British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came through with his campaign pledge to merge the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with the Department for International Development, commonly know as DFID.
As The Chronicles reports, from now going forward, some agencies like the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA), Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board (RMB), the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), may begin to see direct voices over their funding from UK.
In announcing the decision on Tuesday to Parliament, Johnson said that Britain’s overseas budget needed to be on same page with its foreign policy. “For too long, frankly, UK overseas aid has been treated like a giant cashpoint in the sky, that arrives without any reference to UK interests,” the prime minister said.
The new “super-department”, said the PM, now becomes the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, would in future make the final decision about which countries should receive help, added the PM.
As British politicians and British voters in general come to terms with the decision, governments around the world spent a sleepless Tuesday night, and more nights to come, wondering what will happen to the monies they have been getting from London.
The UK spends 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on overseas aid. DFID had an annual budget of £15.2billion, far much higher than that of the Foreign Office.
Johnson justified the decision, saying: “DFID outspends the Foreign Office more than four times over and yet no single decision-maker in either department is able to unite our efforts or take a comprehensive overview.”
He continued: “We give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, though the latter is vital for European security. We give 10 times as much aid to Tanzania as we do to the six countries of the western Balkans, who are acutely vulnerable to Russian meddling.”
During the Q&A session, Johnson added: “It is no use a British diplomat one day going in to see the leader of a country and urging him not to cut the head off his opponent and to do something for democracy in his country, if the next day another emanation of the British Government is going to arrive with a cheque for £250 million. We have to speak with one voice.”
Army of campaigners, hostile media
In simple language, Johnson is saying the UK’s diplomats should have been the ones taking center-stage in deciding where British taxpayer money goes, because they handle UK foreign policy on a daily basis.
The Prime Minister maintained that there will be no change in how much UK puts into overseas aid, because the UK commitment to 0.7% of GNI to foreign aid, is enshrined in UK law.
In addition, usually for the UK to enter into a funding agreement with a country like Rwanda, there will have been so much behind-the-scene work which cannot simply be reversed overnight. Also, the money that the UK gives to Rwanda is often for multi-year projects than run for several years. Its a commitment that cannot be cancelled just like that.
One of the existing problems with the now defunct system, reading from Johnson’s comments, is that it has been the Foreign Office which has been taking the heat from campaigners and media demanding answers over a situation in a country that the UK funds. On the ground, it is UK envoys that have to answer queries from local media about problem in the UK money and programs.
Besides that, it is the Foreign Office that has been appearing at international fora like UN Security Council and other UN bodies to defend UK foreign policy positions, yet it couldn’t decide which government really merits that aid. It is this contradiction that Johnson may be trying to solve.
For the case of Rwanda, in since 2016, and more precisely period leading up to and after the 2017 presidential polls, UK media and rights groups were up in arms over the plight of Diane Rwigara. She is the daughter of a business tycoon Assinapol Rwigara who died in 2015.
The daughter, riding on the anger of losing her father whom the family maintains was assassinated, sought to take part in 2017 polls as challenger to incumbent President Paul Kagame. She was disqualified, and then arrested for threatening national security.
Actually, the state went further, arresting Diane and her young sister Anne Rwigara together with their monther Adeline Rwigara. They faced a host of charges. In no time, the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) also swung into action.
The taxman claimed the Rwigaras companies owed it more than Rwf 6billion ($6.9m) in unpaid taxes. The company Premier Tobacco Company was auctioned, raising $2.5m. More of the families assets were put on sale.
In December 2018, Diane and the mother were acquitted. The family had gained international fame, and so the UK Foreign Office repeatedly had to comment on the Rwandan issues. For example, one headline in one of Britain’s major newspapers Daily Mail on June 19, 2018 read: “Why HAS Britain given £1bn foreign aid to a brutal African regime?“
Coincidentally, DFID in June 2018 approved €20m directly going to the Rwanda Revenue Authority. The money was for capacity building to strengthen the taxman’s ability to collect as much revenue as possible. The funding runs up to 2023, with 20% disbursed so far.
The Foreign Office, as with previous outrage why the UK doesn’t do anything, often maintains that “the promotion and protection of human rights is at the heart of UK foreign policy,” and that any issues the UK has, are raised at the highest levels of the Rwandan government.
When the 2017 election was over, it was left to the former UK High Commissioner in Kigali at the time, William Gelling, to spell out his country’s displeasure with the state of affairs in Rwanda.
In a statement marking the UN International Day of Democracy September 15, he said: “I was concerned, however, by the lack of clarity in the registration process for candidates which appear to have made it impossible for certain credible candidates to register. Along with other international observers, I personally saw irregularities with the counting of ballots and vote tabulation.”
Then came the issue of the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR). In August last year, the Financial Times newspaper a key media in the UK and globally, and France 24, cast doubt on Rwanda’s poverty reduction statistics. It was the international headline for weeks. They said poverty had actually gone up, contrary to government data.
There was so much fury in Kigali, and President Kagame made several angry speeches in the months that followed.
Between 2007-2011, DFID pumped over £4m into the Institute of Statistics. The DFID itself did eventually come out in defense of the Institute’s work.
There is also the case of the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), which campaign groups accuse of stifling civil society. NGOs said to be hostile to government have been forced to end operations, others with local offices saw their leaders replaced in controversial circumstances. All these are issues UK media repeatedly throws at the UK Foreign Office.
In March 2018, the DFID signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with RGB through which the former provided £509,550 (over Rwf530 million) to support RGB’s institutional capability and Joint Action Development Forum (JADF) mechanisms.
For the last 24 years, the international NGO community has maintained that DR Congo’s minerals are sold through Rwanda. Some have gone as far as affirming the Rwandan government is directly involved. Kigali maintains its innocence.
In 2010, campaign group Global Witness sued the UK government for looking on as British companies take part in the sale of Congo’s minerals illegally. Instead of the minerals bringing prosperity to Congolese, they were being killed by proxy militias of Congo’s neighbours that are funded by UK, said the campaigners.
As part of efforts to clear Rwanda’s name and tell the world that the minerals it exports are clean minerals, DFID has been funding the project. The Rwanda Mines and Petroleum Board (RMB) got nearly £6m from DFID in 2016 for capacity building in managing the country’s mining industry. The funding runs up to this year. A lot has been done.
But in the midst of the fire over Congo’s minerals, the UK Foreign Office, is the one that appears in the room when the UN Security Council discussed the issue, and often issued condemnations.
For Rwanda, the 2020-2021 financial year, DFID has allocated £44.5m, which is planned to increase substantially the following year, before coming down again.
As a former Foreign Secretary himself, Boris Johnson perhaps, witnessed first hand how much torment the Foreign Office diplomats have to live through every day, and decided they should in fact have the money purse at hand when they engage with host governments.