Kigali: Standing by Kigali against some of the latest fiercest critics such as the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), the British envoy Mr. Nicholas Cannon says their attacks are “unfair”. He affirms that Rwanda’s entry into the Commonwealth has no turning back. Mr. Cannon also dismisses HRW demands that British aid be conditioned on political improvements. Read the excepts below:
Next week, Rwanda could be allowed into the Commonwealth. What should Rwandans expect?
This is the end of a long process. Rwanda has always wanted to join the Commonwealth. A lot of countries within the Commonwealth have been very supportive of that. The United Kingdom has for many years been a stronger supporter. Your neighbours – Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have been very stronger supporters of Rwanda coming into the Commonwealth. If you ask why should that be the case? The Commonwealth is very much a community of shared values, and we think that the Rwandan government and people share those values. … In practical terms, it will open up a wide range of contacts: political, economic, legal contacts for Rwanda in the wider world. It also opens new areas for technical cooperation – not just with the wealthy countries of the Commonwealth, but also south-to-south cooperation.
We are also looking at what Rwanda will bring to the Commonwealth. It is not just a one-way street. Rwanda has got an activist government; government with ideas; and these ideas we think will kind of resonate inside the Commonwealth. It is quite interesting that of all the countries in the Commonwealth, nobody seems to be standing in the way of this. The Commonwealth is very diverse, but all of them seem to be positive. Obviously I can’t pre-judge what the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting [CHOGM] will be discussing in the next couple of weeks, but it looks very positive indeed.
Did you read the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report?
Yes I did. I think the information-base of that report was a bit narrow. The people who wrote that report have quite a limited experience of Rwanda, and I think the criticisms raised in that report were either unfair or some of them applied to earlier stages in Rwanda’s history. The thing which was missing from the report was any sense of historical perspective. This is a very rapidly changing country. So, criticisms that might have been valid five or ten years ago, are not valid now.
I think what that report lacked was that kind of historical depth. In that sense, I think it was an unfair report. Of course we all know that there are areas in which Rwanda needs to improve and the leadership here is aware of. What was interesting is that it was inconsistent with the report of the Commonwealth Secretary General himself who had sent a series of delegations here which had many of the same areas – around human rights, media, functioning of democratic institutions, and they come to very different conclusions.
When did the Secretary General of the Commonwealth bring out the report?
… during the summer of this year, based on three or four delegations which he sent here over the last couple of years, and based on some pretty intensive information collecting by the Secretariat themselves.
Reading from what your saying is that since Britain is backing Rwanda’s entry, means it is automatic for Rwanda to join?
No. That is not the way the Commonwealth works. It is a consensus-based organisation…
But the Commonwealth basically depends on Britain…
Far from it. Most of the countries of the Commonwealth were formerly British colonies in the colonial era. But this was a long time ago. India’s independence goes back to 1947; the autonomy of Australia and Canada goes back to early part of 20th century. This is not a British decision. If one member state – however big or small puts up its hand and says ‘I don’t want’, then the consensus is broken. It is a matter where the influence of the African, Asian and Caribbean Commonwealth states is important as that of the UK.
But critics like the CHRI say Rwanda should wait at least for a year – after the elections next year before it is allowed into the group. Supporters say let it be allowed in then it is assessed, but critics say ‘no’, it should get its house in order first…
But that implies that the house was in disorder in the first place. Obviously we are looking at a direction of progress and travel. Do we think that Commonwealth accession will help in consolidating democracy in Rwanda; values of human rights, free enterprise …? We think it will. It makes sense to have them inside. The argument that the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative uses is that we should set some kind of barriers which Rwanda should jump over in order to get in the Commonwealth. That is a view that they are entitled to, but I don’t think it is widely shared in the NGO community and the human rights community.
As I understand, even some organizations which are critical of Rwanda’s record view the process of accession as a positive step.
Human Rights Watch …
It is actually against…
As I understand, one of the last speeches given by the late Alison DesForges at the Commonwealth Institute in London was that she was in favour. These guys speak for themselves; there is no reason for me to speak for them. What am saying is there is a debate in the NGO community about Commonwealth accession, and I don’t think anybody is saying; ‘it is a bad thing’.
In connection to the Commonwealth, Georgette Gagnon of Human Rights Watch wrote last week in the Guardian that British aid to Rwanda is like Chinese aid to Rwanda – without any conditions…
That is not the case. British aid to Rwanda is very much linked to a memorandum of understanding. The very reason we are here in Rwanda is the ideology of aid to the poorest – that aid must not be just to the poorest countries, but also the poorest people. Our assistance to Rwanda is very much based on the idea that it has to filter down to the poorest. It is also based on mutual commitment to values of democracy, human rights and working together for regional stability. This is a matter of record.
Are you trying to say Human Right Watch Criticism is unfounded, misplaced…?
Yes it is. They can speak for themselves and have a particular point of view…
What they are saying is that because your aid is not conditioned on improvements in some areas like it is with other countries, you simply dish out money and that does not help the country…
I don’t think that is a viable and sustainable argument. If we look in terms of: ‘are we seeing the results that we wanted from the aid’? …We are. We have seen an economic transformation in this country over the last fifteen years which is truly spectacular. Are we seeing that our aid is accountable; in terms of that the government can demonstrate where the money went - that is it being handled in honest and transparent way? … Yes they can. Is that aid not benefiting the elites? … Yes we are seeing results.
We are comfortable with the way we work in Rwanda which is as good as anywhere else.
We don’t accept that particular criticism that what we are doing is turning a blind eye on problems here and handing out money. We have a very intense dialogue …
Any specific areas where you have come out and said “can this get into order before we release any money”…?
We are not in the business of mega-phone diplomacy. The Rwandan government is very accessible to discussion. We’ve had very very few areas in which you could say there were differences of opinion, some of those their opinion is as good as ours. If you look at governance issues, this was the first government to do a systematic joint governance assessment with donors. No other country in Africa has done anything quite as intensive as that. We are pretty positive about the dialogue that we have had.
But Sir, in countries like Uganda and Kenya, that is the same system that is working – megaphone diplomacy. When there is anything wrong, the American and British diplomats are always up in arms telling everybody what is going on. How different is the situation here that requires behind-the-scenes diplomacy?
I can’t speak about Uganda and Kenya in great depth, but in areas concerned with aid money, it is appropriate that we comment when we feel that the use of development funds is inappropriate or not transparent. That actually hasn’t been the case here. I am not suggesting any sort of moral superiority on the part of the Rwandan government over other African governments, but it is the case historically that the spending of development funds here has been pretty transparent.
We have not had to have that kind of debate around malpractice in government like the case certainly in Kenya. In terms of corruption, levels here have been pretty low. This is by regional standards, a very very transparent and honest government. We are comfortable with that, and so do not need that kind of debate in the way it has been made, quite publicly in other countries in the region.
How much exactly is the UK putting in Rwanda this year?
To give an idea of the framework we are working on; in 2006 we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Rwandan government in which we guaranteed that we would give that year’s allocation or more for ten years – which was 46million Pound Sterling. In Practice, we have actually increased expenditure. The sum for our financial year, which is April to April, is 50million Pounds. For the 2009-2010 financial year, we expect to put 50million Pound Sterling into Rwanda, of which two-thirds of that goes into direct budget support.
Some of the rest goes into sector support; funds earmarked for particular ministries, in this case health and education. The rest goes in projects. On top of that, we do have some regional projects which cover the East African Community from this stream. Of course, bear in mind that we are a major contributor to the European Commission operation here. There is a substantial British quota.