Friday, January 27, 1995 -
When the little alarm wakes me it’s the first time I haven’t been up before its call, still negotiating as I am with time-zone-differential. It’s amazing how one can adjust to the point where five hours of sleep feels like a full night.
Caroline, David and Bobby have opted to sit this one out, so Daryl, Barbara, Simon, Hannington and I head over to HQ to see what they’ve been able to cook up. When we arrive, everything is bustling, but Nici stops to tell us that it’s been arranged and sends us out to the motor pool while she and Betsy go off to manage another crisis.
Heading out the Western Axis, again the river of humanity lines the road, traveling in both directions, but most, at this time of the morning, seem to be heading toward the camp. Mostly women dressed in bright colors, but some men as well, bearing food or material or merchandise for sale or barter on their heads, under arms and on push-carts. Many children frolic around them. Stands appear regularly, selling hot something. Hannington says it’s fried dough, seasoned with something for taste. Very popular, he says. Trucks again line the road, most are NGO-associated, and are interspersed with vans and trucks serving as buses, totally loaded with passengers, with some hanging out the windows or off the back or top. (Nearer the camp we see the Rwandan buses Simon mentioned, operating openly. Why hasn’t the Zairean Government forced their return?)
Again through the human stew and into the UNHCR compound. The meeting is to be held in one of the two tents and Elizabeth tells us to just come in and take a seat as though we belong there. She doesn’t think anyone will object. If they do, we’ll deal with it at the moment.
After about fifteen minutes of waiting around outside, the crowd begins to gather and we move in to take our seats. There are about 30 people in the tent altogether, seated on benches placed against the canvas walls in a rectangle, with wooden tables forming an inner rectangle so we all face the center of the room. Elizabeth (she and Barbara the only women in the room) presides. She sits at a right angle to us on our right, with two Zairean officials next to her and a Zairean military man next to them. Her manner is firm, straightforward and very pleasant. She’s the kind of person who seems to deal with everyone with a kind of pleasant, respectful attitude and expects the same in return.
Barbara and Simon, to my right, are helpful with translation, though a surprising amount of what transpires is fairly understandable.
Issues of the census are dealt with first. It is announced that prior to the census there will be a round-up of refugees who are living outside the camp (in Goma, mostly) and teams will travel around giving instructions through megaphones as to when and where people are to report.
In answer to a question about security, the Zairean officer says the military will handle security on the perimeter, but not inside the camp. The questioner, a powerful looking man apparently in his 40’s, makes reference to those who live outside who are “now absorbed in Zairean society,” who have jobs, etc., and wants to know if there isn’t a way for them to be registered outside of camp, rather than to have to come in.
The answer suggests he’s referring to children who have been “adopted” outside (are being used as domestic servants) and says they will have to come in and be registered personally. (the Zaireans are apparently not happy with the use of children in this capacity in the city. They have certainly not been legally “adopted.”) Simon then says some by-play indicates that a sub-agenda of the questioner has to do with not wanting to have to produce some of the leaders of the former government and the military who are living outside of the camps, but Elizabeth and the Zaireans are taking a hard line.
The same man wants to see an example of the kind of bracelet that each refugee will be required to wear post-census. He says perhaps responsible people (those here) should be given a bracelet to wear in advance because “the people” may be suspicious that there is poison in them. (Obviously they want them in advance, probably to try to arrange to copy them.) When that reasoning is questioned, he says they’ll be afraid they will leave marks on their arms.
He gets nowhere.
It is mentioned that the volcano had a small eruption the day before yesterday (which I didn’t know anything about) and that two small spouts of lava had flowed down the mountain. The specialists are still there studying and there is nothing for the community to be alarmed about at this point.
(Suddenly loud noises erupt from somewhere outside the compound and the military man takes off running. Cheers and whistles indicate something is going on, but no one else seems in the least concerned, so things continue.)
