Germany's development minister Dirk Niebel has promised continuing support for Rwanda and Uganda, despite concerns about corruption and human rights. Berlin will promote selected projects and help with auditing.
Perhaps it really was the visit of Germany's development minister Dirk Niebel that prompted the authorities in Uganda to allow the country's most important independent newspaper to resume publication. The police abandoned their blockade of the Daily Monitor's premises on 30 May 2013 – the very day of Niebel's arrival. They had shut down the paper ten days earlier because it had published a letter casting the government in a highly unfavorable light.
Niebel's visit to Rwanda and Uganda came to a close on Tuesday. The development minister's visit came as relations between Germany and Uganda were going through a difficult phase.
Six months previously, Niebel had frozen direct budget aid to Uganda. The reasons were corruption scandals and allegations, made in a UN report, that Uganda was supporting rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and thereby violating international law. Uganda's abysmal record on gay rights was also a contributory factor. A draft bill in Uganda in 2012 intended to make homosexual acts punishable by death.
Such concerns were not swept to one side during this visit, even though Niebel did laud Uganda as "an important partner in East Africa." He underlined at the conclusion of bilateral talks that it was important "that the state respects all human rights – the right to a free press, the right to free assembly and the rights of minorities."
We are not colonialists!
German aid to Uganda will start flowing again – 120 million euros ($157 million) over three years – though it will now be tied to specific projects. Instead of direct budget aid, the two delegations agreed on assistance for Uganda's Auditor General and finance ministry. Proper accounting and transparency were essential for development, Niebel said.
The decision to fund individual Ugandan institutions directly was a consequence of reports of embezzlement on a large scale in Ugandan ministries. Uganda's Auditor General, who will become a recipient of German aid, had contributed to the exposure of the scandal.
But Niebel stressed Germany was seeking just to help Uganda so it could develop its own tools for the country's progress. "We are not colonialists," he told the recently re-opened Daily Monitor.
Uganda was one of the few remaining countries receiving direct budget aid from Germany that was not linked to specific projects or sectors. Germany's opposition parties consider the decision to abandon it counter-productive. Ute Koczy,development spokesperson for the German Greens, said that direct aid flows into the budgets of partner countries fostered independence and a sense of responsibility.
Rwanda feels reassured
Rwanda was also pleased to be able to count on assistance from Germany once again – albeit in a different form. Germany's ministry for co-operation and development had decided back in February to convert suspended direct budget assistance into aid tied to specific projects.
Germany was one of several countries to halt assistance to Rwanda in the summer of 2012. A panel of UN experts had reported that Rwanda was supporting the M23 rebels in their conflict with government troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Rwanda has repeatedly denied these allegations.
In the coming Rwandan fiscal year, Germany intends to contribute seven million euros for projects to promote decentralization. Rwanda's minister of local government, James Musoni said that "after countries have recognized the truth, the aid will flow again – Germany has made a good start!" He added that Niebel had told him he would try and persuade other countries to recommence aid to Rwanda.
Development minister Dirk Niebel is dropping direct budget aid in favor of assistance for selected projects
In February Rwanda was one of the signatories to a Great Lakes framework agreement on peace and security in the DRC. Yet Rwanda's role in resolving the conflict is fraught with difficulties. "Rwanda appears ready to negotiate, but is not prepared make compromises," says Alex Viet at the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies at the University of Bremen. The country has political, security and economic interests in the DRC. Many observers believe that peace in the DRC without the participation of Rwanda would be impossible. The rights group Human Rights Watch warned in February that any loosening of sanctions could send the wrong signal to Rwanda.