By David Himbara
General Paul Kagame’s periodic bombast of weaning off foreign aid is back in the spotlight. He lectured in 2012 that Rwanda must stop begging for foreign handouts. He repeated the same thing in 2013 and more recently on February 28, 2023. He seems to have forgotten two things. First, in 2013, he declared that Rwanda had already become an African economic lion. Second, in 2016, he instructed his government to set a deadline for withdrawing from foreign aid because Rwanda was at a point of development where it did not need donor handouts. In reality, Rwanda is one of the world’s poorest countries heavily dependent on foreign aid. Let us take a closer look at General Kagame’s self contradictory braggadocio on foreign aid during the past ten years.
Here is General Kagame in his own grandiloquence in 2016, when he instructed his government to set the timetable for abandoning foreign aid:
“It is better to face things the hard way and go straight to the heart of any problem. An example, is something we have been talking about for a long time, the issue of relying on others to pay for things that benefit us. It is really a question of dignity, our Agaciro. Therefore, among the decisions of this Umushyikirano, we should resolve to set a deadline, which should come sooner rather than later, after which Rwanda will no longer be waiting for what others hand out to us…We are at a point in our development where we can get this done…”
Previously, in 2012 and in 2013, he had preached to his government that “Nobody owes you anything, so stop begging” and challenged Rwandans with a series of questions: “Why does a citizen from another country have to support Rwandans? Why? When will we change that mentality?” In the same year, Kagame declared that Rwanda had transformed into “an African economic lion” and that “in our pursuit of progress, we have of course looked to East Asia’s so-called ‘tiger’ economies for inspiration.” This is how he baptized Rwanda “the Singapore of Africa.”
Fast forward to February 27, 2023 – these are the General’s words:
“They give you minimal help and then slap you around as a form of payments…Rwandans, Africans cannot be assisted forever. God did not put this great African Continent and its people – over 1.3 billion – and decide that they will go to waste just to live in poverty, fed by others, pitied, abused, assisted, and you believe it? How is that possible?”
But which foreign donors compel Kagame to receive aid? It is poverty in Rwanda that forces Kagame to beg for foreign aid – and Rwanda receives plenty of it because it is one of the world’s poorest countries. The World Bank data shows that Rwanda receives US$1.2 billion a year. The net foreign aid to Rwanda is 74.2 percent of the central government expense. The net foreign aid to Rwanda is 16.3 percent of the Gross National Income (GNI). And the net foreign aid per capita in Rwanda is US$124. The International Monetary Fund classifies Rwanda as one of 25 “poorest and most vulnerable members” currently receiving debt relief. The 25 poorest and vulnerable countries are Afghanistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, D.R., The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Tajikistan, and Togo.
So, what is General Kagame thinking when he denounces foreign aid? He is engaged in the type of propaganda known as “the big lie” famously defined by Joseph Goebbels as follows:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
General Kagame is not following in the footsteps of Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong or Taiwan – the Asian tigers. He has instead taken a leaf out of totalitarian autocrats’ books. He too has built a tyrannical state seeking to control virtually all aspects of Rwandan life, including private lives and morals of Rwandans through repression of all kinds. If today Kagame proclaims Rwanda to be an economic powerhouse that does not need aid, no one can question the laughable bombast. If he changes his mind and declares that Rwanda is still being fed by donors, none can dare point out to the strongman that he has contradicted himself. Stay tuned.