Yesterday, a man says, as he was heading into town he saw a large crowd of people running toward him, followed by Zairean soldiers who were pointing their rifles at them. What is going on?, he wants to know. He also raises the issue of security, implying a lack of concern for the safety of the refugees, which brings a response from one of the Zaireans who says a “dangerous game” is being played by some. He says someone will be pointed out and labeled a Tutsi, or a spy for the RPF, and an incident is created. He urges that these representatives tell their people to come to the proper authorities when there is a problem and not to set up their own private police force.
(What’s going on here, it quickly becomes clear, is a vying for power inside the camp between the Zaireans and the Rwandans.)
One of the Zaireans says that a group of former Rwandan military have set up their own camp across the road from Mugunga and are coming out at night to harass and intimidate locals.
The Zairean officer comes back in as another tough-looking guy is saying that some of his people have gone into town to meet their friends for a social evening and have run afoul of the Zairean military. (It’s not clear if he is claiming they have been killed, disappeared or have been imprisoned.) What can they do?
The Zairean officer says “If you want to stay out of trouble, stay out of town.” He says his people have investigated reports of soldiers who have “disappeared” and found them living in Goma in houses filled with weapons and ammunition. He says they have some concern about the possibility of an intention to destabilize the Goma area.
So, after many of these kinds of exchanges and some more housekeeping business, the meeting breaks up. We meet in front with Elizabeth and the officer, an “Adjutant” named Willy Babu-K, a good looking and smart young man who says the incident outside was a traffic accident that was treated as entertainment by the crowd around at the time. Asked about his reaction to the meeting, he says this attitude is not new to him. He tells us there are 10,000 heavily armed Rwandan military (from the former government) living in an unofficial camp across the road who rob and harass people all the time. Asked what the difference was between those across the road and those in here, his response is, “Nothing. These are armed as well.”
Elizabeth says one of the men from the meeting will speak to me if I would still like to do that, so I agree and a young man comes over. He speaks English and is clearly a practiced mouthpiece as he kind of says nothing while he gives the party line. He talks about how underfed and ill-served they are here and Simon pats him on the belly and says, “Sorry, mate, you don’t look like you’re starving to me.”
In one interesting dynamic he says that the murder of returning Hutu is ongoing in Rwanda. He tells of a convoy of 500 that left two days ago and has already returned - those who are still alive - after having been attacked by the RPF inside the country. Elizabeth overhears this and comes over and gets right in his face and scolds him good. She does everything but shake her finger at him, saying that she has told him before that what he’s saying isn’t true and that he must stop spreading this kind of propaganda around the camp, etc. She clarifies the facts that he’s distorting in no uncertain terms and does it without blinking an eye. It’s really quite impressive that this little bit of a thing gives this big guy all kinds of hell without any apparent concern for her own safety and he stands there and takes it. I’m not sure I’d have the guts to do it if I were in her shoes.
A bit later, Simon gets an interview with Elizabeth on tape and she talks a bit about her work in Afghanistan prior to coming, as well as the situation here. Very impressive young woman. She also mentions the fact that she has recently been informed by the UNHCR that her contract period is up and they’re not renewing her. Barbara is sure that must be a mistake and says she’ll see who she can contact to get it straightened out. I certainly hope she’s successful. This woman is too valuable an asset to let her slip through some bureaucratic crack.
Our schedule has us heading back to Kigali today, so we have to hightail it back to HQ. Once there it turns out Nici has contacted Joseph Mudumbe and arranged for him to come over, so he’s waiting. She has set aside a small office for what will have to be a quick meeting.
Barbara, Simon and Hannington head back to the Karibu to get the others and the bags together as Daryl and I meet with Joseph and a friend of his, another attorney.
It’s all too brief, given our schedule, and I’m embarrassed that he’s been waiting, as it turns out, for over an hour since they expected us back from Mugunga earlier. But he’s kind enough to shrug it all off and take advantage of the little time we have.
It’s good to see Joseph again. A lawyer, he heads a local human rights organization and is trying to see to it that clear information about the situation here gets out. (He was cited by Human Rights Watch at the dinner for risking his own life by going into the streets during the killings to warn those who were targeted of the danger that was coming. It is said he did that in Rwanda, Zaire and in Burundi.)
