Are the MDGs enough? Donor perspectives and recipient visions of education and poverty reduction in Rwanda.
Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has increasingly become the central focus of many multilateral and bilateral donor agencies, with resources being channelled into those areas of education and training considered crucial to poverty reduction. The development policies of the poorest countries mirror this 'global' poverty reduction agenda, particularly where dependency on external resources is high and where Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers have become a necessary requirement to obtain debt relief. However, subtle - and not so subtle - variations can be observed in the application of these policies by the different partners.
Drawing on the example of Rwanda, this paper explores the perspectives of donors and the developing country government with regard to education and training, and examines how their approaches aim to reduce poverty and promote socio-economic development. Since the late 1990s, poverty reduction has lain at the heart of the Government of Rwanda's (GoR) strategy for socioeconomic development. Within that strategy, education and training play a crucial role. However, while attaining the international education targets may have taken increasing prominence in GoR discourse over the last five years, it is looking well beyond this goal. In a context of limited resources, the GoR is required to strike a difficult balance between the provision of basic education within the poverty reduction logic and the provision of higher levels of education and training as prerequisites for attaining the Government's broader vision of transforming Rwanda into a knowledge-based economy. This dilemma manifests itself in both an internal struggle between different policy priorities and viewpoints, and an external struggle with donor agencies whose influence over policy processes is considerable.
Concurrently, a closer look at individual donor policies for education and training in Rwanda reveals that the core message may be the same, i.e. investment in basic education to achieve the MDGs, but differences of tone reflect variations in prioritisation. The actual activities of different multilateral and bilateral donors in-country demonstrate a less than clear focus on the MDGs, or certainly very different ways of approaching the issue. The choice of activity and approach depends upon factors determined within the donor country, such as the general policies and procedures of the individual donor, as well as those determined on the ground, the outcome of negotiations with the Rwandan Government and comparative advantage vis-à-vis other donors.
This paper goes on to consider whether attaining the MDGs is sufficient to reduce poverty in the eyes of the recipient and indeed of the donor community when faced with realities on the ground. Some donors are urging the GoR to concentrate on the core objectives of basic education; others are looking at a broader picture. In a situation of severe dependency on external resources for the development of education and training systems, recipient countries are required to balance their own agendas with the exigencies of their donors. The seeming consensus around achieving the MDGs masks complex politics of negotiation, debate and compromise.
8th UKFIET Oxford Conference on Education and Development, Oxford, UK, 13-15 September 2005, 14 pp.