Why does the UK give aid to Rwanda?

The United Kingdom will provide $80 million in development aid to Rwanda this year.  Will it do any good? The simple answer is to look at the difference our support is making to the lives of Rwandan people.

The United Kingdom will provide $80 million in development aid to Rwanda this year.  Will it do any good? The simple answer is to look at the difference our support is making to the lives of Rwandan people.

Recently I met Laurent Rugero in Kayonza district.  He is a disabled ex-soldier living with his family in a small house near the main road. He cannot do a regular job. He lives in a very small house, with his wife and baby.  Without any support, Laurent would probably be completely destitute.

But in fact, Laurent gets a grant from the Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP) each month.  With the money Laurent rents a small piece of land which his wife cultivates and produces food to eat at home.  DFID is a big financial supporter of the VUP, and we are really proud to be behind it.  Laurent is just one of the millions of people whose lives have been changed by good quality aid.

But why does the UK work with Rwanda on poverty reduction? Firstly there is the moral cause.  Rwanda has taken big strides in development since 1994 – more girls are in school, health access is much better, and the Rwanda Revenue Authority is building sustainable financing.   However, this progress, and the progress achieved by other countries in Africa, is now threatened by the global economic crisis, climate change and enduring conflict and fragility.  Globally the downturn could keep 90 million people in poverty, and as the world heats up 600 million more people could be affected by malnutrition by the end of the century.  Rwanda could be affected as much as any other country.

In an interdependent world, Britain knows that the success and security of other countries affects our own – state failure, radicalisation and communicable diseases all cross international boundaries.  This is why the UK’s new policy statement on international development called Building our Common Future makes clear that poverty reduction is not only morally right but also economically wise.  The UK is not going to cut back on our efforts in the downturn; now is the right time to make a renewed case for action.

So Britain is committed to maintaining our drive towards our 0.7% GNI aid target by 2013, and our core poverty reduction target.  In Rwanda we expect to continue to provide at least two thirds of our assistance as General Budget Support. This ensures that the Government of Rwanda’s priorities in the EDPRS are achieved; it is also an efficient way of delivering aid because there are minimal project costs, and it is based on principles of mutual accountability.  General Budget Support is the central pillar of the UK’s partnership with Rwanda.

And I am delighted that Douglas Alexander, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for International Development, has just announced a further $170 million of general budget support for the period 2009 - 2011

But we will also pay attention to the three big new themes challenging our world.  On Growth we will support Land Tenure Regularisation and Rwanda’s integration into the East African Community; on Climate Change we will continue to back Rwanda’s developing position on the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference; and on Conflict we are funding the total eradication of land mines from the country.

President Kagame has made it clear that he wants good aid: aid that promotes sustainability and national pride and which does not generate a handout mentality.  That is exactly what we in DFID want too.  Essentially we want to do ourselves out of a job, and with economic growth and good governance we can get there.  Since 2005 DFID has completed its aid programme to 11 countries, including 2 in Africa (the Gambia and Angola), as they have moved beyond aid dependence to a path of sustainability. That is our long term goal in Rwanda too.

Dambiso Moyo’s book Dead Aid is controversial, and I do not agree that phasing out all aid in five years would be the best thing for the world’s poor people.  But I do agree with her about inappropriate development assistance – tied projects, dumping food aid and a cycle of dependency don’t help get people out of poverty.  Rwanda needs more trade, a thriving private sector and a vibrant civil society to reach the goal of a prosperous, secure society.

So, there is plenty to do.  And the UK will work with the Government, development partners and civil society to ensure that Laurent Rugero’s baby son gets the successful future he, and all Rwandans, deserve.

The author is the Head DFID Rwanda/Burundi

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