At the foot of Rwanda's volcanoes stands the house of Alphonse Bizimana. It's made of corrugated iron; the kitchen consists of a single pot balanced on a small gas stove. The latrine is outside. Nothing, except for 10 yards of carefully cultivated land separates his house from that of his neighbor's.
And he is not alone.
Hundreds of thousands have been removed from their homes following violent civil wars in ethnically-divided Rwanda and Burundi earlier this decade.
Since then, the governing Tutsis in both nations aggressively guard against uprisings by Hutu insurgents, while trying to rebuild their broken countries. And both nations are currently experimenting with massive displacement efforts.
Rwandan officials say they are liberating much-needed agricultural land by transferring residents to new villages. Burundi, trying to protect its citizens, is corralling potentially rebellious Hutus into controlled camps.
"We want to put people together to liberate land for food production," says Patricie Hajabakiga, secretary-general of Rwanda's Ministry of Lands, Reinstallation, and Environmental Protection. "This place cannot continue to exist this way, people are too scattered, and land is too fragmented."
Human rights groups criticize Burundi for relocating some 330,000 of the majority Hutus into temporary camps outside the capital of Bujumbura. This week a cholera outbreak - attributed to cramped and unsanitary conditions - claimed 48 lives. But the government insists that placing Hutu civilians in camps is the only way to protect them attacks by extremist rebels within their population.
In Rwanda, naysayers liken its displaced citizens to guinea pigs. Already, more than 650,000 people left homeless by Rwanda's civil war have been assigned to the new "villages," whose size, composition, and location will be determined by the government. Soon, the rest of Rwanda's 8 million people will relocate as well."
While Burundi's federal programs have been slammed by the international community, Rwanda's have largely gone unnoticed. But critics counter that Rwanda is embarking on a program of population control not dissimilar to that in neighboring Burundi.
Analysts assert that by uprooting people from their homes and arbitrarily regrouping them - into permanent villages in the case of Rwanda, makeshift camps in the case of Burundi - the Tutsis, a 15 percent minority in power in both countries, are effectively aiming to consolidate their rule over the vast Hutu majority.
While experts agree that Rwanda needs immediate, and drastic agricultural reform, donor money has been slow in coming. Beyond the problems of coerced resettlement - which few Western countries want their names associated with - lies the suspicion that the urgency involved in the resettlement program reflects the far deeper fear that, unless closely monitored, Rwanda's Hutu population will eventually attempt to address an essentially unjust balance of power by whatever means available.
"Obviously, the more the government has these people grouped, the more control it has," says an international aid worker based in Rwanda's capital, Kigali. "I think that is a concern many donors have."
To this line of reasoning, some say the government in Rwanda has opposed plain economic logic. Only by concentrating people in restricted areas, says Mrs. Hajabakiga of the Ministry of Lands, will there be money for basic amenities. "With what we have we cannot hope to give water and electricity to every isolated house," she says.
Still, aid workers and diplomats remain skeptical. Social engineering has often failed in the past, they argue, and at enormous human cost. Furthermore, critics say that rather than reflect a genuine concern over general standards of living, the "villageization" program in Rwanda is a stark indication of how far the government is willing to go to remain in charge.
Stephen Smith of Africa Confidential in London says, "If you've gone through a genocide in 1994, it doesn't matter. For all the talk of democracy, the issue of security is going to be uppermost in your mind."
But in the end, he adds, both governments will have to "accommodate the unpalatable ethnic fact" that they are representative of a 15 percent ethnic minority.
In Burundi, president Pierre Buyoya asked regional leaders who recently called for the immediate dissolution of the camps not to "meddle" in his country's politics.
In Rwanda's case, notes a Western observer, the "villageization" program does not carry "any sign of political benevolence" toward the Hutus. "Most people see the economic reasons, but they remain extremely suspicious of what's behind them," says the observer.
But all this talk of economics and social engineering doesn't do much for Mr. Bizmana.
"I used to have a nice house," he quips, pointing to the grim agglomeration of shacks in his makeshift Rwanda village.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society