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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Rwanda: Life after Death, 2

Rwanda: Life after Death, 2
Date distributed (ymd): 980226
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains part 2 of selected excerpts from an extensive report on the current situation in Rwanda from the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The following is excerpted from the U.S. Committee for Refugees' newly published issue paper:


February 1998, by Jeff Drumtra, Africa Policy Analyst.

U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW #701 Washington, DC 20036 USA Phone: (202) 347-3507; Fax: (202) 347-3418; E-mail for information:

Please note that this posting is not the full report. For copies of the report in full, please send an e-mail message to: or call Raci Say at: (202) 347-3507

(continued from part 1)

Demographic Pressures

Perhaps one demographic finding provides the sharpest illustration of the confounding nature of Rwanda: despite the genocide and massive population movements, Rwanda's estimated current population of 7.9 million is believed to be larger than before the genocide.

One of the world's highest birth rates, as well as the repatriation of some 800,000 Tutsi refugees after four decades of exile, have recreated the country's relentless population pressures. At current rates, experts expect the population will double within 25 years.

The country's demographics reveal deep scars. A recent UN study concluded that "feminization" of the population is "one of the direct consequences of the genocide and massacres." Only 84 males exist per 100 females, UN studies suggest. As few as 67 males survive for every 100 females in the age 24-29 cohort. More than a third of all households are headed by women.

"Resettlement is not simply about having a plot of land. It's about livelihood, and many of these people are women," a Rwandan official explained. The country's recent traumas, he concluded, have "imposed more burden on women than any other section of the population."

* * * *

In large measure, current-day Rwanda is a leap of faith.

Perhaps Rwanda is a lost cause, a society that cannot--or should not--piece itself back together after abusing itself with so much bloodshed and suspicion.

"This place is definitely a powderkeg disguising itself as a pillar of stability," a UN worker with extensive experience in Rwanda said. "[It is] tense, volatile, and very fragile.... The government, the unraveling of Rwandan society, and the general antipathy and sometimes outright hostility [of Rwandan officials] toward the international community are all very worrisome developments.... It's really a shame."

The opposite view, more hopeful, is that Rwandans and their leaders are seriously trying to remake their society by creating a homeland in which all groups feel safe and empowered--an environment where most of the population has demonstrated remarkable restraint despite powerful emotions ranging from grief to outrage.

"We cannot afford to lose the gains of the past three years, because the population [is] beginning to absorb the resurgency of Rwanda," a government official said. "There are lots of people who are willing to rebuild."

It is likely that average Rwandans would regard speculation about their country's probability of success to be beside the point. In their view, they have no alternative except to try to make their country function without seizures of blood.

"I want to live here because I cannot be anywhere else but here," one ragged farmer explained to USCR.

He and others in post-genocide Rwanda have no place else to go. Their daily reality of life is to grind out a living, cope with their neighbors as best they can, and deal with whatever challenges life brings them.

And, more than ever, they remain vigilant.

The people of Rwanda have found that life after death is not an easy gift.



1. Rwandan authorities should deal more openly with ethnic issues.

The government has sought to downplay ethnic divisions in its public pronouncements, by removing ethnic references from identity cards, and by eschewing discussions of ethnic quotas. These laudable steps should continue. However, by seeking to eliminate Africa Webly all public discussion of ethnic divisions, the government damages its own domestic credibility by denying the reality of ethnic tensions that every Rwandan knows to exist. By making mention of ethnicity "politically incorrect," the government inadvertently impedes constructive national dialogue on an issue that has cost extraordinary death and suffering under previous governments during the past 40 years. Authorities should seek opportunities to acknowledge the existence of sensitive ethnic problems in an open and constructive manner. The government can more effectively defuse the ethnicity issue by helping society discuss it, rather than by denying its existence.

2. The international community should make more resources and better expertise available to Rwandans to facilitate individual counseling and national social dialogue.

