“Shun (Bad) Aid Dependency”

President Paul Kagame.
President Paul Kagame.

KIGALI - The New Times, in its title yesterday (Tuesday 26 May 2009) “Shun Aid, Kagame Tells Youths” confused Rwandans and the world on President Kagame’s views on development and the necessary role of aid in that process.

The President’s position is very clear – and cannot just be summarised as a call to “shun aid”.


The development of any country is about its productivity and competitiveness which in turn lead to increased investment and trade. This contributes to prosperity, which eventually makes a country develop and lifts the livelihoods of its citizens. No country in the world has developed without this being the case.


Now, as the President has repeatedly said, we in Rwanda, along with other less developed countries, need initial and temporary support to build the foundations to enable us, for ourselves, to create prosperity.


This will depend hugely on the context of each country and, in our case, aid was essential following colonial and post-colonial mismanagement that ultimately led to the devastation of 1994, where it then effectively helped us build roads and educate our children, for example.

This, for President Kagame, is good aid. Put differently, good aid comes to support the strategic priorities of less developed countries, so that they can build the foundations of wealth-creation and self-sufficiency.

Conversely, bad aid is ad hoc, tied to preferences of aid givers and, crucially, creates a culture of dependency that hinders the long term development of countries.

Good aid, if you will, is assistance with a purpose – the purpose to support a countries’ development in their own terms, for the benefit of many not the few. In contrast, bad aid is often tied to vested interests and does little to promote real development.

As the President said at the event, much of the aid to Africa over the past 50 years, amounting to several trillion dollars – has been bad aid.

Sadly, it has done little to improve the lives of Africans, reduce poverty or foster much need economic growth. Rather it has created situations were debt, corruption and conflict have been allowed to flourish.

And bad aid also relates to the technical assistance Africa receives. Around US$5 billion worth of aid is spent annually in our continent which is, distressingly, tied up with over 100,000 consultants and experts who take a significant part of this aid money back to their own countries.

They fly in and fly out – leaving reports and little else – and do not contribute to the real development Africa needs. This aid seems infinite – it just keeps coming no matter what.

And it is this aid, bad aid, which President Kagame is critical of, as it is essentially a trap that dehumanizes and demeans Africans and Rwandans. He rightly calls this “Africans being fed by other taxpayers’ money”.

This situation is clearly unsatisfactory and the responsibility addressing it must be taken by the aid recipients and donors alike, and the Government of Rwanda is in continuous dialogue with its partners on these issues.

But now back to The New Times’ article “Shun Aid Kagame tells Youths”. Why the misinterpretation? It seems that certain scholars, development experts and newspaper columnists intentionally or otherwise keep on missing the nuanced positions that President Kagame takes on aid.

He does not condemn all aid – only bad aid. He has never called to setting timelines for ending aid for any country, let alone Rwanda, especially given that we still receive substantial amounts of support – around just under fifty percent of our budget – from external assistance, which we still require in order for us to develop and prosper.

However, this does not mean that the President should stop challenging Rwandans and Africans to begin taking necessary steps to reduce and, over time, come off aid altogether through promoting trade, building industry and attracting investment so that we can increase our own productivity and be self sufficient as other countries before us have done.

This contextualises much better what the President said when he spent time with one hundred young Rwandans from the public and private sectors, who just graduated from the “Academy for Leadership in Competitiveness and Prosperity”.

The President sees these and other young Rwandans as the “soft assets”, which we must all encourage, thus laying the foundations for Rwanda to graduate from aid dependency to achieving self-reliance. This, as he said, can only be achieved if we are all willing to work hard and be innovative.

And throughout the evening he challenged them to figure out, if they are not incapacitated (which they are not) why they should be content to expect other countries to feed them and their children in future.

“Shun aid dependency” he asked them, and urged them to rise to the development challenge of using their own skills and ideas, both in the public and private sector, to enable Rwanda to grow.  

And he asked them to inspire their colleagues, friends and family to follow the graduating class in learning about leadership, competitiveness and prosperity creation, for their own benefit as well as that of their country. I end as I begun.

President Kagame fully appreciates the role of good aid and believes that more of this assistance is needed to enable Africa and Rwanda to build a strong foundation for their own development, and we welcome continued dialogue with our partners to make this type of aid even more effective.

But the President categorically rejects bad aid, for which both the donors and recipients can show almost no benefit for.


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