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Defining a negative – When will donors un-freeze aid to Rwanda?

Yesterday, Sweden announced that it was suspending aid to Rwanda. Their aid was $32 million last year, which would come on top of the aid that the Netherlands ($6 million), the African Development Bank ($38 million), Germany ($26 million over next five years), the United Kingdom (up to $50 million), and the United States ($200,000). That’s a total of $152 million. There are now suggestions that even the World Bank and the European Union, who give large amounts of aid to Rwanda, are reviewing their portfolios.

But the key word here should be: “suspended.” With the exception of the US, which was legally forced to cut a symbolic amount of military aid, all these donors have frozen aid while they wait to see what Rwanda’s response will be to allegations of support to the M23. After several months (in the case of the AfDB, one month), they could decide to disburse or further delay funding.

The problem is: What will convince donors to release aid? As one diplomat told me this week: “It amounts to defining a negative. We have to know when Rwanda has ceased supporting the M23, something they have denied all along.” That will be very difficult. There is no acid test for Rwandan involvement, no easy way of knowing when this behavior has stopped.

The British Development Minister Andrew Mitchell tried a different tack, trying to identify what concrete steps (defining a positive?) the Rwandan government could undertake to show its good faith:

“We expect the Rwandan government to play a most important role in
(regional) discussions … and we look also, of course, to the Rwandan
government to make clear where they stand on the issue of the mutiny,
the rebellion which is taking place by the M23 group in the DRC.”

In other words, Rwanda needs to look like part of the solution and not part of the problem. An oft-mentioned analogy is Kigali’s actions in 2009, after a UN report accused it of supporting Laurent Nkunda’s rebellion. Then, Kigali also denied the charge, but then swiftly arrested Nkunda and struck a deal with Kinshasa. While donors had little doubt that Rwanda was supporting Nkunda’s CNDP, Rwanda was seen as a force for good. Sweden and the Netherlands, which had suspended aid, unfroze it.

It’s not clear how Rwanda could carry out a similar sleight of hand now. The Khartoum and Kampala meetings, which have mulled over the creation of a “neutral force,” have been received with hefty skepticism by most donors I have spoken with, who don’t see how this force would be staffed or funded (nor do I). In other words – this is not the solution that donors are waiting for, at least it doesn’t look like it.

Unfortunately, the furore over Rwandan involvement has led to smugness in Kinshasa and indignation in Kigali – not emotions that are exactly conducive to pragmatic problem-solving.

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