Rwandans have been through a national nightmare that almost defies comprehension. Theirs is a post-genocide society that has also experienced civil war, massive refugee displacement, a ruthless insurgency, and economic ruin so extensive that it is now one of the two least developed countries in the world. Rwandans' trauma on a personal and societal level is enormous. A special kind of assistance is needed from the international community--assistance that addresses the people's psychological needs as well as their material needs. The international community should provide specialized training and financial support to increase the skills and number of Rwandan social workers who are capable of offering the one-on-one and group counseling that so many Rwandans desperately need. Rwandan society has to rediscover how to talk with itself. The international community should help Rwanda establish a "post-genocide reconciliation foundation," perhaps pattered after the Holocaust Memorial Council Research Institute in the United States, to help individuals and Rwandan society as a whole discover innovative ways to overcome their recent history. USCR respectfully encourages the Holocaust Research Institute and other qualified institutions to participate in such an undertaking.

3. The international community should be prepared to accept a degree of voluntary social segregation in some areas of Rwanda.

Rwanda was an ethnically integrated society before 1994, and largely remains so today. Daily interaction is usually the best way to dissolve mistrust and build cohesion. Rwandan authorities and international aid should seek to nurture integration in housing, employment, schools, markets, and other facets of daily life. Laws and public policy should be scrupulously neutral in regard to ethnicity. Some Rwandans, however, may be psychologically unprepared to return so quickly to previous living arrangements. The genocide or other traumatic events might have rendered some Rwandans psychologically incapable of living among neighbors of different ethnicity at this time. Pockets of Butare prefecture in the south, for example, contain a disproportionate Tutsi population; many communes in northwest Rwanda contain an overwhelmingly Hutu population. Sometimes groups within a larger society are, sadly, not ready to live together again. Unlike victims in other parts of the world, Rwandans do not have the option of national partition or wholesale resettlement in a newly created state. A limited amount of voluntary social segregation inside Rwanda is a predictable response to Rwanda's recent history.

4. The Rwandan government should increase ethnic integration in the Rwandan Patriotic Army.

The government's Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) is overwhelmingly Tutsi but is believed to contain several thousand Hutu soldiers and officers. The government should continue to increase integration in the RPA. The 1993 Arusha peace accord provided that the national army should contain nearly equal numbers of both ethnic groups. The government should maintain this goal.

Violence in neighboring Burundi in recent years has demonstrated the ability of a poorly integrated military to subvert democratic principles. Rwanda should not repeat the mistake.

5. The Rwandan government should aggressively prosecute abuses by government soldiers, particularly in the northwest.

More than 1,000 troops are in detention for alleged crimes, according to government officials. That is a useful first step, but more should be done. The government should press ahead with investigations and prosecutions to demonstrate that abuses by soldiers will not be tolerated, even during security operations in the northwest. Results of investigations by military courts should be made public.

6. International donors should continue to provide aid to Rwanda that is flexibly tailored to the needs of different areas.

Rwanda's needs are diverse, despite its small size. Aid for reintegration and long-term development should be flexible-- different communes require different aid packages. Some areas have housing shortages, other areas have adequate housing but lack water systems or need agricultural assistance.

Donors should not allow violence in the northwest to curtail aid programs in other parts of the country. Much of Rwanda is safe and accessible, and aid projects should continue or expand. Development organizations should devote particular attention to Kibungo prefecture, a heavy resettlement area in southeast Rwanda with a diverse population of ethnically mixed returnees. The prefecture is extremely underdeveloped.

Aid donors should continue providing assistance to the northwest, despite insecurity there. A handful of humanitarian organizations have managed to maintain useful aid programs in the northwest, proving that operations there are possible. The dearth of assistance to the northwest has left many residents there feeling abandoned. Donors should provide more resources to improve the government's administrative capacity. Donor policies until now have short-changed the government by channeling monies primarily to private agencies, leaving government ministries with a weakened ability to function.

Funding for qualified indigenous organizations, particularly women's groups, should remain a priority throughout the country.

7. Rwandan authorities should redouble efforts to return property to rightful owners.

Rwandan law clearly entitles landowners to regain possession of their land, and government officials have taken measures to implement the rule. Yet many Hutu landowners and business proprietors reportedly remain afraid to reclaim their properties. Government officials should ensure that private intimidation is not being used to circumvent public laws pertaining to ownership.

8. Rwandan officials should ensure that landowners are not moved from their land involuntarily.

There is no proof that forcible relocations have occurred, but the potential exists as the government pursues ambitious housing and land policies. National authorities should take steps to ensure that local officials understand and abide by the government's stated policy that landowners will not be forced to move into new villages.

