News and Views
British aid to Rwanda ‘is funding a dictator’: UK millions fuel armed conflict, says president’s former aide
British aid to Rwanda is ‘funding a dictator’ and worsening the misery of his victims, a former senior aide to the African state’s president claimed last night.
The £270million of aid earmarked for the country over the next three years is ‘sustaining a bad regime’, said David Himbara, who was private secretary to President Paul Kagame until two years ago.
Kagame’s regime is alleged to be funding and arming a bloody rebellion in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, in a conflict marked by the use of child soldiers and widespread rape and murder.
One Rwandan defence minister has even been said to be co-ordinating military operations inside Congo.
Mr Himbara’s claims throw new doubt over the wisdom of the Coalition’s commitment to foreign aid.
The multi-billion-pound budget is rising every year and is ring-fenced, but the commitment by David Cameron to development as a core principle has come under widespread criticism. Britain has promised aid for President Kagame at a rate of more than £80million a year until 2015.
Payments were suspended in the summer because of concerns over the Congo conflict. However, former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell – who developed a close friendship with President Kagame – allowed a £16million package to be handed over on his last day in office before being replaced in the September reshuffle.
Next month, his replacement, Justine Greening, will have to decide whether to resume the aid or freeze it indefinitely in the light of a UN Security Council report into the rebellion by the M23 movement in Congo, which accused Rwanda of funding the rebels.
Mr Himbara fled to South Africa after falling out with President Kagame, and it is feared his name is on an assassination list drawn up in Rwanda.
Speaking to Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, Mr Himbara said: ‘Britain is not funding Rwanda. It is funding a dictator. Let no British taxpayer flatter herself or himself that they are helping Rwanda. No, you are merely extending their misery.’
‘Britain is not funding Rwanda. It is funding a dictator’
Former presidential aide David Himbara
He added: The United Kingdom’s aid to Rwanda is misplaced. It’s wrong. It cannot be justified. How do you hold people accountable where there is no media, where there is no opposition party, where parliament is answerable to one man?’
Mr Himbara challenged claims that British aid buys diplomatic influence in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. ‘What leverage would that be?’ he asked. ‘It has not stopped Kagame going into Congo.
‘We have never seen UK say anything about Rwanda, no matter what it does. There is no evidence. The UK just gives blank cheques, it seems to me.’
Funding from London to Rwanda has doubled since Mr Cameron’s Coalition came to power, in the hope of rebuilding a country still recovering from the effects of the genocide in which 800,000 people were killed in 1994. One pound out of every £20 spent by the Rwandan government is British aid money, for which President Kagame is supposed to reciprocate by protecting human rights, promoting democracy, and working for peace.
However, Dispatches said that despite repeated requests, British aid officials in Rwanda were unable to provide the programme with specific examples of projects funded by the money.
Last month, Mr Cameron defended the decision to unfreeze the latest £16million tranche of aid. He said: ‘I am clear, Rwanda has been, and continues to be, a success story of a country that has gone from genocide and disaster to being a role model for development and lifting people out of poverty in Africa.
‘I am proud of the fact that the last government, and this government, have continued to invest in that success.’
British aid has now been suspended again after publication of the UN Security Council report.
Both Foreign Secretary William Hague and Miss Greening, have said it contains ‘credible and compelling’ evidence of Kagame’s support for the rebels. M23 began operations in Congo in the spring. Its attack on Goma is described in the country as the ‘Rwandan occupation’.
The city of Goma, which lies on the border with Rwanda, has been captured by M23 forces. Half a million people are said to have been displaced.
The rebel movement is led by General Bosco Ntaganda, who has been nicknamed ‘the Terminator’. Ntaganda has been accused of kidnapping children for use as child soldiers, and his rebels are said to have committed widespread rape and murder.
Former Secretary of State Mr Mitchell told MPs earlier this month that his decision to restore aid was ‘made with complete propriety’. He said he took ‘great offence’ at media portrayals of him as a ‘rogue minister who signed cheques under the bedclothes and bunged them to dubious regimes’.