Rwanda has been a wonderful assignment – David McRae

David McRae, the outgoing EU Chief of Delegation was posted to Rwanda in 2004 after having joined the European Union in 1978, McRae took up different duties in his capacity as a development expert. Prior to the conclusion of his Rwandan tour of duty, MacRae, a British national talked to The New Times’ Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah on the key attributes of his  5 – years as Head of the EU mission in Rwanda. Below are excerpts.
Minister of Finance, James Musoni and McRae
Minister of Finance, James Musoni and McRae

David McRae, the outgoing EU Chief of Delegation was posted to Rwanda in 2004 after having joined the European Union in 1978, McRae took up different duties in his capacity as a development expert. Prior to the conclusion of his Rwandan tour of duty, MacRae, a British national talked to The New Times’ Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah on the key attributes of his  5 – years as Head of the EU mission in Rwanda. Below are excerpts.

Q: How would you rate your Rwandan tour of duty compared to others you have undertaken as a diplomat before?

DM: I have enjoyed each of my tours of duty  but my experiences in Rwanda have been very special.  I have especially enjoyed the inter-action with the leadership which is of a high quality. 

It is rewarding to work together with people that have a vision and to see things getting done.  There has been enormous progress during the five years I have been here.

Q: What would you term as the high and low points of your tour of duty in Rwanda?

DM: I have enjoyed every day of my time here and there have not really been any low points in my professional life.  I would say rather that it has been marked by continuous progress in the work we have been doing together.  I do not exaggerate. This is very gratifying.

Q: Rwanda has been advocating a policy on aid premised on what it calls  ‘good aid’ that is channelled through the national budget. Do you think that this is a commendable approach?

DM: ‘Good aid’ is a concept which has come to the fore in recent times and I subscribe to it.  We have to ask ourselves what is this aid about and is it genuinely helping the country to develop.

Countries develop first and foremost through their own efforts.  Development partners may contribute to the process but they must take care to ensure that their actions truly contribute to the process and don’t undermine it.

Being a good development partner means first taking the trouble to find out what is happening in the country. To contribute effectively in this way requires a degree of trust on both sides.  Development partners have to earn that trust.

Second, we need to share a common vision.  If a development partner has a different agenda this can be problematic.

Most of the aid which comes from the European Commission is delivered in the framework of the Cotonou Agreement (the successor to the Lome Convention).

This aid is jointly managed by government and the EC (European Commission).  In my experience this is the right approach. Ownership is of vital importance.

A project invented by an outside agency, by people who may even not know the country and where the receiving country has had little say in putting it together, has small chances of succeeding.

I would say that the EC does not have projects in Rwanda.  We support Rwandan projects and, wherever possible, choose to deliver our aid using national procedures.

This is a change from the past when we used to insist on our own procedures.  Today over 70% of EC aid is delivered in the form of budgetary support.

An exception is the major infrastructure projects such as roads where there are technical and economic advantages in using our own procedures. So the answer to  your questions is that Rwanda’s aid policy is commendable.

Q: What are the areas of recovery in Rwanda that have impressed you?

DM: Where to begin?  Possibly with security for without security it is hard to speak about recovery. 

National reconciliation. Realising this is a gradual process over many years, good progress is being made.  The justice sector where much is still needed but much is being achieved.

The social sectors, health and education where the challenges are enormous but where much good work is being done.
I am impressed by the attention being given to primary health care – including vaccination programmes.

This is the most cost effective way of improving the health status of the population as a whole.  The nation-wide health insurance scheme.  Nine years primary education for all.  These socially inclusive programmes are a laudable achievements.

Q: What are the critical areas that policy makers need to emphasize in order to drive growth prospects.

DM: If by growth you mean simply economic growth then we need to create the right environment for businesses to flourish.

This means putting in place the needed infrastructure, creating the right institutional framework and avoiding bureaucracy.  And of course stamping out corruption which is no easy task. 

But I would prefer to answer your question in a wider sense as growth is not the same as development.

Policy makers need also to focus on achieving the Millenium Development Goals as a top priority. The ability of Rwanda to achieve Vision 2020 and raise per capita incomes depends crucially on what happens to the birth rate which at the moment is too high. Put at its simplest mothers on average are having too many children. 

And when we examine this more closely we find that those who are least able to manage are having large numbers of children still.  There is clearly much work still to be done in this area.

Q: Rwanda seems to offer unique learning experience for development assistance experts like you. What have you learnt from Rwanda?

DM: The importance of leadership especially in the early stages of development when there is a desperate need to raise income levels and deliver essential basic services.

As a country develops other factors come into play leading towards a pluralistic society where leadership and decision making is more diffused.

I am not advocating an illiberal and repressive society – and in all fairness I don’t think that is what the leadership here wants either - but without good strong leadership in the initial stages it is hard to see how some of the poorest countries can move forward. 

To be more precise it is important to have the right institutional framework and to build strong, that is to say effective and well run, institutions within it.

The priority is to get the framework right and then for private enterprise – be it farmers or business people – to thrive within it, thus building growth.  But to make this possible requires good leadership at the outset.

Q: What do you envisage as Rwanda’s remaining development challenges?

DM: I would say that all the sectors where the EC has been involved still need the attention of policy makers and planners.

Even in the sectors where good progress has already been made, such as in health, there is still much that remains to be done. Water supply is something easy to take for granted when you have it but of vital importance when you haven’t. 

We as the EC have put a significant amount of our aid into rehabilitating the major roads in Rwanda.  We hope to complete this programme with an upgrade of the Kigali- Gatuna road which forms part of the Northern Corridor.

As we move forward it is important that the country develops capacity in developing secondary roads, and access roads especially in rural areas.

This is very important for effective service delivery and agricultural development.  Timely road maintenance is a must. Clearly, the education sector will require special attention for years to come.

What I would  say in conclusion on this subject is that whatever the challenges may be the solution is to have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish.

It is then a matter of focus and perseverance to achieve the required result.

I am a person who believes strongly that where there is a will there is way.  If there is any country in Africa which can achieve the Millenium development goals by 2015 then it is Rwanda.

Q: Rwanda goes into polls next year, do you think a level play ground exists?

DM: If you have an incumbent who is widely respected and supported by the strongest party, then any contender would have an uphill trying to outsmart such an incumbent.

This happens all over the world not just in Rwanda only. So to answer your questions, Yes I think that there is a level playing field.

Q: What is your next work station and how do you intend to link it to Rwanda?

DM: My next assignment is to be the EU Ambassador in Nigeria, responsible for relations with that country and the regional organisation ECOWAS which is headquartered in Abuja, the capital of that country. 

I am moving from one of Africa’s smaller countries to one of Africa’s largest.  And Nigeria, as you know, has rich deposits of minerals, petroleum and other natural resources.

There are important governance issues to address and the country has important commercial relations with the EU. 

On top of this, the regional dimension through ECOWAS is of considerable concern to the European Commission.  There will certainly be enough to keep me busy.

I have heard but have yet to find out if this is true, that some west African countries are already taking an interest in Rwanda and what is happening here.

The idea of leaders being accountable both up and down through Imihigo, for example, is something which is being explored.  How far this can be applied in Nigeria, which is a country I have yet to discover, I do not know.

As you will have heard from the news, Nigeria has a big corruption problem.  Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Rwanda in this area too.

Nigeria will be a challenge, no doubt.   But it is an interesting country. 

I leave Rwanda with many rich experiences which I hope to share with my new colleagues.  Rwanda has been a wonderful assignment.  I have enjoyed every moment of it.


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