Stephen OBrien, the newly appointed International Development Minister in Great Britains new Coalition Government recently made his debut trip to Africa, as minister, by visiting Rwanda. As minister in charge of Great Britains donor programmes, OBriens visit was to acquaint himself with the various donor programmes that his country has had with Rwanda over the last ten years. In this exclusive interview with Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah of The New Times the visiting minister talks about his impressions of Rwanda and how the relationship between the two countries is likely to play out in the future.
What is the purpose of your visit to Rwanda?
I have just been appointed a Minister in the Coalition Government. I wanted to come to Rwanda as soon as possible in order to underpin and demonstrate the strength of our relationship and the commitment that UK generally and DFID in particular has had over a period of time, with Rwanda, especially its growth and development of its people and economy.
Why is Rwanda the first country you visited?
You will be aware that this is a very important country in terms of our bilateral relationships and in terms of our confidence to the Rwandan Government. This special relationship should be seen in terms of our general budget support that we are committed to. In this light, my visit offered an opportunity to discuss, explore and reconfirm with various Rwandan officials, the shared ambitions and growth centred around Rwandas economy and people.
What is your view with respect to how Rwanda uses its donor money?
It is important to not only take a view but to also have an ability to see that money that is used well. By that I mean that donor funds are used transparently and fully accounted for. This matters for the purposes of having confidence within the Rwandan Government processes for ensuring that the tax payer from UK gets value for his or her money.
The Rwandan constitution emphasizes power sharing. Could you share with our readers some of the lessons you have learned from your recent elections?
Elections are very important for the purposes of keeping the practise of democracy alive. In our case, the people wished that we work closely together. In response we had to put together a Coalition Government within a very short period of time.
These are tough things to do. There is a lot of maturity and trade off that had to be made. Not everybody can be a winner. That said, we needed to get to an agreed programme of implementation of what is in the national interest.
Given Rwandas situation what would your message be?
The commitment to democracy is to try and make it better each and every time elections are held.We had learnt various lessons with our recent elections in which our monitors pointed out areas that needed redress.
Let us talk about DFID plans for Rwanda in a situation where over 380 million pounds have been used so far. What has been achieved, how does it work, how do you know that it will work?
The best way is to see for yourself what has been done. I had the privilege of experiencing the impact of our programmes. Much as I must say that I am familiar with East Africa , my first port of call when I arrived in Rwanda is when I visited the new land tenure programmes in which people will be assured of security of their land holdings.
The implications of such programmes are diverse. The same applies to other public programmes in which people were building terraces for the purposes of boosting their productive works.
So how would you know that the assistance would work?
I have just had a session with the DFID team on the ground. I have also met with other stakeholders such as NGOs involved. I have also talked to the Rwandan Ministers concerned. From the information gathered we are confident that there is genuine success in delivering out puts and results.
Of course we have to check out all the time, that we are getting the best value for money. By this I mean the number of children who are now able to attend primary school or those able to keep away malaria most of whom are from very low income situations
How is DFID support in Rwanda different from other countries?
Personally it is too early to make a comparison as I have not had a chance to asses other DFID programmes. However, having worked within a similar situation before in Africa my assessment is that Rwanda offers the kind of commitment that delivers confidence to donors. That is why I think that the relationship should be solidified even further.
What are your first impressions about Rwanda?
I have to tell you that I have had a relationship with East Africa before I visited Rwanda. However, to answer your question my impression of Rwanda is that it is a beautiful country. It has welcoming people.
I have experienced an extremely friendly and open dialogue with various Government officials including His Excellency President Kagame. That sense of openness and willingness to engage is extremely positive and one which I value.
The other thing is that I am struck by the rate of what has been achieved over a relatively short period of time as well as the ambitions of what could be achieved in the future. That is something all of us are looking up to.
What is your view of perception that despite a lot of money being sunk as aid in Africa there is really nothing to show for it?
Aid is something that makes us all responsible as global citizens. Of course we have to make the best use from it. Personally I think that a lot has been achieved by it. And that we must learn how to make the best out of it.