Rwanda, one of Britain’s closest African allies, has lost £16 million of UK aid after being accused of fuelling a rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has driven 470,000 people from their homes.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, once hailed as one of Africa’s most successful leaders, addressed the Conservative party conference in 2007. His country was later favoured with admission to the Commonwealth, although it has no history of British rule.
But the United Nations reported last month that Mr Kagame shared responsibility for a bloody uprising in neighbouring Congo. Bosco Ntaganda, an indicted war criminal commonly known as the “Terminator”, led a Congolese army mutiny in April.
This inflicted a new round of bloodshed on the provinces of North and South Kivu, with at least 50,000 refugees entering Uganda and another 420,000 fleeing elsewhere in Congo. Ntaganda’s rebels, known as the “M23” movement, have carried out their campaign using weapons and volunteers supplied by Rwanda, according to UN investigators.
America implicitly endorsed this claim by suspending military assistance for Mr Kagame. Britain is Rwanda’s largest bilateral donor, with a £75 million aid programme this year.
Unusually, Rwanda benefits from “general budgetary support” whereby British money goes directly into the country’s coffers, without being allocated for specific sectors like health or education. This year, £37 million was set aside for this purpose.
However, Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, announced a “delay” in sending a payment of £16 million. He stopped short of endorsing the UN’s finding that Mr Kagame was fuelling Congo’s rebellion, nor did he suspend British aid altogether.
Instead, Mr Mitchell urged Rwanda to “be clear publicly that Bosco Ntaganda, a key M23 figure, is an indicted war criminal who should not be allowed to remain at large as part of any solution to the current conflict”. Rwanda, he added, should help the rival parties in Congo to “resolve their differences” peacefully.
Human rights groups had called on Britain to act against Mr Kagame. “Pressure has been mounting for a while and I think the UK, as the largest bilateral donor to Rwanda, was going to look odd if it continued to do nothing,” said Carina Tertsakian, from the Africa division at Human Rights Watch.
“Even just on a symbolic level, it’s a very significant decision because the UK – and Andrew Mitchell in particular – have been very reluctant to speak out on human rights in Rwanda. DFID have really resisted taking any public stance.”
Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo today expressed regret at “hasty decisions based on flimsy evidence” made by donor partners on Rwandan budget support. There have been various media reports in recent days about development partners suspending or deferring aid disbursements to Rwanda in light of the Group of Experts report on the crisis in the eastern DRC. Minister Mushikiwabo said:
“We have just concluded discussions with the Group of Experts and comprehensively rebutted every one of the allegations with conclusive documentary evidence. Once we share this with development partners, we believe this will provide them the reassurance they seek in light of an orchestrated media and political campaign to blame Rwanda for this crisis.”
“Rwanda is impatient in pursuit of poverty reduction, economic development and self-sufficiency. Our people cannot afford this kind of distraction.”
But Ms Tertsakian pointed out that Mr Kagame denied any involvement in Congo even after Rwanda invaded the country in 1996 and 1998. “Whenever there is any criticism, the response is always categoric denial, blanket denial,” she said. “It has been the same every time.”
Source: The Telegraph