the level of violence against females. She explains that this is not because female life is more valuable than any other but rather because it normalises domination.
‘Our Shared Shelf’ really is an incredible way to discover books written by women about feminism, even if not always in obvious ways. It challenges me to think of the presence of those themes where I would not look for them. This is also what the ‘He for She’ campaign aims to achieve: to challenge our notion that feminism is a women-only club. As Watson always says, men need to be part of the conversation for equality to be achieved. I have already started to notice the impact this campaign has had on how comfortable most of my male friends now are with the word feminism and how ready they are to identify with the movement, as feminists.
I was recently asked who my literary female hero was when I was growing up. Whilst I could name a few fictional characters following a few minutes of careful thought – Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy did not deceive as an adventuress and taught me that loving and caring does not contradict strength and courage, actually quite on the contrary – I realised that I had a very hard time naming other heroines who were not sidekicks to protagonist male characters. The ones I liked won the inspirational prize by default because the list of competitors was unfortunately incredibly limited. There has definitely been developments since my time as a child, and I particularly like Viola Eade from Patrick Ness’ ‘Chaos Walking’ series, but I think there is a lot of progress to be made with the support of a book club that aims to deepen exposure to a variety of female authors and characters, dedicated to women, girls, men and boys alike. Gloria Steinem said at the talk that ‘clicking send is not activism,’ but I have to disagree with her. Online platforms such as ‘Our Shared Shelf’ are the future of activism because they have the potential to create communities where ideas can be shared, events announced, questions raised and opinions debated in a much larger space than was previously possible.
Despite being the year that the United States may be set to welcome its first female president; the first year that Saudi Arabia’s female residents will live under municipal governments that they were able to vote in; and the year that more than 90 countries answered the UN Women’s call to “Step It Up For Gender Equality”; 2016 has not been an easy year to be a woman in many parts of the world. Far from it, in fact. Headlines of progression for women’s rights are scarce and a quick scan of the top news stories over the last two months confirms that we have a long way to go before equality is achieved – approximately 117 years according to the World Economic Forum, based on indicators of health, education, economic participation and political empowerment. Even more worrying, this estimate increased by 38 years between 2014 and 2015, due to a slowdown in the rate of progress.
But it is not just about the figures – so far this year has seen women suffering disproportionately in conflict zones around the world, with groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram using sexual violence as a weapon of war and suppressing women’s rights in areas under their control. Many fleeing war torn homes report assault, exploitation and harassment on their journey to safety (Amnesty International, 2016) with little protection or security being provided to those at risk. The battle against Female Genital Mutilation rages on, with an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing it every year (WHO, 2016). Human trafficking remains an international issue – the most common form being sexual exploitation and victims predominantly being female. And, although women may have been given the vote locally (still not nationally) in Saudi Arabia, they continue to face sanctions, such as the lack of freedom to drive to the polling station, which render a historical development less of a leap and more of a shuffle in the right direction.
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to address the enormous forces working against women’s rights and preventing true gender equality. It is a chance to petition governments, to challenge, to campaign, to take action. It is also a time to celebrate, to reflect on the achievements that have been made and to salute the fantastic work that is being done, as well as to recognise how much further there is to go. The headlines are bleak, but they are not ineradicable.
This International Women’s Day we will be celebrating some of the many women who have inspired us – in the opportunities we have had and the choices we have made. Our mum, who made being a feminist the norm and led by example in encouraging us to expect and strive for parity in both our personal and professional lives. Harriet Harman, who Emily was lucky enough to see being honoured at last year’s Labour Women’s Conference for bringing what had previously been seen as “women’s issues” – childcare, for instance – to parliament. She was often mocked or ignored and we are grateful that she refused to concede. Finally, Malala Yousafzai, whose courage in the face of unspeakable adversity and dedication to advocate girls’ right to education worldwide drives progress forward, and to whom we give the closing words. “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
Let’s all raise up our voices, in whatever ways we can, this year.
By Laura Kyrke-Smith, Chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development – @laurakyrkesmith
Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where what happens in other parts of the world has an impact on our lives. The Government’s ability to protect people from terrorism here is affected by its ability to stop people becoming terrorists elsewhere. Their ability to limit immigration here is affected by weak economies that drive migration elsewhere. The cost of food in our supermarkets depends on whether farmers elsewhere have a good or bad year.
Meanwhile across the world, governments, with the exception of a few rogue outliers, have recognised that the way to tackle shared challenges is more cooperation not less. Last year, the Chinese joined governments from across the world at the Paris climate summit, spotting an opportunity to get pollution levels down in Beijing. The US Government worked through a coalition of states to bring a nuclear Iran to the negotiating table, knowing it couldn’t do it alone. Last month, high-level delegates from seventy countries met in London, recognising only shared action would lead to better aid for the victims of the conflict in Syria.
By accident more than design, the EU got ahead of the game a long time ago. A club formed to build peace and prosperity among its own members became their most effective means for doing exactly this elsewhere in the world. And in turn, beyond the most hopeful imaginings of its founders, the club has become a leading source of power and influence globally.
