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.”