Development risks: Education in Rwanda.

Development Policy21 May 2009Thea Hilhorst

Development is becoming a risky business. Major donors, including the Netherlands, have recently shifted their focus away from stable countries to support areas that are assembled under labels such as post-conflict, unstable or fragile societies. One of the first proponents of the idea, Jan Pronk, advocated that development cooperation must stop playing safe and enter more risky ventures. One of the most risky ventures, no doubt, can be found in present day Rwanda. Rwanda is a double-faced nation: undergoing enormous economic progress, maintaining stability and upholding the formalities of democracy, while on the other hand engaging in warfare in neighbouring Congo, building up a nasty human rights record, and excluding much of the rural population from its growing welfare. Last October the government mandated that the whole country shall shift to English next to the local language of Kinyarwanda, replacing French as the official language of policy and education. It is a high-impact measure: in one blow displacing thousands of teachers that do not master the english language. It reinforces the dominance of the English speaking elite, that is formed by the Ugandan Tutsi faction led by Paul Kagame. Development agencies that I met last week on my way back from DRC told me that they have no influence on this mandate. They can simply choose to collaborate or not. What is the right choice to make? Here are two scenarios of what may happen:One. The transition will be painful but in fact accelerates a process that is happening anyway (increasingly Rwandan youth speaks English rather than French). In this case, development support to the new policy can help to smoothen the transition as it may to some extent avoid the displacement that is foreseen and make the policy more inclusive. Two. The imposition of language intensifies the feelings of exclusion and oppression that the majority of French-speaking Rwandans (the entire Hutu population and – increasingly – Tutsi groups that are not part of the so-called Uganda elite). This leads to further tension and eventually to open conflict and renewed rounds of bloodshed. In this case, development support to the new policy will in hindsight look as a form of direct support towards new conflict.The problem is that political opposition in Rwanda is smothered and the extent of resistance against the policy is not visible in the public domain. Does it mean that we have to actually wait for the unfolding of history to judge what was best? What can agencies do to arrive at the best decision? This is not just a risky business, it is outright scary!