He tells us of a situation here that we’ve heard hinted about. He says Hutu military from the camps have gone over the border into Rwanda and attacked some of the refugees who are returning - their own people - in order to convince others that it isn’t safe to go back. The one incident to which he refers happened near Cyangugu, to the south of us, a short time ago.
He says the two primary areas that need attention today are:
1) Security in the camps, provided by an outside force, so that those who want to go home can do so.
2) Security in the country (Rwanda), so that those who return are in fact safe.
He says we must have an international peace-keeping force in the camps and an international effort to educate the Rwandan people about human rights, as well as a campaign to ensure the development of an effective justice system in the country.
He says the refugees want to know “if justice will be just” in Rwanda, and not be concerned only with justice for the Tutsi. They want assurances that Hutu participation, legitimate and independent, will be supported.
To emphasize this concern, Joseph tells of a Hutu man, president of a coalition to assist in the development of human rights in Rwanda (I’m not clear if it’s government or private), whose house is being occupied by a Tutsi and he does not have the power to get her out.
He says the problem of people in prisons (about which we’ve heard) is large and growing. Judges, he says, do not have the power to release people independently. They’ve been folded into some sort of justice commission which includes members of the RPA who must concur on all decisions. This is, in Joseph’s view, impractical and open to abuse.
“The war is very, very near us,” he says, making clear that it is an on-going, every day concern here and not something that is seen as over. “We don’t know the position of the Zairean Government” as regards the former Rwandan Government. “We don’t know if Zaire is going to support them in re-taking Rwanda.” There is “much insecurity” locally, he says, with 1 or 2 murders per day in local towns and villages. Some are committed by refugees, some by Rwandan soldiers (former govt.), some by Zairean soldiers. “The situation is very complicated” because “we don’t know the position of the Zairean
Government.” “Perhaps,” he says, “they maintain the insecurity intentionally, so that people will be fearful of governmental change.” This will “favor Mobutu.” This theory is supported by the fact that “the Zairean Government is not trying to establish security.”
Because of the “poor communications between civil and military authorities in Zaire” and because of a lack of technology, the “international community, if it wants to help with the security in the camps, must press the Zairean Government to cooperate by setting up a UN force to work with carefully selected Zairean Forces.” They should be provided “vehicles and tools of communication” which “must not be left under the control of Zairean Forces.” “Something must be done quickly,” he says. “A well-controlled and coordinated force dealing with these problems will have a calming effect throughout the region” (Burundi, Rwanda, Zaire). It must assure that the refugees are secure and not pushed to break the law.
Frustrated, I have to apologize again and end the meeting. Fortunately, Joseph has to leave for a meeting in Kigali himself and understands about our lack of time. Nici isn’t sure if we’re to meet back at the hotel or if they’re coming back here, but she’s arranged a car for us in case, so Daryl and I opt to say a quick good-bye to Nici and Betsy, who are around for a minute, then jump in and head for the hotel. I want to have a chance to say good-bye to Simon and Hannington, who are flying out to Nairobi this afternoon.
Just as we’re rounding the last corner toward the hotel, the wagon full of the others, all our gear on board, meets us. At Barbara’s reminder that we’re already late and don’t know how long the process will take at the border, we decide we’ll have to be satisfied to send a message of thanks and good-bye to Simon and Hannington via our driver and take off. It doesn’t feel right with the past couple of days having been so intense and their being such an integral part of it, but that’s the way it goes. It’s a frustrating world. Fascinating people, intense experiences and suddenly you’re on to the next place, appointment, event and they’re all part of a rich tapestry of memories that make up something in your life called “My Trip to Rwanda.”
