On the 22nd Anniversary of the Genocide, Rwanda is defying both global expectations and wishes

By Claire Leigh – Consultant at UNDP, 2015 Labour Parliamentary Candidate and former Chair of LCID – @ClaireLeighLab  

Reconciliation village, Nyamata, 2016

Reconciliation village, Nyamata, 2016

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.

Skyscrapers in downtown KigaliAt 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.

Vaccines for Africa: Could this be a flagship policy for the new Shadow DfID team?

As Jim Murphy begins to settle into his new role as Shadow Secretary for International Development, he will no doubt be considering the best policy with which to make his mark. It is hoped he will continue to address the failure of British banks to comply with money-laundering prevention laws and also to support the Early Years Campaign spearheaded by Ivan Lewis and Tessa Jowell. But what could Jim’s bold and radical idea be?


How about investigating why African states don’t appear to grapple with their health problems more directly and provide more of its own vaccines? One sometimes wonders what it is about the model of foreign aid from UK governments that make things the way they are.


Let us just note that there are a number of domestic programmes and native providers of vaccines in Africa. However, taking a broad economic approach to the problem, a more Labour-inspired approach could be sourced; one that signals a 2015 Labour government as bold and globally leading on the values of social justice.


The past 20 years have seen a massive redistribution of economic power to the emerging world and thanks to an increase of generic medicines and the rise of globalisation, it’s arguable that we don’t have to be so protectionist of our pharmaceutical industry. As it becomes harder to engage with any moral authority, the question remains of whether vaccine donation is counter-intuitive to a country’s development.


The notion of ‘International Development’ is multifaceted and inherently complex, varying according to the specific country conditions and the donor governments you might be referring to. When it comes to donating vaccines to Africa, these notions need a refresh. Handing out the leftovers of a pharmaceutical companies’ drug portfolio, well, it’s not really ‘developing’ much is it?


Some are waking up to realise the western-donated-vaccine model, with vaccines that aren’t originally designed for Africans countries and that are expensive, is not sustainable. Working on the frontline in some of the more resource-poor African states, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) argues vaccines from the Western taxpayer’s purse cost too much and are not designed for the needs of hot countries like Africa. Dr Manica Balasegaram, executive director of MSF’s vaccine-access campaign maintains “It [donated vaccines] looks to us like a big subsidy for pharma – there is no other way of saying it really”.


With the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranking 13 sub-Saharan African economies among the top 100 in the world [2012], African leaders are seeing that their macroeconomic policy and fiscal reforms are working. Yet when it has come to closing the financing gap for vaccine programs, a number of governments have not been innovative or brave enough. African leaders can and should follow through to bring reforms to their healthcare markets. The time is right for this to start changing and if a Labour government doesn’t suggest it could guide this charge, a Chinese government will do so and reap the rewards.


Currently, the foreign Advance Market Commitment (AMC- a global vaccine funding mechanism) gives drug companies an incentive to offer vaccines. The ideological argument that was once put forward was that with time, as the African country becomes more prosperous through a healthier work-force, local markets will be able to compete. Ideas, such as the one that birthed the AMC are laudable. For while donations and the motivation vaccines funds embody are extremely humane, issues of absolute country ownership and long-term sustainability still exist.


In closing, there are two important things to consider. Firstly, there is a growing African middle class that is driving demand and organically creating market capacity and opportunity for a different response to donated vaccine programmes. Secondly, Gambia’s departure from the Commonwealth may or may not be the start of a trend. By Labour proposing something truly progressive and economically forward-thinking, along the lines of true development (i.e. Africa producing own vaccines), Labour could also win over those to the right (limiting foreign aid) and ensure the BME vote isn’t truly neglected.


Adebusuyi Adeyemi is an LCID member and Chair of the Young Fabians Health Network

Tony Blair at the Centre for Global Development

By Eilidh Macpherson, LCID Secretary

Last week saw Tony Blair, in his role as Patron of the Africa Governance Initiative, present his vision for a new focus on governance in Africa with an event at the  Centre for Global Development in Washington, where he launched his  essay, “Not Just Aid: Making Government Work Can Transform Africa’’.

The speech, (available to watch online), was followed by a Q&A with CGD President Nancy Birdsall.

His presentation focused on his thesis that supporting good governance on the continent would lead to millions being lifted out of poverty, with African countries leading global economic growth in the next fifty years.

Drawing on the work of the Africa Governance Initiative in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as this time as Prime Minister, he draws out lessons that he believes the development community needs to embrace to support country leadership to achieve this goal.

He goes on to described how progress can be hampered by the development sector’s emphasis on only pursuing interventions that deliver measurable results, with organisations often rejecting a focus on leadership as, ‘risky and hard to measure’.

Throughout , Blair makes the case that that a lack of effective leadership cannot be explained solely by a lack of strategic vision, or of financial resources, but rather it is the lack of  ‘the capacity to bring the two together’ that compromises effective governance.

He highlights initiatives such as The Government of Rwanda’s Strategic Capacity Building Initiative, which coordinates donor resources in tackling government identified capacity needs that are restricting progress in achieving national policy priorities.

In a  positive view for the future, Blair’s essay notes the work currently being done to support leaderships free from corruption, arguing that equivalent work needs to go into ensuring that these leaders are able to govern effectively, concluding that, ‘good leadership is about capacity, not just character’.

Brown calls for new focus on African growth – and a mass roll out of broadband Internet

First published on Labour List

Gordon Brown yesterday used his first major speech since leaving office to discuss the issue that has inspired him since childhood – development in Africa.

