On the 11th September 2014, I read an article by Edwin Musoni in The New Times titled, “We can develop faster – President Kagame.” In his article Musoni noted that while addressing residents of Gikomero Sector in Gasabo District, President Kagame emphasized the importance of home-grown solutions as an approach to development. “Ask yourself, those who give us aid, where do they get the means? Aren’t they human beings like you and I? If you perceive yourself as poor, you will remain poor. If you believe you are worth more, you will achieve more. Dignity is about saying no to always being the recipient of help. It is about being determined to achieve self-reliance,”
What a timely challenge, I pondered. And it sunk even deeper considering the fact that these words were spoken in Gikomero, a Sector that was once one of the poorest among the 15 Sectors of Gasabo District, but one that through hard work, cooperation and proper planning, had emerged from indigence to registering an admirable progress in development.
This prompted several questions in my mind, beginning with the real meaning of sustainable development and whether as a concept, it is an open possibility to all countries in any region of the world or just a reserve for the core countries from the north as political economists would prefer to call the advanced economies. I also sought to know what the key objectives of sustainable development were. Even before I could find answers to these questions, a third one dropped with a thud- , “Is development in Africa really possible without Aid?” And as the queries kept reverberating in my mind, a series of related questions joined the queue; “do we need aid in Africa? Is aid of any essence? Do we need it? Is it important? Is aid a precondition for development in Africa?”
Too many questions!
And you know , we doctors are so attuned to asking questions and giving prescriptions, not the other way round- being asked countless questions without the benefit of ‘prescribing’ a response. And so as quickly as it was only logical to do, I temporarily closed that part of the brain faculty responsible for the reception of questions and alerted the other part that deals with response that I had taken way too many questions and it was now incumbent upon it, to reduce the jam of queries in my mind by providing solutions. As a fair man, I will have to say that it obliged.
“Sustainable development, importance of aid in development in Africa and the significance of aid in development”, that is exactly how the questions were reworded and arranged for scrutiny and analysis in my brain. And just to ensure that I adhered to the demands of empiricism, I consulted an academic journal which described Sustainable Development as the “ability to make development sustainable—to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. And then with a second quick glance at another journal, I was able to decipher the categorization of the key objectives for Sustainable Development into economic, social and environmental objectives.
Succinctly, my new findings, if I were to summarize, led to the conclusion that for Sustainable Development to be a reality, it will need no less than an efficient, sustainable system with a steady growth in which there is creation of jobs and investments, where security is guaranteed, in which there is a stable education system, a dependable health care, a well established social security and where through bottom-up approach, development is made participatory and resources are equitably distributed. In such a system, conservation of non-renewable natural resources and the effective utilization of renewable natural resources are both an obligation and a responsibility. And with this, I was contented that I had either answered or tried to provide a satisfactory response to the first question.
The second part of my inquiry was on aid and I deliberately chose to look at it from a localized lens within the Rwandan context. And to do this effectively, I took a quick mental flight back to the years preceding the brutalities which marked the 1994 Genocide of Tutsis. Then I saw Rwanda in the eyes of a Nation struggling to rebuild itself after 1994 and then to the present moment, analyzing the reconstruction and development initiatives that have been made in Rwanda, and I observed that whilst the will to reconstruct and develop has purely been a Rwandan initiative, the support of its implementation has immensely come from our friends, donors and partners.
I got a chance to interact with Rwanda’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction strategy 2013-2018 and Read through the Nation’s vision 2020, taking note of the prioritization (in both documents) of home-grown solutions through community-based projects, technology and ICT, Increased interconnectivity and External connectivity of the Rwandan economy, accountable governance, Rural Development as well Productivity and youth empowerment among other priorities that Rwanda has considered in her plan towards sustainable development, and this information led into offering a rather vague answer to the question on aid- My answer was yes and no!
Yes; we needed aid and external support to rebuild our nation after the genocide and we still do in order to accomplish certain objectives in our ambitious developmental plans. Mark you, Rwanda was in 2000, ranked the 10thfastest growing economies in the world and this is despite the fact that Rwandan economy is almost wholly dependent on Agriculture with a manufacturing industry which is still picking up. So why would Rwanda be a first growing economy? As a nation, we have one of the best security systems in the world, which attracts investors and tourists thereby earning the country revenue and creating jobs for citizens. What more? Rwanda is one of the least corrupt countries in Africa which has adopted and is implementing a zero-tolerance policy against corruption; this has earned the confidence and trust of donors, which has led to several projects being initiated through aid to develop the country. Rwanda has come a long way and without such support, we would not be where we currently are.
But again, just that aid has been helpful in our development, is not a justification on why we should encourage dependency on it. Looking at it from this perspective; when a child is born, the baby is breastfed, introduced to soft food and then later develops teeth strong enough to masticate hard food. A good parent does not serve his/her one-month old baby, sugarcane and expect him/her to chew it, but the same parent should be very worried if at 20 years this (once a baby and now a young adult) adamantly refuses to leave the mother’s lap and lead a responsible life.
Twenty years after the genocide, Rwanda has managed to build one of the most efficient road networks, managed to unify her population, attracted investors and visitors, maintained her world-wide celebrated cleanness, reformed her judicial system, improved her education, made healthcare affordable and accessible to all citizens, promoted a dependable social security system and remained a safe and secure country. All these are proof enough that the baby Rwanda that was born by the stop of genocide, has steadily grown into a promising adult. We are on the road to self-reliance and if the country can collect all its revenue effectively, and if all citizens were engaged in productive activities and all paid their taxes, then we would have effectively answered the President’s question, “those who give us aid, where do they get the means?”- The Aid we receive comes from the taxes of others who work hard and pay back to their governments to support their operations. Sustainable development can only thrive where accountability and responsible leadership is present and where there is a general consensus among the citizens, that national development is the responsibility of each citizen. We do have an accountable government which is serious in its commitment towards development of Rwanda, what then do we lack? Is it the knowledge of where and how taxes should be paid? You know what?
I’m very convinced that very soon, we shall bid bye to aid and welcome self-reliance.
Joseph Nkurunziza is a public health expert and social Activist based in Kigali. He can be reached via email@example.com and on twitter @ryarasa