The border crossing going the other way is uneventful and less time consuming than when we came through a couple of days ago. Without even the time to stop in and say hello to Holly, Alexandra and company, we head for the highway to the southeast. It’s amazing how benign, lovely and comfortable everything has become since we were last here. I remember the oppressive sense of deprivation and want that washed over me on the way through here going in the other direction. Now, with the calamity that is the Goma area fresh in the mind’s eye, this looks positively delightful. Well, relatively delightful. Well, maybe just less monstrously shitty.
The road back, through the lush, green, beautifully terraced mountains, makes for a peaceful drive. There’s nothing new to discover, at least immediately, so one’s mind can roam over recent events and conjure new questions.
Caroline, David and Bobby have an ongoing discussion about projects, ideas, career matters and personal concerns that runs through the trip. Daryl is part of it sometimes, sometimes not. They’re all very bright and quite witty. David is very droll and is continually ribbed by the others for insisting that he can’t write comedy. Their frame of reference is laced with literary, motion picture and music references that fly past me. I’m reminded of the Round Table, with Caroline’s Dorothy Parker matching wits with the two contemporaries and leaving the rest in the dust.
Finally we’re coming down through the wooded mountains into Kigali. The Milles Collines is expecting us and passes the test we’ve all had in the backs of our minds: our luggage is all in place, unmolested, still locked in the storage closet where we left it.
A reporter from Radio Rwanda is waiting, hoping to get an interview with us. It seems funny to think of cooperating with Radio Rwanda after having heard all the ugliness they were responsible for during the killing, but of course this is the new Radio Rwanda, representative of the new Government. Alec, the radio journalist is a nice young man but turns out to be a bit unprepared. Can’t get his equipment to work. Finally, though everyone is patient and cooperative, he gives up, embarrassed, and asks if he can catch up with us tomorrow before we set out for the southeast and Tanzania.
The hotel is quite full, but the man at the desk has kept some rooms for us. Mine has an odor that is in part rank and in part chilling. The rank part comes, I learn when I go back to the desk to try to get it changed, from the fact that they’re having some problems with the sanitation system. It will, he assures me, be cleared up by morning. When I point out that won’t help me much as I’m checking out in the morning, he apologizes and says he’s sorry but there are simply no more rooms. It’s a strange position I find myself in, because I can leave the windows open and live with that part of the odor. The other part is a bit more difficult to explain, but it is eerily reminiscent to me of that awful smell at the church at Ntarama: the sweet smell of death.
But if the choice is dealing with the odors and the horrifying memories associated with them or being out in the street, I guess I’ll try the room.
We change and head out for the dinner that Chris promised when we left for Goma. He told us there’s a very good Indian restaurant in town and my mouth has been watering with the prospect. I’ve been able to make out OK so far in spite of Richard Walden’s admonition, but there’s a fair amount of making do involved. A good, well-prepared Indian vegetarian dinner has my juices flowing.
But it seems there’s been a change. We’re going instead to an Ethiopian restaurant, Chris tells us, and the problem with our changing the plan back to Indian at this point is that there are a number of people meeting us. So, I decide to sit on my disappointment and see what Ethiopian cuisine is all about.
The restaurant is not far from the American Embassy, if my reckoning is correct, and evidently quite popular. We enter through a gate and find the walled eating area out of doors in a kind of garden/patio. A number of people are sitting at one table, reporters mostly, and Chris steers some of our group that way while the rest of us find another table where we’re joined by a couple of Irishmen who represent ECHO (or ECO), an organization that does the humanitarian funding for the EC (European Community). With the noise and confusion I never get their names clear, one is Mark something, but that’s as much as I can get, other than the fact that they give a lot of money to support humanitarian efforts and seem to be nice fellows.
Learning that we’re going to the prison tomorrow (Chris has been able to arrange the visit for tomorrow morning, fitting it in prior to our departure for Ngara, Tanzania.), Mark, a handsome, athletic looking fellow in his early 40’s, tells of having been there a short time ago with the wife of a former British MP, now a member of the European Parliament, by the name of Hesseltine (I think). He says the woman is very much involved with assistance to the underdeveloped world and was interested in seeing the prison, so he felt it would be a good idea to go in with her. He says that you go in without guards, since there are few of them anyway, and once inside you’re faced with an incredible crush of people and all the difficulties associated with it. There is a committee of prisoners who allow you in and may escort you through, or you may be on your own. In this case, he says, they simply made room for the party as they worked their way through the facility, with the packed inmates parting to let them by and closing in again after them.
