Rwanda Aid Doesn't Add Up

The world does little to head off new conflict, but spends millions on refugees

SEAT yourself for a moment on the steps of a brick church in a small village. You're surrounded by children. A countryside of rolling hills and small villages stretches for miles to the borders of this green land.

The scene seems idyllic. It even seems celebratory during a baptism as a knot of dancing worshippers welcomes new life to the depleted community of faith. But it is not what it seems: This is Cyanika Church in the Gikongoro region of Rwanda in central Africa, a monument to 30,000 people hacked to death there less than 20 months earlier. Many of these children are orphans of those buried in nearby mass graves. Others are with families struggling to rebuild and forget. It's precisely where I sat just days ago. It's a seat that reorders one's perspective.

Like you, I know the story of the bloodshed that began in April 1994 when neighbor murdered neighbor. The world waited on the sidelines, hesitant even to call it genocide, the most grievous sin humans can visit upon their own kind. It is a tragic story, and we're still living it. The news from Burundi over the hills to the south makes me wonder: Will the world stand by again? Will we not rebuild Rwanda? Will we not invest in shoring up Burundi before children there become orphans?

Our response in Rwanda is backward. That was intuitively obvious to me on the church steps. But it perhaps becomes clearest through a dispassionate examination of a few telling statistics.

Let's do the math: At least 800,000 people - mostly Tutsi - died in about 60 days that bloody spring. The population of Rwanda - one of the most overcrowded countries on earth - plummeted from 7.7 million to 6.9 million. As an army of Tutsi-led rebel exiles invaded, 400,000 people - mostly Hutu - fled into Tanzania and set up a city the size of St. Louis. Three months later, 1 million people fled across Rwanda's opposite border into Zaire. The refugees number 1.7 million.

Rwanda now houses only about 80 percent of its citizens - roughly 6 million, including returned Tutsi exiles. Neighboring countries house the remaining 20 percent. While most are innocent, some are guilty of genocide, and a number are rearming to invade the country they fled. Clearly an untenable scenario.

But the world's response doesn't add up. The international community was unwilling to meet its obligation to prevent genocide. When refugees - including many of the killers - fled the invading Tutsi-led forces, however, the world responded with millions of dollars. There, beyond Rwanda's borders, our priorities make little sense. There the international community has established an equation we cannot sustain, an equation that is inhumane, wrong-headed, and doomed to fail.

The math: We've spent more than $700 million to support refugee camps, compared with $400 million to rebuild Rwanda. That's $400 for each refugee and not quite $70 to support those in country. Yes, the world has pledged far more - $1.2 billion - but until recently has held onto its money. Significant funds have just begun to flow, a trend that must be sustained in the coming months. Otherwise how can we expect Rwandan refugees to return to their devastated homeland?

Despite our best efforts, CARE's own programs reflect the point: We have received more than $20 million in private donations and government funds to support relief work in the camps and only $3 million to assist in Rwanda. Can't the world help us do more for 80 percent of the people?

Money pledged to help rebuild Rwanda's justice system - a necessary precursor to significant refugee repatriation - is itself an injustice. Of $10 million pledged, only $260,000 had reportedly arrived in Rwanda by last month. The International Tribunal on War Crimes has, to its credit, indicted eight people for genocide. Tens of thousands, however, languish under a strained justice system with little hope of due process until this crucial aid arrives.

The math: The world's wallet says refugee camps are better business than nation- building. Or justice- building. Tanzania and Zaire accommodate these numbers of refugees at great risk to their own societies. It breeds resentment among their citizens, many of whom are in straits as dire as the refugees'. And last week, 34,000 additional people sought haven in Tanzania, fleeing Burundi's powder keg. As many as 150,000 more press on the border. CARE and other relief organizations already are helping these new arrivals. But we know Rwandans cannot continue by the millions to live elsewhere. We know Rwanda's twin, Burundi, could repeat this bloody equation. We want nation-building. We want peaceful repatriation. We want an easing of tension and distrust. We want these children on the church steps to know a future without the arithmetic of human decimation.

But if this is what we want, our math is pointed in the opposite direction. Rebuilding must be a humanitarian response as vital as food and shelter. We must recognize the value of dollars to prevent conflicts. Until then, our numbers won't add up. It's time to embrace the children of Cyanika.

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