By Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service
March 22, 2009
OTTAWA — Rwanda wants Canada to reconsider its decision to dump it from the federal government’s revised roster of poor countries that receive development assistance, Canwest News Service has learned.
Rwanda, the scene of the 1994 genocide that claimed 800,000 lives, was one of seven African countries that were cut by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which announced last month that it was redirecting 80 per cent of its direct bilateral funding to a shortened list of 20 countries, down from 25.
The Canada-Rwanda aid relationship dates back to 1963, when Canada helped build the East African country’s national university. The bonds were deepened when retired Canadian general and now Liberal senator, Romeo Dallaire, commanded the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping force that was unable to stop the slaughter of ethnic Tutsis at the hands of machete wielding Hutus, 15 years ago next month.
“Rwanda has been struggling to move forward,” the Rwandan ambassador to Canada, Edda Mukabagwiza, told Canwest News Service in an interview Friday.
“Canada has been, for a long period, a development partner for the country. For us, we think Canada cannot leave Rwanda like this.”
Mukabagwiza learned of CIDA’s decision by reading a Canadian government press release in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, where she was visiting last month.
Mukabagwiza said she has yet to discuss the decision with CIDA officials, but she hopes to make a personal appeal to them to change the policy.
Liberal development critic Glen Pearson said he and Dallaire recently discussed how Parliament should commemorate the upcoming 15th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide on April 7.
“It’s going to be hugely ironic. I’m sure we’ll see members of the House stand up on that day and say, ‘We must never forget.’ But we’ve already forgotten.”
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda announced on Feb. 23 that CIDA’s bilateral aid portfolio would be more tightly focused.
Oda had telephoned the Rwandan embassy in Ottawa to notify them of the change, but was only able to relay the news to a deputy of Mukabagwiza’s.
Mukabagwiza said Rwanda is rebuilding 15 years after the genocide, but still needs Canada’s help.
“What we need, as friends and partners for a long period, is to see how we can go on helping each other,” she said. “Every one has something to bring to each other. We need each other in different ways.”
Oda’s spokeswoman Michelle Coates said Rwanda might still qualify for some bilateral funding “but will not be among the top 20 recipients.”
She said Rwanda would still qualify for “humanitarian assistance,” which is delivered through international organizations.
Pearson said his office has received numerous calls from foreign embassies and non-governmental organizations seeking clarification over what they see as confusing CIDA criteria.
The CIDA website says that Canada disbursed $7.2 million to Rwanda in 2006-2007, the most recent year for which it discloses figures. CIDA’s annual budget stands at about $4 billion.
The Conservatives say they are committed to doubling Canada’s aid spending in Africa, to about $2 billion. That commitment was first made in the 2005 federal budget by then Liberal government of Paul Martin.
“When the Conservative government says, ‘We’re still giving more to Africa,’ I don’t question that. But I do know that the quality of aid is much more relief-oriented – keeping people alive. It’s the development where you actually get people out of poverty,” said Pearson.
“The Rwandan anniversary is one of those troubling things that comes along that says, ‘We still don’t get it.’ “
On CIDA’s new shortened list, the number of African countries fell from 14 to seven. The African countries cut include Rwanda, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and Cameroon.
The new list featured a renewed focus on Latin America, which the Harper Conservatives have identified as a key foreign policy priority.
The number of countries from the Americas rose from four to six on this latest CIDA list, and include Peru and Colombia, where Canada has actively pursued free trade deals.
CIDA’s decision means that 80 per cent of Canada’s bilateral assistance will be focused on those 20 countries.
Critics have accused the Conservatives of using its development dollars on the Americas, where it has economic ambitions, at the expense of poorer Africa, where the need is greater.
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