As he describes the situation it sounds harrowing and, as he tells it, Mrs. Hesseltine certainly found it so. He said it was rank, claustrophobic and intimidating. Then at one point she spied a group of nuns standing on a level a bit higher than they were and made a bee-line for them, with the evident sense that these women provided a sort of oasis of sanity. As he tells it, she reached one of the nuns, grabbed her hand and said, “Oh God bless you, sister, for the work you’re doing here!” Imagine her reaction, he laughs, when the nun thanked her and told her they were all prisoners, accused of taking part in the massacres.
After dispensing with the prison rather handily, Mark then suggests, when told we’re heading for Ngara, that we be sure to look at the area below the waterfall, right near the border station. There’s a net there to catch the bodies that are thrown in the river daily, hands lashed behind them, execution-style. It is, he thinks, a form of intimidation meant to keep the refugees from leaving the camps - constant and effective. These camps are even more under the control of the military and Interahamwe, he believes, saying the daily murders alone attest to that.
Having had my fill of gory stories and not yet any dinner, I wander over to the other table and am invited to sit down by a German-looking type with glasses, blonde hair, a British accent and the red eyes that tell of some serious drinking. A reporter, he proceeds in a fairly aggressive way to grill me as to what I’m going to “tell the world” about what is going on here. When I demur, suggesting that we’ve only been here a few days and have more to see, he insists that our status as celebrities guarantees us a platform (a position it’s hard to disagree with) and that US government officials are going to pay attention to what we say (a position it’s not hard to disagree with) and wants to know what it will be. After trying to be relatively pleasant and inoffensive in the process of fending him off for a while, I finally decide there’s not much success in that direction and tell him that it seems obvious that he really wants to express his own point of view rather than to hear mine, so why don’t we just get to it?
I’ve seen this before. Sensitive people, as reporters sometimes are, can get crazy in ugly situations where they are forced by profession into a posture of objectivity and detachment which is directly contrary to what their minds, hearts and guts tell them is the truth. This guy is angry as hell about what’s happened here and wants the world to know it. More, he wants the leaders of the world, so called, to know that he knows how badly they’ve screwed up; that absent a demonstration of some integrity, some moral courage, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost.
So, after he vents for a while I move over nearer Caroline and David, who are getting an earful from yet another reporter with an attitude. After a while I get a bite to eat. It’s interesting, but not the satisfying meal I had been counting on.
Back at the hotel I’m told that Alison Des Forges has called. (Actually I’m told that Harrison DeForge called, but I’m able to decipher it.) A professor at a university in Pennsylvania (I think), Alison is a respected expert on Africa and one of the chief researchers for Human Rights Watch/Africa. She’s in Kigali and I’m delighted at the prospect of speaking with her. She isn’t in when I call and when she calls me back it’s nearly midnight.
She’s leaving early in the morning and we’re to leave by noon, so it appears we won’t be able to meet, but she says she’s been spending time here with the new Minister of Justice, “a good man who is trying hard.”
She says the issue of Tutsi control over the civilian government is a serious one (even though the Hutu have a majority of the civilian government posts, Tutsi control of the RPA gives them a very prominent voice in decisions of government). The issue of power and the Tutsi’s use of it will depend to some degree, she says, on the balance struck in an ongoing contest between Tutsi from Burundi and Tutsi from Uganda. Those from Burundi, according to Alison, are the more radical.
For example, as far as the issue of reprisals is concerned, the moderates persuaded the extremists months ago that they must be stopped. They said that the world community was watching and that no international support (money) would flow into the country if that kind of behavior continued. This had the desired effect, she says, and significant improvement was apparent over the months. However, when the world community did not respond, effectively sitting on its hands for some months, the extremists got the upper hand, causing the upsurge in reprisals of which we’ve heard. Now that money has been promised from the world community, she says, it remains to be seen who will hold sway.
