As media reported about two weeks ago, Angola’s President hosted a “Quadripartite Summit” that included Presidents Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and DRC’s Félix Tshisekedi.
Among other things, the summit discussed the Rwanda-Uganda conflict and a communique after the meeting said Presidents Kagame and Museveni had agreed to “continue dialogue” under the mediation of President João Lourenço of Angola assisted by DRC’s Tshisekedi.
After the summit, I wrote an opinion piece in The Chronicles suggesting that the “Kagame-Museveni Peace Talks Can Only Bear Fruits If Ordered By Donor”!
Following this analysis, some government spokespersons in Kigali accused me of having “confidence” in donors as “solution” bearers and “alluding to more advanced peacemaking technical abilities from the donors”, as Dr. Jean-Paul Kimonyo, a senior presidential adviser put it on twitter.
Others claimed I was “undermining” the Angolan initiative and the idea of “African solutions to Africa’s problem” advocated by the continent’s leaders.
This Monday, July 22, my friend, Dr Lonzen Rugira suggested in an opinion in The New Times newspaper that I sought to “pour(s) cold water on any likelihood that a resolution of the crisis is possible without the threat of sanctions by donors against Presidents Kagame and Museveni”.
Last week, on July 16, an editorial in The New Times also accused me of believing “that Africa’s fate depends on “aid” that if donors cut off aid then everything will fall back in place?”
In truth however, I neither suggested that donors have solutions nor superior peacemaking skills. Nor do I believe they have any superior intellectual or human qualities than Africans. These qualities have no race or tribe.
Those who accuse me of favouring “donor solutions” only imagined it or are simply unhappy that I pointed out that due to “donor money” which our leaders always seek, and donors’ willingness to use it to extract concessions, makes the latter more powerful constituency than any local ones, that once they determine, compel conflict parties to take positions they wouldn’t otherwise take.
In comparison, I argued that while “donors” are willing to use their relative power to change positions of protagonists to conflicts, where Africa’s leaders have mediated, they are normally afraid or unwilling to speak truth to their own or sanction them when they renege on peace as the Burundi case illustrates.
My central point though was that while the Angola-DRC mediation is a good initiative, Presidents Lourenço and Tshisekedi not only lack the experience and clout to mediate the two experienced Military Generals, but also lack the requisite incentives needed to compel protagonists to change their positions.
At this point, I reminded that Rwanda’s position is that Uganda should stop support to dissidents and rebel groups; end economic sabotage and arresting Rwandans in Uganda.
On the other hand, Uganda says it neither supports dissidents seeking to fight Rwanda nor sabotages its economy and says the arrest of some Rwandans in Uganda is a “small matter” being resolved by the two states.
Analytically though, there is evidence to support Rwanda’s case and its leader has decided to search for peaceful solutions to the conflict to protect his Pan-African reformist agenda while, it seems, to remain relevant, President Museveni has settled on seeking influence through rebel groups; a strategy he has maintained since taking power in 1986.
Because the conflict involves support to rebels seeking to topple an elected government; Rwanda takes it as a serious threat and its unclear how Uganda’s position of denial can be changed without disincentives.
In that sense therefore, because donors, unlike Africa’s leaders, are normally willing to use their relative power─especially the power of the purse as an incentive and a disincentive, and because our leaders seem to crave this money, they usually cave when donors threaten withholding or cutting aid.
That’s what my critics don’t understand or fail to address! That Africa’s leaders have, in the past shown themselves to listen more to donors than their own!
Objectively though, while one can hate the fact that donors meddle in our local affairs and have disproportionate influence over our leaders than we do, it’s disingenuous for anyone to deny this reality or pretend it doesn’t exist as some government spokespeople do.
This donor influence is not only observable in spaces of power where leaders interact with them but is also prevalent in almost all major government policies─from poverty reduction strategies (advanced by Briton woods institutions), to education, etc.
I have also personally physically observed, over the years, both through work related engagements and in social settings the unequal relationship between donors and some of our leaders.
While for example some leaders or politician treat ordinary citizens as less equal to them in the way they talk to them, the same leaders treat whatever “Mzungu” they meet as if he or she was more superior. This is observable in the way they talk to each other and relate.
In part, that’s why whether its politicians in government or in opposition, when they get in trouble with their own government, they often run to the “donors” for protection than anywhere else. No?
Despite the rhetoric by leaders in either countries in the conflict therefore, I would even say that donors are a bigger counter-power to the ruling party in either polity than any other local constituency─except the military.
And in matters foreign policy, local constituents have almost zero influence on the president. In part, that’s why the Rwanda-Uganda conflict persists despite hurting many ordinary citizens.
And the main reason donors retain relative effective power over our leaders isn’t only because of their money our governments need nor is it because our leaders depend on donor countries’ hospitals for their and their families treatment, and would hate to be sanctioned.
Nor is it because our leaders and their families depend on donor countries’ shops to buy expensive cars, purchase sharp suits and other “good” things in life to quench their thirst, and would hate to lose visa privileges through sanctions.
The reason donors still occupy a central position in influencing our leaders is because our citizens are still voiceless and powerless to influence the decisions of their presidents─especially in matters of foreign policy.
In both countries, citizens are often referred to by their leaders as “illiterate” and “backward” and therefore need to be “civilized” by government.
Apart from citizens, even other interest groups─like the business community, civil society and the media are too weak and disorganized to affect presidential policies.
In other words, I’m addressing our world as it is and how decisions are taken in real life while my critics are addressing our world as it should be! An aspiration to determine our affairs without foreign influence─we will get there but we aren’t yet there.
Thus, donors will only lose their influence once citizens become effective influencers of presidential actions and policies.
And that won’t come until the vote is truly free and national bills paid by citizens; NOT donors.
NB: Kagame’s path: Pan-African reformist who wants this conflict to end peacefully and Museveni who appears to want to remain relevant through support to dissidents and armed groups.