Cutting Dutch aid clear signal to Rwanda

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An increasing majority of Dutch political parties is calling upon the Netherlands to cut its aid to Rwanda, several MPs have confirmed to Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

The conservative VVD, the biggest party in the Dutch parliament's lower house and largest member of the ruling coalition, wants to cut back on the amount of money that flows directly into the Rwandan national budget. Other parties want to continue the freeze on this direct budget support that has been in place since 2008.

By Sophie van Leeuwen and Ruben Koops

The damning United Nations report on Rwandan activity in east Congo and the arrest of Victoire Ingabire are examples of how Rwanda is suffering from a bad news cycle with no end in sight. Meanwhile, the Dutch parliament is preparing for a final round of budget talks and MPs are doing the maths. A political majority appears to be in favour of cutting back on Rwandan development aid and giving President Paul Kagame’s government a strong warning at the same time.

Klaas Dijkhoff, VVD MP and party spokesperson on development aid, considers the current political situation in Rwanda worrisome.

“I can’t support the things that are happening in Rwanda right now. We support the development of a professional justice system in Rwanda but, at the same time, opposition leader Victoire Ingabire is locked up!”

According to Mr Dijkhoff, Ms Ingabire is not receiving a fair trial in Rwanda. “They put her in jail, placed her under house arrest, released her and then locked her up again without any substantial evidence! If you ask me, it looks like a political trial.”

Joël Voordewind, an MP for the small Dutch Christian Union party, uses even stronger language:

“Right now we're supporting the construction of jails by directly funding the Rwandan justice department. As we speak, those jails are being used to lock up political prisoners, and I don’t want us to be responsible for these policies.”

Mr Voordewind is calling on the Minister of Foreign Affairs to end the direct government support the Netherlands gives to Rwanda, a proposition that is likely to gain broad support during the foreign ministry budget negotiations.

There has been other criticism regarding Dutch aid to Rwanda. The Netherlands is an important donor country to Rwanda, with a proposed aid budget of 44 million euros for 2011. The amount of money that flows directly to the Rwandan government has been frozen since 2008 because of alleged Rwandan involvement in violence in east Congo.

Kathleen Ferrier, a CDA Christian Democrat MP, was responsible for suspending the direct budget aid to Rwanda in 2008. “I don’t see any immediate reason to resume our funding to the Rwandan budget,” she explains. “I still have loads of questions, but I am willing to be convinced by the foreign minister."

However, Rwandan senator Aloysia Inyumba - who is visiting the Netherlands - calls the criticism and the possible cancellation of direct budget support “hysterical” and “very unfair.”

Immaculee Uwanyiligira, the Rwandan ambassador to the Netherlands, is worried about the changing view amongst Dutch officials. “When Rwanda needed a friend after the 1994 genocide, the Netherlands was there for us,” she explained at a press briefing at the embassy in The Hague. “If the Netherlands had to withdraw its budget support because of belt tightening, we’d understand. But we hope that it doesn’t happen because of Victoire Ingabire, because that is a non-issue.”

Hutu agenda
Dutch opposition Labour Party MP Sjoera Dikkers is concerned about the outcome of the budget negotiations. “I think cancelling aid is a tough decision, because President Kagame is still the man who got Rwanda back on its feet after the genocide.”

According to Ms Dikkers, ethnic Hutus are the source of most of the criticism on the current situation in Rwanda. “It’s the Hutu agenda that I receive most pressure from, and I find it hard to just agree with that.”

On Tuesday, the Dutch parliamentary committee for foreign affairs was due to meet a Rwandan delegation, the ambassador and Senator Inyumba. A final decision on development aid for Rwanda will be made during the foreign affairs budget hearings in mid-December.