I tell her we’re planning to visit the Kigali Prison in the morning, before leaving for Tanzania and had secured permission from the Minister of Justice. She says he is supportive of people going in and seeing the situation for themselves and raising a hue and cry about it. Possibly he feels that will cause the government to give him the help he needs to address the conditions there, which are deplorable. He has no funds, no guards and no alternative space to which to move the prisoners, so the conditions we’ve heard about prevail. The situation is exacerbated by a lack of movement in the justice system which means that people continue to be fed in, but no one is coming out.
I mention having heard that MSF had offered to help inside the prison, but that ICRC, which is said to be the only organization working inside, has refused to cooperate with them. Did she know about this? She doesn’t, but says these kinds of turf struggles do happen. She has heard that ICRC is doing good work there. (And speculates for a bit about the possibility that MSF is feeling that this might be a good thing for them to do in country since they had opted out of helping the refugees outside.)
She says Human Rights Watch is now focusing on providing evidence to the UN’s War Crimes Tribunal. The recent arrest of a notorious Hutu leader in Canada and the possibility of the successful prosecution of other war criminals on this order may do a lot to ease the situation in and around the camps. Movement by the International Tribunal (and successful prosecutions) will provide space for the development of new leadership and new thinking among the refugees in the camps. Now, she says, “it is the same old people telling themselves and each other the same old lies.”
She says the story, played widely in the world press, of centuries of slaughter between the two tribes is “bullshit,” but is widely repeated and widely believed. It is her opinion that this belief extends “up to the highest levels of the White House” and is responsible for the lack of response by the US in April.
A good conversation. It’s extraordinarily valuable to have access to people with so much expertise, and a great stroke of luck for me to find her here. Provoked to thought, I spend the next couple of hours (as I seem to be wont to do in this hotel) writing a piece which tries to synthesize what I’ve been able to grasp of it all. (Appended.)
And, at last, to sleep.
Saturday, January 28, 1995 -
Up in the morning and down to breakfast with a tired bunch. It’s been quite a time. Bobby isn’t going to the prison, nor is Barbara, who has some calls to make, so Chris meets Daryl, David, Caroline and me and off we go to Kigali Prison.
Right in the main part of town, the prison looks like exactly what it is. High gray stone walls without windows loom over us as we park and head for the barred gate at the center. After a short conversation with the lone guard, keys are produced and we go into an area under the walls between the outside and inside gates. The feeling is very reminiscent of a medieval dungeon.
(This is not likely to be a pleasant experience and I’m impressed that David, Daryl and Caroline have made the decision to come along. The prison system, the justice system and conditions here are not really a UNHCR concern, so the visit really has been arranged because of my interest. That being so, it’s not something they need to be part of even in terms of fulfilling whatever obligation they may feel to the UNHCR for making this trip possible.)
The prisoner who greets us on the inside seems pleasant enough and steers us through a crowd of interested gawkers. This yard has surprisingly few people in it, at least given what we’ve been led to expect, but as our guide takes us around a corner and into a kind of separate space, the reason becomes clear. Hundreds of people are standing in lines, filling a cement area on our left about the size of a tennis court, at the head of which are ICRC personnel at tables doing the first actual count and registration yet done in the facility. Below us on the right is a sunken area where others are standing, sitting or walking around either already having been interviewed or awaiting their turn to get in line. The entire area is ringed by the prison wall into which rooms have been built. The rooms, or cells, square, stone, forbidding, have open doors and windows (no bars) with men’s faces filling all of them.
People are virtually everywhere one looks. There is, however, more of an appearance of space here than I had anticipated, probably because of the fact that most of these areas are open to the sky. I’ve been told that because of the overcrowding the prisoners sleep in shifts on the stacked beds visible in the cell areas and on the concrete outside. The question of what they do when it rains, or when the sun is very hot, is not a pleasant one to consider.
