Once bitten twice shy, so goes an old adage. Conditional donor aid cost Rwanda dearly last year; the same must not be allowed to recur in the fiscal year starting July 1.
A new budget has been unveiled with higher growth prospects but a small storm is also brewing from incessant out-of-context rants regarding alleged disappearances and the president’s notice to ‘shoot’ national security saboteurs.
I belong to the school of thought that holds that the state under a legitimate government reserves the exclusive monopoly to the use of force in defense of national security and the safety of all citizens. And if a man in his right faculties so chooses to dare trade in violence with a legitimate government, they must be dealt with in the same currency. This applies to grenade vendors, political assassins and terrorists.
Let me argue that internal political stability and national security are the two major factors that have shaped post-genocide Rwanda’s rapid economic transformation; these two have provided the impetus to attract foreign direct investment, tourism, spurred fast economic growth and have seen Rwandans shun divisive politics to embrace economic activities that have seen millions escape from the jaws of extreme poverty. National security is the heart of Rwanda’s evolution.
It’s therefore understandable when the government jealously guards against any attempts to render those two factors obsolete. You needn’t be a genius to surmise how much Kenya’s tourism economy is losing to terrorism. Rwanda, just like the USA and other big powers should be allowed to safeguard its national security and economic interests whenever they’re threatened, directly or indirectly.
Let’s reflect on the fiscal year ending this June 30 where donors reneged on their budgetary pledges leading to an economic slowdown. Technically, what the donors did to Rwanda in 2012 amounted to economic sabotage. They turned aid into a weapon to arm-twist the administration on a disputed matter regarding the M23 operations although the projects that suffered from their actions had nothing to do with the fracas in eastern DRC.
When Rwanda’s economy slowed, the only people who rejoiced were enemy forces who saw it as a direct blow to weaken Kigali under Kagame. But no one is holding donors at gun point to support Rwanda or any African nation; it’s a choice they make because they feel they should make a contribution.
Therefore, if a donor pledges budgetary support to fund a development project and the recipient country accepts to meet all direct conditions regarding the support, they must be under strict obligation to deliver that support on time or in time at worst.
There’s the anecdote of Alex Kabatwitawewe whose wedding had to be cancelled because he developed a misunderstanding with two of his close friends a week to the event. The two had pledged to cover full transport costs as well as the reception venue, when they withdrew their pledged support at the 11th hour forcing a distraught Alex to abort the wedding.
Rwanda’s metaphoric wedding is set to cost Rwf1.7 trillion with external pledges from donors in form of grants worth Rwf 544.8billion or 38 percent of total bill, another Rwf 122.8 billion or 7.0 percent will be borrowed to support the bill.
How can aid dependant countries such as Rwanda guard against donors’ unpredictable behaviour? The gradual reduction of the chunk of support from donors from over 40 to 38 percent is a good move but doesn’t insulate Rwanda in the short term.
One way of insuring donor aid is by Rwanda playing hard ball with donors. We need to behave like a beggar with choices. If a pledge is made, it must be delivered promptly and shouldn’t be in anyway suspended based on factors that are not directly related to a specific development project. This approach would balance the conditionality aid game; Rwanda has become a model user of aid now it’s time for it to set some conditions of its own to ensure pledged aid is assured.
The other option is for Rwanda to borrow more and beg less. In other words, using the country’s positive international credit ratings, Rwanda could easily seek a loan of Rwf 544.8billion which is what is expected from grants. The advantage with a loan is that it’s timely, assured and probably insured unlike grants that change with the mood of the giver.
It’s important that Rwanda finds practical solutions to replace aid in order to act more independently regarding national security policies without attracting hullabaloo from donors whose master card is aid.
Last year proved that delayed aid is as good as nothing; this time round, Rwanda must play hardball with donors, get their pledges in time and keep hopes of 2014/2015 alive.
The writer is a post-graduate student at the Communication University of China