As soon as I concluded my visit to Rwanda in June 1994 I faxed the following "Trellis" back to the World Vision Australia office for sharing with staff. A fuller report (next article) was made available later.
Madness in Africa
Almost everything about Rwanda these days is crazy.
It is the most populated country in Africa. A higher population density than Great Britain.
Yet, it now seems deserted!
We had driven down through Southern Uganda. The roads were crowded all the way with people.
Walking, riding bikes, many of them burdened with huge loads of bananas, charcoal, timber and the dozen other things that need to be transported in small quantities. Men and women, but mostly women, walking with heavy loads on their heads. Most common, plastic jerry cans of water.
Added to the people were crowds of animals. Dogs, goats and cattle everywhere. Vehicles skated in and out of this mobile host at speeds up to 150 kmh.
Along the road the land was lush and green. Everywhere there were crops. Bananas for sale in roadside stalls. A series of drum sellers all grouped together in best retailing strategy. At another place a two hundred metre line of shops all selling tomatoes in various shades of green through red, and arranged in scores of identical small pyramids.
Later, as I described my admiration for this scene to Winnie Babihuga, our project manager in Byumba, she said, “The contrast with Rwanda is very powerful. It is silent. There are no people on the roads. There are no people in the fields. Everyone is hiding. Even the birds are hiding. The government chopped down whole forests to try to stop the rebels. When I first crossed from Uganda into Rwanda, I thought I was entering a dead country.” Civil war has rendered it silent.
I visited the Byumba orphanage which World Vision plans to support. And Rutare refugee camp where 105,000 people now live.
In both places I heard the now familiar stories of loss of loved ones, of hackings, of maiming, of death.
I shall arrange for my dairy to placed in a shared area on the Vax next week. You can read it if you want.
Stop Blaming the Media!
Scapegoat. One who is blamed for the sins of others.
In Leviticus 16 you can read how a goat was selected to atone for the sins of the Hebrews. It was presented in the temple, took on the sins of the people, and then sent out into the desert, presumably to die.
These days, every coward who does not want to face up to their responsibilities looks for a scapegoat to blame.
One of our favourite scapegoats is the media.
We blame the media for the world’s crisis mentality.
No-one invests in long term development. No-one is putting enough resources into preventive action. No-one is focussing on cures.
Instead, the world reacts to each crisis. It waits until people are dying in millions. It responds with short term band-aid actions. It treats symptoms. The disease remains to fester up again.
But it is not our fault. It’s the media’s fault.
“The central problem is that industrial democracies involve themselves abroad only when crisis hits the television screen and forces them to engage themselves.” from “Don’t Blame CNN”, by Jim Hoagland, Washington Post, 3 March 94.
Or that’s the theory. The media is the scapegoat.
And the most strident advocates of the Blame the Media line are politicians.
As usual, those who speak loudest have the most to hide. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Because it is their own failure that is the real problem.
The so-called developed world has been slowly disengaging from leadership in long term development and preventive diplomacy.
Aid budgets are routinely slashed. Nowhere is this more evident than here in Australia.
Foreign diplomacy is more and more done on the cheap.
Both aid and diplomacy are more and more dominated by self-interest. Trade and commerce dominate both agendas.
The poor, the need for peace, reconciliation and security? These are minor matters now.
It is this failure of political will that is the real problem.
Thank God for the media and its ability, every now and then, to demonstrate the result of this failure so graphically.
Rwanda Is A Case In Point
Rwanda is now being portrayed as a distant, remote, African problem.
Our own government accepts no share of responsibility for what is happening there.
Australia has no significant aid, trade, or historical links with Rwanda.
It’s not our business.
Senator Ray says we won’t send troops unless the UN will guarantee they won’t be killed.
Can you believe he said this with a straight face!?
It’s like going to Kenya and asking for a guarantee that you won’t get diarrhoea.
Let’s get one thing clear right away. In Rwanda, the killing is being done by Rwandans. It is an internal, civil conflict. There is a fight between a bad government and violent rebel force. Some of the fighting made worse by ancient ethnic differences.
On this basis, fools say, “It’s a problem of their own making. Let’s not intervene.”
Sorry. It’s too late. We already have intervened.
Here are a few reasons why Australia has a share in the Rwanda problem.
1. Colonialism. It was not Rwandans who created borders and a political environment that encouraged the preferential treatment of one ethnic group over another. It was the Belgians.
Nations, like Australia, who claim a role in shaping international agenda through the UN and other bodies cannot scapegoat our failure to control colonialism. Nor our failure to hold colonisers accountable for the results of their oppression.
2. Arms. The machetes and knives might be locally produced (although even that I doubt), but the automatic rifles and the grenades that are being used in Rwanda were not made there.
We, who take part in the international community, cannot scapegoat our failure to control the growth of the arms industry. Nor our failure to control the arms deluge of the Third World after the collapse of the USSR.
3. Aid. The tools needed to deal with the instability caused by poverty are rusted through disuse. Suddenly the Australian government finds a million dollars or more to help the refugees. Where was the money last year?
Nations, who now respond impulsively to every media revelation, cannot avoid facing our failure to contribute to long term development and preventive diplomacy.
We failed Rwanda in the past. And now there is a danger the international community will pile failure on top of failure.
When will our leaders show some leadership?