Chris, who is acting as our guide here, introduces us to one of the ICRC representatives, but he is very busy with the prisoner interviews and apologizes for not being able to give us any time. We assure him we’ve no desire to take him away from what he’s doing and move off to another area.
Inside the rectangular wall surrounding the prison is an area probably no more than 50 to 75 yards square, if that. It’s divided in a kind of helter-skelter way by square stone structures that serve as cells and housing for whatever services are offered here (my guess is little to none) and open areas on different levels. We’re told by both our prisoner-guide and the ICRC rep that dysentery is rife (a fact which is unfortunately obvious) and sanitation is minimal to non-existent (same). Water is in short supply and the one meal a day provided is hopelessly inadequate, the result being that those prisoners who can afford to do so or who have relatives outside who can provide it, have food brought in. Water as well, since rationing is severe.
Through a corridor and down some stairs we come to a covered area on our right where men are sitting, belly to back, again in orderly lines, waiting. For what it’s not clear, but the assumption is that it has to do with the ICRC screening. On the left is again a less organized mob, sitting, standing, waiting. It’s as if we’re walking a narrow gangplank between two seas, one a bit more calm (or at least orderly).
Around to the right and up a narrow stairway, it’s a bit like a Casbah, or a medieval walled city. Stone walls, stairways, large, locked wooden doors. Clothing, rags mostly, is hanging anywhere one can find space - probably to air it out, laundry clearly being low on the list of priorities. Here again are the ICRC reps patiently taking information from each prisoner in turn. This is the first time, we’re told, that most of them have had the chance to tell their stories to anyone.
A locked gate stops us at the top of a few more steps and, after keys are produced, we go into a small square stone courtyard surrounded by stone cells with open doors and windows. Children are everywhere as this is the segregated area for those between 11 and 17 years of age. Though the crush is actually no worse in here than anywhere else, it seems to feel more oppressive; the door is locked behind us and it’s uncomfortable to have all these kids crowding around, others looking out from every (unbarred) window and doorway, knowing what they’re likely accused of having done.
A man has attached himself to us, I guess he came into the area with us, who introduces himself as a lawyer. He speaks a bit of English and decries the system that has put him and most of these young people in this place. He is innocent of any wrongdoing, he assures us, and has run afoul of Tutsi who wanted his business or his home, I can’t get clear which. He’s been here for about seven months (as have many) and has not had any charges filed, nor has he had any chance to make a case for his innocence. Property has been taken from him, he says, and he has no way to communicate his concerns to anyone. Chris takes his name and says he’ll look into it. Obviously we can’t tell what the truth is as to his particular claim, but sympathize with his immediate situation - with that of all of them.
Asked how many of these young people are likely to have been Interahamwe, he answers that most, if not all, are, but goes on to say that not all Interahamwe were involved in massacres. (This answer, while perhaps technically true, but unlikely to be so to the degree that he seems to imply, plus the fact that he says he was “elected” to speak for many in here, make me wonder about him a bit.)
After a lengthy exchange, which seems to get bogged down in a lot of specifics about his own case, we move back to the door. When it’s unlocked, one of the young men dashes out and down the stairs and turns into a narrow passageway. Someone else goes out hot on his heels, apparently intent on bringing him back. I’m not sure how serious an infraction it would be for a young person to be out among the adults, but I can’t believe it would be safe for him.
Back down the passageway, we head to a lower level, probably the farthest point so far from the gate we came in, to a separate unit that we learn was once a chapel. It’s now used as a medical unit, with part of it separated out as an isolation area for those with extreme and communicable diseases. While here, we’re approached by a number of young men who identify themselves as students and want to know where we’re from and what we can do to help them. Very bright, a couple of them are fairly hostile, as well. One who comes up, a rather sad looking fellow with very prominent front teeth, seems on the edge of hysteria. He also has been here for seven months or so and has no formal charges against him. He talks of the fact that many here are dangerous and were in fact responsible for a lot of the ugliness during the killing time, but laments being lumped in the same category - having to live with and among them. He is, whether or not he’s telling the truth, a particularly pitiful character and one walks away feeling immensely frustrated at not being able to do anything about this lousy situation.