Gordon Brown in Uganda. Credit: Daily Mail

In a speech to African Union leaders at their summit in Kampala, Gordon Brown called for a new approach to growth and aid on the continent. He called for Africa to be at the heart of a new global growth strategy which could increase employment by millions. Brown told the leaders that the ascent of Africa could lead the world out of recession, saying:

“Future growth in the world economy, and future jobs in the developing world, will depend on harnessing both the productive potential and the pent-up consumer demand of this continent and the developing world. There is a shortage of global aggregate demand, so today every job not created in Africa is a job lost to our common global growth; every business that fails is a business lost to global growth; every entrepreneur whose idea can’t be realised is a driver lost to global growth.”

“There is an alternative to a decade of low global growth which would fail to meet both the development needs of Africa and the growth needs of Europe and America. To me the answer is obvious: as we struggle to find new sources of growth we must turn here, to Africa, to this continent of huge potential and talent.”

A rethinking of aid can help stimulate this growth. Aid should continue to support Africa’s public sector to provide essential services (health, education and water), but aid should not be an end in itself, he said. Aid should be seen as an investment in equitable growth and sustainable development by helping to unleash the private sector.

Gordon Brown also argued that a key strategy for future growth in Africa will be the possibility of Africa leapfrogging a stage in technology and gaining mass access to broadband internet access. He used the speech to announce that he was working with African leaders and experts in the field including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the web, for a major campaign and programme of work on the issue. He went on to say:

“Africa’s best hope for diversification into the high-value sectors is a massive acceleration in the use of IT. A third of people in Africa now have mobiles, but less than 1% have access to broadband. I truly believe that the rapid expansion of internet access in Africa could transform how Africa trades, learns and holds political power accountable.”

Here at the Labour Campaign for International Development we are very pleased that Gordon Brown is looking to launch an initiative on broadband access. We’re pleased too that the former PM’s first major speech since leaving office has been on international development – it just underlines the commitment that he and Tony Blair have always had on the issue. Tony Blair of course set up his African Governance Initiative upon leaving office, and we await further news on Gordon’s initiative with excitement.

What will be the vision of the next leader of Labour Party on international development? We’ll be interviewing all the leadership candidates on their views on the Robin Hood Tax, fairer trade and climate change – the issues that came top of our poll (thank you to all those who took part). Whatever their answers, it is clear the next leader of the Labour Party has some very big boots to fill when they succeed Tony and Gordon.

by David Taylor, Chair, Labour Campaign for International Development

[You can read the full speech here – it’s well worth a read]

The Jabulani ball epitomises the World Cup’s legacy for Africa

In awarding the 2010 World Cup to South Africa, FIFA hoped it would allow the tournament to provide a lasting sporting legacy for the wider continent. The experience of the Jabulani ball not only contradicts this belief but also brings into question FIFA’s wider claims to being a socially responsible organisation.

A recent report by the International Labour Rights Forum (ILRF) has revealed that replicas of FIFA’s much-hyped Jabulani ball are being produced by stitchers in Pakistan earning as little as £1.85 a day. Typically working a six-day week, workers take home a minimum of 6,000 rupees a month (less than £50) – under half the recognised living wage in Pakistan. An ILRF survey of stitchers also found that over 50% do not even receive the legal minimum wage per month.

With Adidas targeting £1.2 billion sales this year, the idea of a major corporation maximising profit margins by using cheap labour in the subcontinent isn’t new or surprising. However, in light of the ILRF’s findings, one might question why FIFA didn’t insist on supplying the tournament and its many peripheral outlets with footballs made in fair trade conditions or even made in Africa itself.

“Africa has the skills to stitch footballs for the tournament and for all its attached merchandising,” says Will Prochasha, director of a leading African sports charity. “With high levels of unemployment across Africa, the production of World Cup footballs on the continent would have given a huge economic boost to some of the poorest nations on earth. A great opportunity has been missed for the World Cup to kick-start industry and deliver a lasting legacy to the World Cup”.

Mr Prochaska has the right to be surprised at FIFA’s decision, given that the social enterprise he represents, Alive & Kicking, has been manufacturing and distributing balls in Africa since 2004. It has set up stitching centres in Kenya and Zambia where footballs are made for free distribution to children across Africa. The centres have created hundreds of local jobs, paying a fair wage in areas of high unemployment, and have given nearly 300,000 footballs to children in every country in Africa. All balls they make are sourced from local leather, ensuring they are twice as puncture resistant as imported ones.

Replicas of the Jabulani, stitched in Silcot Pakistan, are currently retailing in South Africa for 249 Rand – more than the average South African weekly wage. They are made out of a synthetic material which is poorly adapted to the rough playing conditions common in Africa, and their 8-panel design makes them difficult to repair if they burst.

In the face of such evidence, FIFA’s claim to be providing a legacy to Africa via the World Cup does not appear to hold up. It would appear that the lure of lucrative sponsorship deals have once again trumped the opportunities for encouraging social and economic change that the World Cup has the potential to create.

Check out ACTSA’s World Cup actions

The World Cup is on the very near horizon and brings with it more than just the promise of good football. This tournament, which begins in a fortnight, will be held in South Africa and is the largest tournament ever held on African soil.

There is more to this World Cup than football. Though South Africa has made huge strides since the downfall of apartheid, there still remains a society that is racked with inequality, poverty and illness. The scourge of HIV/AIDS is taking its toll on every section of society, yet it is the poorest that feel the pain the most.

Action for South Africa (ACTSA) have launched a ranges of resources and we really encourage you to take a look!

They are calling for action too. They are calling on the British Government to help eradicate mother to child transmission of HIV by the next World Cup in 2014. So much has been done in the developed world, but not enough elsewhere. Help them get this done by taking their e-action!