Whether or not the EU is any good at international development, and whether Britain’s membership of the EU enhances its ability to do international development, is not going to sway the average undecided voter in the June referendum. But the EU’s role in international development has been an important part of its growing soft power in the world – and to date the British government and British aid organisations have only benefitted from this fact.
The EU is one of the world’s most generous aid donors. The development and humanitarian assistance provided by the EU scores highly in rankings of transparency and accountability. The fact that funding from member states is pooled allows it to go further and wider, and to be used more efficiently. The assistance provided becomes the living embodiment of proud European values across the world – stability, democracy and human dignity. Values which, while not exclusively European of course, are nurtured by Europe’s support for them.
For Britain, which delivers 10% of its development spending through the EU, membership delivers value for money. It gives us reach into countries where we have no presence of our own but vital security interests, such as parts of West Africa affected by violence and climate fragility. It enhances our ability to support countries and tackle issues where British aid alone wouldn’t make enough difference, for example the humanitarian crisis in Syria and support for those who have had to flee. In 2014, the last year for which statistics are available, the EU delivered more humanitarian assistance inside Syria than anywhere else in the world.
Beyond delivery of aid, being inside the EU amplifies Britain’s voice and influence in the world on issues from trade to climate change, from democracy to human rights. Britain earns respect within the EU for being a generous donor, giving Britain an ability to shape the work that the EU does, through its collective power, to tackle these issues in the world.
As a Labour movement, fairness and equality are in our DNA, and we should embrace any opportunity to advance these values at home and abroad. The EU gives us the opportunity to do precisely this, as a champion of international development and an institution better at doing it than most. Leaving the EU would likely reduce both the impact of our aid and our ability to make a difference to the lives of the world’s poorest people, be it through fairer trade or tackling climate change, the effects of which are most often felt by the poor.
But it’s not just about international development. Leaving the EU makes it harder to influence all the global debates and decisions that affect us. Cooperation is tough, and often the EU gives us a head start. Think again of the cooperation that was required to secure a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, or the cooperation that will be required to end the conflict in Syria – first and foremost a tragedy for the Syrian people, but not without implications for Britain.
And that’s the bottom line: Even if undecided voters don’t care about our values, and don’t see EU membership as a route to advancing them, self-interest should kick in. Being part of the EU boosts Britain’s standing as a global power, and gives the British Government more power to affect global decisions and actions that directly impact the everyday lives of British people.
This piece originally featured on the Labour Movement for Europe website – HERE
As 2015 draws to a close, we look back on some of LCID’s achievements for the year – and we’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has supported us this year, from our members to our Honorary Presidents, our Advisory Board and our Executive Committee.
- Convening internationalists in the party:
- Hosted ‘Labour in the World’ event (January 2015), bringing together the Shadow Foreign, Development, Defence and DECC Secretaries on a panel to discuss international priorities for Labour ahead of the 2015 election. Brought together 20+ international groups within the party as co-hosts
- Hosted launch of Glenys Kinnock/ Stephen Doughty pamphlet on Beyond Aid (March 2015), attended by a number of our members
- Supported Labour’s International Development Event with Ed Miliband (May 2015), attended by a number of our members
- Hosted Parliamentary Reception for new Researchers (July 2015), to brief them on LCID’s work. Attended by 40+ Parliamentary staff
- Hosted International Rally at party conference (September 2015), together with BOND, bringing together 15+ speakers on international development, including Hilary Benn, Stephen Twigg, Ray Collins
- Election campaigning:
- Developed Development on the Doorstep campaign pack with the Shadow team, sent out to all MPs via Stephen Doughty
- Monthly updates for PPCs with development campaigning ideas
- LCID members campaigned in 10+ seats with pro- international development candidates including Catherine West, Neil Coyle, Tulip Siddiq, Purna Sen, Alison McGovern, Gareth Thomas, Daniel Zeichner
- Promoting debates and raising the profile of development online:
- Updated LCID video
- 6% increase in blogs and website page views (13,531 per month on average in 2015, compared to 12,737 in 2014)
- Reached 2.5k followers on Twitter
- 8k likes on Facebook
- Policy influencing:
- International Development Committee Beyond Aid report launched (January 2015), echoing many points from LCID’s submission
- Briefings for Mary Creagh and team
- Meetings with other shadow cabinet members, MPs
- Support for the 0.7% bill campaign
- International pledge for 2015 Leadership candidates
- Outreach and meetings with third sector:
- Hosted NGO roundtable with Gareth Thomas MP (December 2014)
- Hosted ‘First 100 days of next government’ NGO roundtable to agree on asks of the next Labour government, with representatives from 10+ NGOs (March 2015)
- Growing our membership:
- Our membership has grown and we now have 203 members
Thank you to everyone who voted in our Executive elections and attended our AGM yesterday.
We are pleased to announce that the following people where elected to our Exec:
Thank you to every candidate who took part.