Rwanda is a darling of donors, including the European Union. Its roads are being paved, poverty is being fought valiantly and child mortality is declining. All in all, it is a good case study for enthusiasts for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.
This happy picture has, however, been tainted by Rwanda’s involvement in the rebellion that is plaguing the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A UN report in June confirmed that Rwanda was providing extensive support not only to the recently established M23 rebel group but to others too. Rwanda’s response has been to protest its innocence and claim there is an international plot to discredit its government.
The implausibility of that claim is accentuated by its record of violent intervention across its borders—four times since 1996, most recently in 2007, when it backed rebels led by General Laurent Nkunda.
So it might come as a surprise that Rwanda now has a seat on the UN Security Council as one of its non-permanent members.
Stranger still is that some international donors have barely changed their position towards Rwanda. Although Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands have suspended budgetary aid to Rwanda, other Western powers have not followed suit. The UK first suspended all budget support and then re-established half its aid, citing the need to continue to support Rwanda's poorest citizens. The U.S. has suspended a token $200,000 (around €160,000) of military aid. And the EU has done little other than to tell both Rwanda and Congo that securing peace in their region is primarily their own responsibility.
But Rwanda is not the only one responsible for the situation. As part of the 2009 agreement that ended the last conflict, the EU, among others, pushed for the speedy integration of armed rebel groups into the ranks of the Congolese army. Although a necessary price for peace, this effort has come back to haunt the DRC. Rather than breaking down rebel units, their chains of command were left intact, several former rebel leaders were promoted, and soldiers remained stationed in areas where they had operated as rebels. Deserters from these units now form a major part of M23 rebel forces.
The EU’s subsequent efforts to ensure a lasting peace in the DRC have been heavily criticised: for a lack of effective co-ordination with other donors; for an unclear strategy; for failing to deliver aid to the neediest; and for inadequate monitoring of progress. Arguably, its work has been undermined by aims pursued individually by EU member states. Today, with no sign of the conflict abating and Rwanda's continued interference in the DRC, we see the results of the imperfect 2009 solution.
But the Congolese government too should be held to account. Its system of governance is undemocratic, authoritarian and untransparent, and favours patronage networks that contribute to a dysfunctional state. Its track record on democracy promotion and justice is deteriorating steadily. Its indifference to reform over the past decade has provided fertile ground for the M23 rebellion and nourished grievances.
All this is a sign that the EU's approach to aid-giving, which is based on strengthening state institutions (in part by channelling support directly into the budget), may need to be reviewed in situations where institutions are unco-operative. Short-term efforts to address the crisis only in security or humanitarian terms, whilst valuable, have also proved insufficient.
Rather than waiting until the UN Sanctions Committee meets in November, as it has announced it will, the EU needs to take a stand now. It must lead other donors, including its own member states, in stepping up diplomatic efforts, and demand that, as a member of the Security Council, Rwanda lives up to international peace and security standards.
It must also be ready to suspend its aid to Rwanda, and condition institutional aid to the DRC on satisfactory progress towards political reform. Both measures can pave the way for further steps to address the long-term causes of instability between the two countries.