At the 14th National Dialogue known as Umushyikirano w’Igihugu that concluded last week, President Paul Kagame stepped up his anti-aid dependency message with a call for a deadline to be set to end aid dependency.
In true Rwandan style, his minister of Finance later confirmed, at the same event, that a plan was in the works to say goodbye to aid. Both the call and promise excited the gathering.
With this, you can expect, henceforth, an exponential growth in the anti-aid dependency grandiloquence in public spaces however muted it might be in the company of “development partners.”
And the reasons officials give in seeking to end aid dependency are largely political and the hindrance to achieve the objective located in the structure and nature of the economy.
Their point is that while aid has obvious positives like financing social services and infrastructure, it comes with conditionalities that allow foreign interference in internal affairs and its fluctuations adversely affect planning, etc.
In recent times, President Kagame has added another important layer of what aids does: it robs Rwandans of their agaciro (dignity).
At the Umushyikirano he observed: “The issue of relying on others to pay for things that benefit us…is really a question of dignity…our Agaciro.”
In other words, if someone giving aid can tell or order a fully grown up person (or leader) to do what he (or she) would otherwise not do and expect it to be done, one can neither claim dignity nor independence.
In that sense, we could say, in some cases, aid “thingfies” recipients that’s, it takes away their agency and ability to determine the course of their history thereby treating them like things.
And as someone who has, for some time been around and watched the interaction between government officials, civil society members and donors, I can report that, even interactively, one notes the unequal inferior-superior relationship.
And indeed, in matters politics, opposition politicians and muzzled journalists often run to donors to explain their predicament and to urge action; expecting support which they sometimes get in the short term a good thing, but an indicator of a nation in trouble.
Of course cynics might dismiss talk of ‘ending aid” as mere politicking since, in truth, if one is dependent, an obvious and self-evident course of action is to seek to end dependency.
Others might even argue that ending aid should neither be desirable nor an objective per se but sustaining development to such a level that a nation can say NO to aid givers when necessary without effective consequence to security or economic wellbeing.
Whatever one’s inclinations, for me, the anti-aid dependency discourse is healthy and desirable especially to the minds of our children and posterity since the current generation seems to have been already contaminated by dependency!
For aid’s harm to the nations isn’t limited to political interference or economic sabotage but also extends to the social and affects the thinking process of a nation and the aspirations of its current and future generations.
By capturing our thought process and aspirations, aid kills innovation and imagination as our education system which is also funded by aid ends up producing individuals who either aspire to form NGOs and get aid money, or individuals who aspire to work for government.
In the end, we become a nation of beggars and job-seekers rather than job-creators.
In that sense, although ending aid will not be easy considering our low tax base, underdeveloped industrial sector; low production and exports, a small market, high cost of production and transportation and the alike, the discourse of ‘ending aid dependency’ is healthy to the future of an independent nation as it will undermine the informal and formal discourse of individuals who were born to help and others who were born to be aided.
The task for leaders therefore, as it were, is to imagine this difficult to achieve unseen future; a future of people who can fully feed themselves and convince everyone else to buy into it; believe it and work for it; it may take long but it will come once everyone buys into it.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com