9. Authorities should conduct thorough assessments of resettlement sites to ensure that chosen sites can adequately support new populations.

Large numbers of returnees to Rwanda, many lacking their own property, are settling into designated resettlement sites, particularly in the eastern half of the country. Some sites are poorly planned and may not be viable, potentially leading to new hardships, population migrations, and wasted aid dollars. Authorities should work with UN technicians to monitor the success or failure of newly built housing sites and to conduct sophisticated analyses of proposed housing projects.

10. Rwandan officials should restructure reeducation camps to make them more effective and less divisive.

Reeducation seminars sponsored by the government are a potentially useful method to facilitate ethnic unity and counteract extremist propaganda. The reeducation program conducted during 1997, however, appeared to be poorly organized and created resentment among many Hutu.

The government should ensure that participation in reeducation camps is not a litmus test for employment of Hutu. If authorities choose to make reeducation camps a prerequisite for employment, the government should make reeducation programs more widely available.

The government should improve the quality of its reeducation program by providing skilled moderators. The government should consider restructuring its reeducation program so that sessions target Hutu and Tutsi employees on an ongoing basis in their work places, rather than prior to employment.

11. UNHCR and the UN human rights program should establish a stronger ongoing presence in northwest Rwanda.

During most of 1997, UNHCR maintained a small professional staff in Gisenyi with limited mobility. HRFOR stationed no staff in the northwest and conducted short, infrequent assessment visits that were incapable of in-depth reporting about human rights conditions.

Legitimate expatriate security concerns exist in parts of Rwanda, as killings of expatriates in early 1997 made tragically clear. Nonetheless, UNHCR and HRFOR should seek to bolster their ongoing presence in the northwest and should attempt to conduct assessment trips more frequently into rural northwest areas, using military escorts for safety if necessary. Although military escorts are cumbersome and their presence often hampers human rights documentation and protection work, more assessment trips are worth undertaking to inform the international community about events in the northwest. The world community and Rwandans themselves need help in sorting out facts from rumors in an area rife with disinformation. The government has challenged international human rights workers to conduct first-hand documentation trips in the area--the challenge should be accepted.

12. International aid organizations should assign only their most mature and experienced expatriate staff to work in Rwanda.

Rwanda is an extremely difficult social environment in which to work. The ingrained cultural reticence of many Rwandans, coupled with the trauma and suspicion that linger from the tragic events of recent years, require a high degree of stability and maturity on the part of expatriates working in the country. Aid organizations should ensure that expatriate staff receive a full orientation prior to assignment, and a full debriefing and counseling, if necessary, at termination of assignment. Working in Rwanda is not "business as usual."

13. International organizations should ensure that local staffs are ethnically mixed.

International organizations are in a difficult bind: they do not wish to know or place importance on the ethnicity of their local staff members, yet it is important to ensure that staffs are ethnically mixed. To compound the difficulty, some aid organizations employ predominantly Tutsi staff because Tutsi were often the primary available job candidates during 1995-96, when large numbers of Hutu professionals were outside the country. A stringent quota system is inappropriate. But aid agencies should take steps to ensure that their staff composition, and their work in general, are fair and balanced in fact as well as in appearance.

14. Rwanda's neighboring countries should honor basic humanitarian norms.

Tanzania has expelled Rwandan Tutsi who lived in Tanzania for 30 years. Congo/Zaire in recent months has summarily expelled Rwandan Hutu asylum seekers with no attempt to determine the legitimacy of their refugee claims

Rwanda's neighbors are understandably concerned that problems in Rwanda could again spill across their borders, but this should not lead countries to ignore international humanitarian standards. Tanzania should allow settled Tutsi families to remain. Congo/Zaire should attempt to screen asylum seekers.

15. Rwandan authorities should ensure that all Congolese refugees are moved out of northwest Rwanda.

Two attacks by genocidaire insurgents on Mudende refugee camp, north of Gisenyi town, have killed hundreds of Tutsi Congolese refugees. Some reports suggest that more than 1,000 died in the attacks. Rwandan officials have belatedly allowed the refugees to move to safer areas outside the country's troubled northwest. Authorities should continue this overdue relocation of the refugees and should ensure that the refugee population is properly protected in the new locations.

--end of excerpt--

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups individuals.

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