Saturday, January 2, 2010

How to Put Development Aid to Work

"The Price of a Bad Conscience"

by Arend Jan Boekestijn (original post in Dutch)

A comedy of errors. Time: one Saturday in the year 2009. Setting: the palace of President Kagame of Rwanda. Characters: President Kagame of Rwanda and Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation Bert Koenders. Subject: Koenders' wish to save the development cooperation with Rwanda and Kagame's wish to severe all ties with the Netherlands.

Koenders has had better times. Lumbered with a predecessor's feelings of guilt  - why didn't we stop the genocide? - Koenders finds himself caught up in a relationship with the victims of that tragic event. But regretably they aren't angels either. Kagame and his good, old buddy Museveni of Uganda have effortlessly swapped  the role of victims for the one of perpetrators.  In the war in Eastern Congo five times as many people lost their lives as in the genocides of Rwanda and Darfur combined. Small wonder tax payers and politicians in the Netherlands, the UK and Sweden are questioning the ongoing need to subsidize Kagame.

Couldn't Koenders' predecessors have seen this coming? Not quite. Politicians aren't clairvoyants. Should the victims have been left to fend for themselves?

It's much more interesting to draw lessons from the demise. Why did the Netherlands, the UK and the US believe that they could control Kagame? The answer is astonishingly simple. Our Governments are guilty of an unhistorical approach to the Rwandan question.

For proper comprehension one must study the new approach laid out by Nobel Prize Laureate and Economic Historian Douglass C. North in cooperation J.J. Wallis, S.B. Webb and B.R. Weingast in a World Bank Paper (4359), suitably entitled 'Limited Access Orders in the Developing World: a new approach to the problems of Development'. Development aid workers of all countries, pay attention now: you are on the verge of experiencing a paradigm shift.

North et al. posit that societies will develop various strategies of reducing violence; and how they are coping is of great influence on their potential for growth and development. Elite infighting has negative economic effects on everyone. In primitive societies of hunter gatherers there's a distinct lack of specialization, but an abundance of violence. That's a drag on a man in the long run.

One needs to give it a rest every once in a while; a good night's sleep in indispensable to that effect. This is how 'primitive societies' develop into' limited access societies'; violence is brought under control by violence specialists contracting not to use force against each other.

How do they do this? There's a measure of stability as long as the division of the spoils is reflecting the balance of power; vassals may be thrown a trinket or two. As long as the elite is able to keep up this system there's no reason for conflict. That was the way in Tudor England and Carolingian France, and so it is in African Rwanda.

Kagame is the leader of the Tutsi elite; not only do they consistently exclude Hutus (the odd Kabinet member notwithstanding), they also exclude their own fellow peasant Tutsis. Rwanda is a special kind of limited access society. Half of the Kigali budget consists of foreign aid. That is pleasant for the elite. Besides - enabled by sympathetic local Tutsi populations - the elite is also moonlighting in looting the minerals from the neighboring mines in Eastern Congo. That's not bad either.

At this point representatives of Western, open societies are arriving on the scene in order to pay off their bad consciences with development aid. Open societies are much more pleasant places to live in than societies with limited access. The rule of law enables fair competition for economic and political power. This ensures the production of wealth.

And what do the representatives of open societies tell those they've come to help in limited access societies? Be like us. Concentrate on good governance and democracy, and all will be well.

Limited access elitists can't believe what they're hearing. Democracy? You must be joking! That may well endanger their position and that can never be the natural order of things. No wonder Kagame is tapping phones, has spies everywhere, and is manipulating the elections.

Nevertheless, Rwanda is developing, is building schools, roads, hospitals and does not have more than its fair share of corruption, at least on the national level. But it comes at the price of freedom. There isn't any. It's a dictatorship by a Tutsi elite propped up with our money. It's the result of unhistorical thinking. Rudimentary awareness of our own feudal history might have giving us reason for pause.

Word has it that this unholy concoction of African autocrats, donor money and Congolese incompetence is on the verge of collapse. The English, Swedish and Dutch Parliaments are reconsidering their position. The Rwandese elite is well aware of the critical UN report on Kagame's involvement in atrocities in Eastern Congo and that it is jeopardizing the free flow of donor money.

Kagame hastened to clinch a deal with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): he would arrest Nkunda, if Kabila would deal with the Hutu perpetrators of the genocide.What a masterly coup. Kagame of course wouldn't dream of extraditing Nkunda to the DRC or the International Criminal Court (ICC); his powerplay in the Eastern Congo would come to light.

The deal gave Nkunda's successors the option of continuing the profitable mineral looting. Rwandan customs statistics indicate the country is exporting tons of minerals of foreign origin. It's a great deal!

Yet the equilibrium has become fragile. Grease is dripping from the political system: mineral prices have plummeted, donor funds may well dry up. Even Kagame's most loyal allies are getting nervous: French and Spanish indictments name Kagame himself as having shot down the Presidential airplane that led to the genocide. The elite's privileges are no longer reflecting the shifting balance of power.

Kagame's recent sneer that he doesn't need the Dutch aid, and that it never led to anything positive, is baloney. In reality Kagame needs Koenders as much as he needs Louis Michel, Lord Malloch-Brown and Obama. The question is, why would tax payers want to subsidize an African dictator? To what moral avail? Let's hope Koenders will remember that at dinner in Kagame's spy-bug ridden Presidential palace.

When the entire power edifice comes crashing down to earth and new atrocities ensue, will somebody recognize that unhistorical, Western makeability illusions aren't always a blessing? And will we, like in 1994, look the other way?

Also by this author:

- "De Prijs van een Slecht Geweten", book only available in Dutch (via Van Stockum)
- "Losing the War is Not an Option", part I of a series on "Afghanistan: the Road to Nationhood"


- "The Perversion of Developent Aid" (dossier)
- Angelina Jolie's journal "Ripples of Genocide" (site)
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James Higham said...

Politicians aren't clairvoyants. Should the victims have been left to fend for themselves?

And indeed, these days, are especially non-clairvoyant, deliberately so because there is an agenda which requires them to be so.

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