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.

Response from Ivan Lewis MP on Government announcement on Pakistan aid

Ivan Lewis MP, Labour’s Shadow International Development Secretary, responding to the findings in the International Development Select Committee’s report on aid to Pakistan, said:

 

“The International Development Select Committee are right to make the link between Pakistan’s tax system and UK aid.

 

“Hard pressed British taxpayers have a right to expect that alongside our support, the Government of Pakistan is taking all necessary steps  to collect the tax revenue which will play a crucial part in the country’s long term capacity to end high levels of poverty.

 

“It is also true that we will only be able to achieve our aim to end aid dependency globally by 2030, if there is a concerted effort to prevent the tax dodging by some multinational companies which the evidence shows denies developing countries vast amounts of revenue.

 

“That is why David Cameron must use the UK’s chairmanship of the G8 to replace his tough rhetoric on tax with effective global action.”

David Morrissey says ‘Keep the Promise’

At the Gleneagles summit in 2005, the G8 countries made a promise: their aid budgets would be increased to 0.7% of their national income. Now, just 6 years later, there are already signs that some of those countries are failing to live up to their word. The Labour Party, with Harriet Harman at the helm as Shadow International Development Secretary, is demanding that the UK is not added to this list.

Speaking out today, actor David Morrissey has spoken out today, saying “there is much to be proud of, but there’s also much to be done. You can watch the video here

Visit the Keep the Promise website to find out more about Labour’s work, both in Government and in opposition, on increasing aid for the world’s poorest.

Harriet Harman responds to Turks and Caicos loan

The Department for International Development is set to guarantee a loan of £260 million to the Turks and Caicos Islands, which raises serious questions about the Government’s use of DfID’s budget.

Responding to this, Harriet Harman said:

“Following on from the revelation that DFID money was used to fund the Pope’s state visit this looks suspiciously like another example of where the FCO is looking to DFID to bankroll its obligations which are not genuine development issues”

Harriet Harman to discuss the aid budget at LSE

On Thursday 3rd February, Harriet Harman, Shadow International Development Secretary will be speaking at the London School of Economics. The talk will focus on the aid budget and how, and why, the UK should honour its pledge to increase aid to 0.7 of national income in a time of economic downturn.

The event is free and entry is on a first come, first served basis.

Date: Thursday 3 February 2011
Time: 6.30-8pm
Venue: Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House

 

Don’t forget that LCID is hosting an event in Parliament with Harriet Harman on 16 February. If you would like to come along to the LCID event, please RSVP to eilidh@lcid.org.uk

Harriet Harman calls for aid for Sri Lankan flood victims

With floods in Sri Lanka driving 39,000 people from their homes, Harriet Harman, Shadow International Development Secretary, has called for the UK and the international community to help.

Though aid has begun to arrive in Sri Lanka, The Daily Mirror points out that only 6 tonnes of aid was moved on Friday.

Harriet Harman said:

“Sadly over twenty people have lost their lives in these devastating floods and  hundreds of thousands of people have been affected with many losing their homes and livelihoods. The priority now must be helping them.

“The floods will also cause longer term problems. They have destroyed acres of rice fields which could put food supply at risk and have raised the risk of water-borne diseases like typhoid.

“The people of Sri Lanka will need help, both immediately and in the long-term,  and the UK and the international community must be ready to  help provide that support.

“Many people in the UK will be worried about their friends and relatives in Sri Lanka and I am urging the UK government to do all they can to help them get in touch with their loved ones.”

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’.

Will Human Rights have their day in Bangladesh?

By Claire Leigh

You may not know it, but today (10th December) is World Human Rights Day. Coinciding the with the day that Liu Xiaobo fails to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for his tireless efforts to promote greater respect for human rights in China, this year’s celebration is a good time to reflect on the billions of people worldwide for whom the very concept of ‘human rights’ must seem like a meaningless abstraction.

I recently returned from Bangladesh, where I spent four days visiting projects supported by UK charity One World Action. Among other things, One World Action works with local NGO Nagorik Uddyog to promote the rights of the 5.5 million Dalits currently living in Bangladesh. Dalits (often referred to as ‘Untouchables’) represent the lowest castes in the traditional Hindu hierarchy, historically engaged in trades and occupations that are considered ‘unclean’ such as sweeping, cobbling, disposing of dead bodies and manual scavenging (a euphemism for sewerage work). In an endemically poor country, these people are the poorest of the poor; socially, economically and politically marginalised, Dalits are routinely denied even their most basic rights, ignored in public and despised in private.

The plight of Dalits living in India is well documented, having been brought to light by Ghandi as early as the 1930s. However, as most of the Dalits living in Bangladesh were brought in from India under the colonial regime, the majority-Muslim society has until recently regarded caste-based exclusion as an ‘Indian problem’ that does not concern Bangladesh, or at least a ‘Hindu problem’ that does not concern the vast majority of Bangladeshi society.

In the two days I spent visiting Dalit communities in and around Dhaka, the idea that Dalit exclusion is not a Bangladeshi problem became patently ridiculous.

Most Dalits in Dhaka live in so-called ‘colonies’, physically demarcated areas squeezed into the most crowded parts of the city. The entrance of the first colony I enter is marked by a discreet arch, covering a tiny alleyway which leads into a maze of narrow streets beyond. Like Platform 9 ¾, you would not know it was there unless you were shown. Hidden away like this the colony seems to physically embody the marginalisation and exclusion of its inhabitants; out of sight, out of mind. Our driver Mintu had no idea such areas of town existed and was visibly taken aback by what we saw.

The first thing that hits you in the confusion of smells; open sewers mixed with frying spices and fresh laundry hung over the already crowded alleys, creating a kind of bunting of colourful dripping clothes. Then the inhabitants- not only the dozens of children that we gather as we walk around, but the thousands of flies that make the colony their home. As we tour round a maze of streets we see houses which are no more than small rooms, often home to families of eight people or more. We see the temples and community halls that provide the only large spaces for the community gather. We walk past the toilet block, an open space for showering with no separate areas for men and women, meaning people are forced to wash over their saris and lungis, denied even the privacy of their morning ablutions. The shared WCs are so few in number that they attract an even greater density of flies, gut-churning smells and angry queues of people.

But among the chaos and the squalor you also get a keen sense of a community increasingly aware of its rights and increasingly able and willing to fight for them. I met young women who were studying for college degrees, and who had chosen, rather than escaping their roots, to come back into the community to teach and lead. I met mothers who had started women’s groups, providing the training, support and loans necessary to earn extra income and provide alternative occupations outside the traditional Dalit trades. And I met men and women who through groups such as Bangladesh Dalit Human Rights were advocating at the city and national levels to tackle Dalit exclusion, improve conditions and promote new laws to protect the human rights of all marginalised communities.

A rally organised by BDERM (Bangladeshi Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement) on my fourth and final day in Dhaka demonstrated just how far the movement has come in a few short years. Cars hooted their horns and cycle rickshaws rang their bells in solidarity as Dalit protesters marched past the National Museum proudly holding signs bearing a slogan that is hard to argue with: ‘Dalit Rights are Human Rights.’ As we marched with the crowd I looked to my left and saw that our driver Mintu had joined the protest, the newest convert to a growing movement.

Will long-term poverty reduction fail under the Tories?

There is an article running on the Guardian website analysing the contradiction at the heart of Conservative international development policy. It looks at the emerging schism between traditional Conservative values on aid and the ring-fenced budget; as well as between an increased focus on security and the alleviation of poverty.

LCID has run several articles on worries over the increased militarisation of aid as well as Conservative spending priorities. We will continue to scrutinise the Government’s actions.

It is well worth a read.