No Rwandan Christmas Cheer

Looks like the Grinch has already stolen Christmas in Rwanda, as the Belgian state media are reporting.


Belgium will not release an amount of 40 million euros in development aid to Rwanda, an “incentive tranche” that the [Ministry for] Cooperation linked, in addition to other intended amounts, to the realization of a certain number of conditions such as good governance and respect for freedom of the press. Minister for Cooperation Alexander De Croo decided not to grant these 40 million euros, as the VRT [Flemish state broadcast network] reported Sunday.

So is this a Croo-el move? It’s hard to say. Rwanda should be encouraged to make the sort of progress in the behavior of its government of the types mentioned, but it’s hard for outside observers to reach any independent judgment as to whether this denial of money is justified. Perhaps there is too little international press coverage of the country generally; perhaps it’s also true that the progress being measured is a subtle thing. OK, we can recognize when freedom of the press has taken a hit, but remember that that is being judged not absolutely but relatively, i.e. in comparison to what it was before. Who other than the bureaucrats of the Belgian Ministry for Cooperation knows anything about that?

Probably more important to keep in mind is that this €40 million is just something extra to the development aid monies that Belgium is sending to Rwanda with no such strings attached: €160 million over the four years 2011 to 2014. In effect, then, that missed bonus is another year’s worth of payment.

Most important to keep in mind of all is Belgium’s history in Rwanda. From 1884 it had been a German colony, but was taken over by Belgium after World War I. Belgium authorities were after all right next door in the Belgian Congo which they governed in a particularly notorious and exploitative manner. That track-record could not have been good omen for Rwanda; a particular mistake on their part, though, was the identity-card system they introduced in 1935, which labeled people by tribe and so cemented and probably worsened the Tutsi vs. Hutu antagonism there. This would help lead to the infamous Rwandan Genocide of the mid-1990s.

So yeah, it’s good that Belgium assists Rwanda with some €40 million a year. You’d even think the Brussels authorities would cut them a break and give them their additional €40 million bonus, even if undeserved.

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