More on Rwanda: Where is the debate?

Development Policy25 May 2009Thea Hilhorst

If development cooperation is risky, as I exemplified last week about Rwanda, why not apply the basics of risk management? The primary characteristic of a risky investment is that the outcome cannot be accurately foreseen. This means that policy choices have to be made whose impact is insecure. When is this legitimate? When does this go down the slippery road of irresponsibly sticking one’s head into the sand as to the inconvenient consequences of politics?

At the very minimum I think one must acknowledge the risks, and picture different scenarios of what may happen in the future. In an easy world one could base policy choices on the kind of calculations that insurance companies do: predict the statistical chances of the unfortunate scenario to become real and relate this to the likely impact in terms of people’s lives and other losses. This doesn’t work in the real world of politics. But one can draw scenarios and develop indicators to monitor what is happening and how trends are evolving. Is a situation moving in the desired direction? Where is the cut-off point where further support is not warranted? At the very least this means we need democratic and public debate to discuss what must be done, what can be done and what has been done. Where is the debate?

I have gone through the blogs of the spokespersons of the three major political parties in the Netherlands. The only one consistently raising discussion on Rwanda is Arend Jan Boekestijn. On his blog, one finds informed references on Dutch politics in Rwanda in December 2008 and April 2009. He is most critical of the budget support the Netherlands provides to Rwanda, especially in view of the active role of Rwanda in the Congolese wars. His views are controversial, so surely his colleagues of other parties have something to say about them? Alas. Kathleen Ferrier responds on 1 April 2009 by simply stating that his comments “are not worth discussing” (Geen woorden aan vuil maken). The blog of Chantal Gillard makes no single reference to Rwanda. Not very impressive.