The UK will reflect “very carefully” before giving more financial aid to Rwanda, International Development Secretary Justine Greening has said.
Her predecessor Andrew Mitchell is under fire for signing off £16m in aid on his last day in the job – despite concerns about Rwanda’s alleged backing for violent militias in DR Congo.
Ms Greening said his decision had been taken in a “sound and robust” way.
But continued support for Rwanda would depend on progress on various issues.
The UK’s decision to go ahead with an initial £16m tranche of funding to Rwanda was controversial as the African country’s rulers have allegedly funded rebels from the M23 militia group accused of murder and rape in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Other EU nations have withdrawn funds and the UK suspended budget support in July over concerns about Rwanda’s alleged behaviour.
But Mr Mitchell told MPs last week he had decided to resume aid to the country after two out of three conditions set by the UK – a ceasefire in the Kivus region and an end to practical support from Rwanda to militias – were met.
Ms Greening told the Commons international development committee that she was not going to “second-guess” her predecessor’s decision – which was taken on his last day in the department in September.
“I am not going to disagree with Andrew Mitchell. I think it is very difficult for me to agree or disagree with him.”
Ms Greening said her predecessor, when he appeared before the committee last week, had set out in “very clear-cut” terms the basis for his decision: “He had clearly been through a very robust process and I think that was absolutely the right thing to do…
“I believe that he did a full, sound and proper job in his role in taking what I think was a very difficult decision”.
Mr Mitchell denied he had acted as a “rogue minister” and said the decision to approve the aid had been taken collectively, with the prime minister, foreign secretary and senior civil servants.
A decision on whether to approve the rest of the money would be taken next month, Ms Greening told MPs.
It would depend in part, she added, on whether Rwanda was continuing to honour the conditions relating to its neighbour, including playing a constructive part in peace talks and condemning the actions of the militias, which it has yet to do.
‘Options on the table’
Ms Greening said there was a “lull” in fighting at the moment but there was a risk this was only “temporary”.
The UK had yet to decide whether evidence linking Rwanda to the militias was accurate – but claims about it were “very disturbing,” added the minister.
She said the UK’s support for Rwanda had been “very successful” – but President Paul Kagame had to demonstrate his government was living up to the principles of their aid partnership with the UK, based on respect for human rights and a commitment to good governance and poverty reduction.
Other factors would also be considered, she added, including UN reports on the country.
She told the MPs “all options were on the table”, ranging from withholding financial aid entirely, asking for further reassurances, or allocating it in a “different form” – potentially by giving it to third-party organisations rather than directly to the government.
At the moment, half of the money is being given directly to education and agriculture projects, with the rest going directly to the government to spend.
“One thing is clear is that I will be prepared to look across the piece at what my options are and will very carefully reflect about progress against partnership principles,” she added.
The current coalition government and its Labour predecessor have both had a close relationship with Rwanda.
Like Mr Mitchell, Ms Greening has taken part in Project Umubano, which saw Tory MPs – including several members of the committee quizzing the minister, who declared an interest – help with local business and education projects.
The project, visited by Mr Cameron in 2007, was a key part of the Tory leader’s effort to present a more compassionate image.