Sunday, August 31, 2008


A World Politics Review article, gives some interesting and very balanced perspectives on the huge support for Kagame and the Rwandan government. It starts:

The West and its development industry have serially backed a series of African leaders as exemplars for the continent, only to see them come to resemble the autocrats they previously opposed. Yet neither the diplomats nor the donors can refrain from anointing new visionaries.

Indeed there has never been a shortage of stupid white people to meddle in the politics of other countries.

The current favorite is Rwandan President Paul Kagame, admired for his prudent political and economic management after the 1994 genocide. ... Without security, Kagame says, there can be no development. Kinzer believes Rwandans deeply appreciate this emphasis on societal rights such as raising the standard of living and guaranteed personal safety. Out of fear of another genocide, their preference must not be dismissed.

This is a view I can only confirm from conversations with Rwandans here. Of course, it doesn't apply to everyone. There are unfortunately still many Rwandans that would like to see the collapse of the present system.

However, the problem is that Kagame has blurred the line between legitimate social control and repression.


[New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer says,] "[Rwandans] have little interest in politics or ideology," Kinzer writes. "They are happy that President Kagame has centralized so much power in his own hands and are not fearful that he is becoming a dictator."

True. But the conclusion of the article is poignant both for the attitude of Rwandans and the West:

Such enthusiasm for a leader with a mixed record is misguided. Experience, based upon the previous rises and staggering falls of Western-anointed visionaries, dictates that Kagame should be viewed with skepticism. Praise, however, will be merited if his development plan is actually realized.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Word of the Day: Mittelabflussproblem

Mittelabflussproblem (n.) - From German. Literally meaning "the problem of fund disbursal". Could also be transliterated as "means drainage problem". This describes the problem faced by almost all development agencies in which project expenditure is always less than maximum project expenditure. This creates a problem for the project, because if it fails to meet expenditure targets, this will result in one or both of the following:

  1. The donor will assume that if the money is not spent, the work is not done, and therefore contractual obligations are not being fulfilled.
  2. The donor will assume that if the money is not spent, it has over-allocated the budget and will cut the amount of funding available in future years.

The development project will attempt to reach the (usually impossible) target of 100% of the maximum available budget being disbursed by implementing one or more of the following actions:

  1. Buying additional office equipment or project vehicles that may or may not be useful for future years.
  2. Assigning a consultancy contract for a study that is interesting, if unessential.
  3. Less careful spending on existing activities.
  4. Better budgetary planning.

An alternative definition of "Mittelabflussproblem" proposed here is : The problem of focusing on on fund disbursal rather than on project impact.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Aid effectiveness

I have written a few times about the problems and the (in)effectiveness of development aid. An interesting study the World Bank's Private Sector Development Blog pointed me to an interesting new study by on the subject. The study looks at the impact of aid from oil-rich muslim countries to poorer majority muslim countries. The results are interesting because they isolate the effect of aid from the selectiveness of Western donors: the tendency to support only the poorest or the tendency to support countries that are already growing fast.

The conclusion is:

The petro-aid was largely consumed, nearly all in imports. It did not lead to a measurable increase in growth, prices, or an appreciation of the exchange rate. Imported goods during the aid surge shifted away from capital goods and towards non-capital goods, and aid crowded out domestic savings. A significant share of the aid fled the country in unaccounted transactions.

The study was done by E. Werker et al. is available here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

More demolition and expropriation

As an addendum to my previous post on the demolition of Poor Kiyovu, I should add that the Kigali City Council's remodelling of the central residential district, Kiyovu, also extends to small shop owners in the richer part of the quarter. Kiosks all over Kigali are a huge employment generator, a place for late-night shopping and also serve as informal bars. The New Times writes in its article, "Demolished kiosk owners drag KCC to court":

[One kiosk owner ] said that he bought the kiosk through KCC [Kigali City Council] during the reign of Theoneste Mutsindashyaka. He quoted ... the contract he has with city authorities which states that the kiosks should not be interfered with before a period of five years.

Needless to say the five year period has not yet elapsed.

[The shop owner] says that he recently received a letter from city authorities informing him that he had been relocated to an area which is far from the city.

The closing statement of the article is a disturbing insight into the mind of Kigali administrators. More evictions, more demolitions, until Kigali is the squeaky-clean showcase that the government wants it to be :

[The city council inspector] said the council is currently developing detailed plans to reduce slums in various areas in the city and that the new plan is designed to make the city a major commercial and service centre in the East African community, as well as making it environmentally friendly.

... and Kigali will be SO pretty!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Poor Kiyovu

The City of Kigali has decided that poor people don't belong in the central residential district, Kiyovu. The area known as "Poor Kiyovu", to differentiate it from "Rich Kiyovu", has now been almost completely bulldozed. The displaced residents will be compensated according to a government valuation of their land. The government is presumably trying to make way for new urban developments. It is turning the heart of the city into a reserve for the rich and destroying its social and cultural diversity. Poor Kiyovu used to look something like this (from another part of Kigali):

It now looks like this:

The New Times quotes the Mayor of Kigali who says that the city had no choice to move these people, because they are poor:

Since July last year, we made it clear that we are going to shift these people from Kiyovu because of the unfavorable conditions under which they were living.

Even the pro-government New Times reports on the views of the unhappy residents:

Some of the evicted residents who were relocated have reportedly refused to accept the money and terms offered to them by the City Council and are crying foul about the whole procedure. ... Many claim that they were not given ample time to prepare for the shifting and are not happy with the amount being given to them as compensation for their premises and where they have been relocated.

Last week, I spoke to my friend, K. (name changed), a musician who lived in Poor Kiyovu. The government valued K's house. K disagreed about the price, refused the payment and had another expert come to value the house. The second valuation was higher. One day, K's house was gone. It was demolished while he was away, he had not received any payment at all and he lost food and possessions in the house as it was demolished. He is still arguing with the MVK, the city mayoral office. The mayor responds to the New Times :

"If these people had accepted to go where they were relocated, then they would not be suffering and in any case the expropriation act does not say that we have to transport food to the eviction site"

If only the pesky poor people would do as they are told.

It seems that the government wishes to engineer a city in which Kigali residents and delicate-stomached foreigners will no longer have to suffer vulgar displays of poverty in the city centre.

Its a loss for the city. These people were a major part of the life of the city centre. A much better strategy would have been for the city to have improved the property rights laws and infrastructure in poor Kiyovu to promote its development. Shame on the City of Kigali.