With aid cut, US loosens Rwanda’s hold on foreign assistance

Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Photo by: Russell Watkins / Department for International Development / CC BY-SA

The U.S. Department of State has pulled military funding from Rwanda in light of information that the African nation’s government supports armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although development assistance was so far spared, the decision to pull any funding represents a rare moment for Rwanda, a country that has tended to call the shots when it comes to aid.

The $200,000 worth of U.S. military aid had been allocated for a Rwandan academy for noncommissioned officers, but will instead be reassigned to another country.

Aid to Rwanda, as for many other countries, has political dimensions: The United Nations wants to ensure Rwandan President Paul Kagame is satisfied enough with the assistance he receives to keep contributing peacekeepers to the mission in Sudan.

But Rwanda is a special case. Unlike most other aid recipients, the country has put forward a strong vision of its own aid strategy and agenda and has invited donors to play by its rules, or go home. The country has its own multiyear development strategy called Rwanda Vision 2020 and has successfully dictated which sectors are funded and how. What’s more, the international community seems exceptionally willing to comply.

Donors are free to dispense or withhold support, Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a government news release.

The State Department’s announcement does not affect development assistance, but does send a message to Rwanda that donor flexibility and tolerance has a breaking point.

“We will continue to provide assistance to Rwanda to enhance its capacity to support peacekeeping missions. The Department continues to assess whether other steps should be taken in response to Rwanda’s actions with respect to the DRC,” said Noel Clay, a State Department spokesman.

Rwanda is deeply reliant on international aid which currently accounts for 23 percent of its budget. But its reliance seems to be decreasing: In 2010, foreign assistance made up 45 percent of government expenditure, which at one point was as high as 50 percent.

That aid is increasingly going to budget support, which has increased every year since 2004, according to Reuters.

“Support that was previously project support is now becoming budget support,” Kampeta Sayinzoga, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, told a news conference.

Priority sectors in Rwanda include health, education, infrastructure development, agriculture and social protection.

None of the fiscal year’s remaining foreign military financing will be provided. The U.S. 2012 appropriation act specifically warns FMF will be pulled if Rwanda supports Congolese militias.

A panel of U.N. investigators accused Rwanda of supporting rebel group M23 with money, weapons and manpower in an effort to create a friendly, semiautonomous state on its border. Kagame denied the allegations, saying Rwanda had its own problems to deal with.

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About the author

  • Jennifer Brookland

    Jennifer Brookland is a former Devex global development reporter based in Washington, D.C. She has worked as a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations and as an investigative journalist for News21. Jennifer holds a bachelor's in foreign service from Georgetown University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University and in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School. She also served for four years as an Air Force officer.