HON. ANDREW MITCHELL, the current UK Secretary of State for Overseas Development was recently in Rwanda for a working visit. During his visit Hon.Mitchell announced new measures that have high potential of profoundly effecting how Aid is administered in Africa. Just prior to his departure he spoke to FRED OLUOCH-OJIWAH of The New Times on the topic of UK overseas development assistance to Africa.
How would you sum up your visit to Rwanda?
I have been to Rwanda many times over the last 6 years. This visit, just like the rest, has been a wonderful experience. It has been really valuable for me. What gives me the greatest pleasure is to see the way the partnership between UK and Rwanda has been deepened over the years. Of course we are from the Conservative Party. We are not part of the UK Government. And the relationship is with the people of Rwanda. We work in different areas such as education, justice, private sector and health; we have seen the relationship deepening. This year we have seen the school which my colleague Minister Brooks Newmark helped set up. We have also seen the opening of a health centre. We have seen a real deepening of a legacy.
Within legislature the senate has benefited whereby British members of parliament and members of the European parliament and staffers of our parliament are working with those from Rwandan parliament to develop systems in Rwandan parliament for holding to account the executive and political leaders.
So what is the sum up?
It has been a wonderful experience the way Project Umubano and all its relations across Rwanda has been deepening over the years especially the project’s successes and legacy.
What drives you to have your vacation in Rwanda?
Mine is basically a working holiday. But I fell in love in Rwanda when I first came here. While I am here as a volunteer with Project Umubano, I must add that I am also here inevitably as in my capacity as British Development Secretary of State . That means that I had meetings with various public officials here.
What do you think about what is said about Rwanda out there and what actually happens, right inside Rwanda?
I think that increasingly, there is an understanding not least, because of the fact that 60 members of the House of Commons in UK have been through the Project Umubano, there is increasing understanding that although there are issues, which have universal applications, the context of those issues is extremely important as well. That includes discussions on the issues of political space as well as issues related to media freedom both of which are important issues in Rwanda. I am enormously impressed at the way in which legislation which will address the issue of registration of political parties, as well as the issue of media self regulation is passing through parliament. It is absolutely critical that such pieces of legislation are looked at very carefully by lawmakers and all issues are discussed openly and freely in order to have a set of effective laws once it is passed. This is due to the fact that the end results for enacting such new laws will matter to Rwanda because it will determine the type of society Rwandans will be living under. Consequently, it matters that such pieces of legislation will obviously affect Rwanda’s reputation internationally. There has been an international concern regarding such laws. That sort of new legislation has the capacity of addressing such international concerns in a very comprehensive way so long as the legislation is right and it is carefully thought through and the spirit and letter of the legislation is stuck to, by everyone.
Five years down the line is Project Umubano taking a new direction?
Project Umubano is the only example I know of in Britain that is run by any political party. Each year this project attracts more people with each passing year. This year we have more than 120 volunteers mostly in Rwanda and some in Sierra Leone. I think that the difference is where as in the first years we spent a long time renovating a school most of our work right now is based on technical assistance. For instance, we have British business people from the Conservatives working with Business people from Rwanda. It is doctors from UK working with doctors in Rwanda. The same applies to teaching or management of football or cricket. Project Umubano is about technical assistance partnership. I think that such a relationship has intensified.
It is said that you keep clippings of The New Times in your office. Why this sort of passion on Rwanda?
It is true. I do. I have one front page of The New Times representing each year I have been here. It is partly because sometimes offices or minister’s offices can be a bit impersonal or bureaucratic. For me I would want what one would call some emotional development colour to my office. That said, I must add that I have a poster in my office, which I had taken from the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali. It is a picture of the bravest woman in the world according to me, called Sifa who sheltered children targeted for killing during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. She refused to allow the killers into her house. She preferred being killed rather than letting in the killers into her house. The killers went away due to her persistence. Her picture is on my wall to inspire me.
Why this passion? I think you have been to several countries of the world. Why Rwanda?
I am personally engaged in overseas development. It is a subject of great passion and excitement to me. When I was in opposition I woke up every morning hoping to have the opportunity to be the minister responsible for development assistance. I now have this wonderful opportunity to make a difference. And Britain is determined to make a difference on development. Rwanda is one our most successful development partners. It does not mean that we do not have issues with such partners which candid friends can discuss where there is disagreement. It means that at heart we are friends of Rwanda. On development relationships the kind of specific relationship we have with Rwanda is one of the best development relationships we have in the world.
Let us discuss the issue of Aid in Africa. It is a hot topic. Some people say that it has not worked in Africa, what is your opinion on that?
First of all we have made a difficult decision in Britain to stick to our past commitments to spend part of our hard earned wealth on overseas development. We have to make sure that we get a hundred pennies for every pound delivered on overseas development. That is part of the commitment. There must be value for money on the ground. And aid that is spent well works miracles. In Rwanda today, there are children who are alive, there are children who are in school, there are health facilities which are delivering support for mothers who are about to have babies which are all there as a result of this partnership and development assistance from UK.
Closely related to that, when you are talking about UK Aid policy for Rwanda, in the coming days what are we likely to see? Are you going to have changes coming up?
A decision has been made to increase the level of support to Rwanda by 50 percent over the next four years. It is a rising programme. That is good news. The programme is result-based and we are piloting in Rwanda and Ethiopia, result- based aid. That is completely new. What that means is that if a recipient country gets children into school in difficult areas you get some money, if you get more girls into schools you get some money, if you have children who sit an exam at a specific level in secondary school you get some more money. And if such school going children pass, the recipient country qualifies to get some more money. It is basically “support for results”.
That is a paradigm shift in terms of managing Aid to Africa.
Yes. Absolutely. We are piloting it here in Rwanda because it is a very good place to host it. If it works and we anticipate it to work then we will replicate it elsewhere.
On media, what can Rwanda learn from the phone hacking scandal?
First of all the article which appeared recently on the British paper on Rwanda is not an entirely balanced article. It is not a balanced case. Naturally, some people would personally be offended by what was said in that article. My reaction as a minister is not to jump up and down and scream and shout. It is to note it, and always to recall that today’s paper wraps up tomorrow’s food. It is a case of not being too angry about it. That is my point.
On the issue of media, for anybody and for that matter any politician who is concerned with its management, a certain level of humility is required. I would approach the subject with some level of humility. But I would point out that the phone hacking scandal was actually exposed in Britain by the media. A free press exposed the extent of the hacking. A process has been put in place quite rightly by our Prime Minister for a judicial review to make sure that rules governing the way media operates are correctly organized. It is not part of our wish to see the media in some way chained up. We want to see a really robust effective media which holds people to account and which can question what public officials are doing in the most robust ways.
What is your conclusion?
It has been another fabulous visit. More than 100 conservatives of all ages from the top to the bottom of the party will be returning to UK having learnt so much about Rwanda. We hope that we made a small contribution. We hugely enjoy taking part in the reconstruction efforts by Rwandans where with each passing year this partnership deepens. Rwanda is a country with which some of us have fallen in love.