We make our way back toward the gate and have to wait a bit, which is again uncomfortable. There is a sense of volatility here, the feeling that at any moment, for any one of perhaps a hundred good reasons and some not so good ones, someone could go off and you’d be in big trouble. Finally the guard shows up on the other side and decides to let us out. Once out, an officer meets us and invites us across the parking area to a low building to meet the prison’s director.
The Director, a pleasant bureaucratic type, thanks us for coming and offers some statistics. (We had been told the prison was built to accommodate 2,000 and now holds 6,000. Inside, one of our guides told us there were more like 7,000.) The Director says the population, which he has written in chalk on a board, is now 6,389. There have been three deaths today, which is a bit high as the average is 10 per week. He deplores the conditions inside and says he’s helpless to do anything more than is already being done. The government lacks vehicles, he says, in which to bring food and other necessary items. (He has asked the UNHCR to provide some, he adds.) There are no testing (diagnostic) facilities in the prison lab. There is no sterilization equipment (either for water or for medical needs). The only food they have to feed the population is maize, which is provided once a day, and he says they need meat and other nourishing food. While the ICRC provides medications for the population, he says, they need doctors to diagnose, treat and dispense them. He echoes the plaint that the government lacks the funds to establish a proper judicial system and that the lack of such a system has created the current constipated state. They are, he said, willing to cooperate with the international tribunal in order to get things moving. (I have heard that there is reluctance on the part of the government to cooperate with the UN’s International War Crimes Tribunal because it [the UN] will not use the death penalty, which the government wants.)
With apologies, he has a meeting to go to, which is great because we have to get back, collect the others and head out.
(As of this writing, there is a report that over thirty people were crammed into a cell in the prison designed to fit 10 and left there - possibly for disciplinary reasons. 22 died of suffocation.)
Back into the wagon and over to the UNHCR. Barbara is there and ready to go, but Bobby is nowhere to be found. No one can figure out where he is and there’s been no answer in his room at the hotel. I’ve got a hook-up with the BBC that Chris has arranged, so the rest load up to go try to find him. After that interview, another reporter wants to talk to me (the same fellow from the dinner last night, but a bit less red-eyed and aggressive), and then the young man from Radio Rwanda, who couldn’t get his recorder to work before, wants to give it another try.
An interesting young fellow, Alec. A Tutsi, his parents left Rwanda in 1961 as a result of one of the early purges and he was raised in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda. Over the years his parents were in touch with family here who chided them for having left, saying adjustments had to be made, but a good life was still possible. Now, he says, all of those relatives are dead. He has met some people since he’s come back who were wounded during the slaughter but are the sole survivors of whole families that were wiped out. Of them he says, while “the physical scars will heal, the psychic damage will last forever.”
(A nice kid, but inept. He screwed up the machine again and the long interview we did was not recorded.)
Finally the gang returns. It seems the hotel screwed up. There was another Smith staying there and it was that room they kept ringing. Bobby, meanwhile, was waiting patiently for our call, wondering what was going on.
It’s good-bye to Chris and we’re off in a vehicle borrowed from the UN High Commission for Human Rights. Khassin is still with us, still hacking away. Heading southeast, once we pass the road where we turned off to head to Ntarama, it’s all new to us. The countryside is just as lush here, and just as thoroughly cultivated, but shortly it’s clear that the mountains are not as dramatic, leveling off into lovely rolling hills and sweeps of valley-cut vistas. It gets hotter as we move toward the Tanzanian border, and the vegetation takes on a more tropical appearance.
Here there are not the same long lines of people on the roadsides. Occasionally we pass a pretty good crowd, going to or coming from some sort of marketplace, but the foot traffic is markedly less heavy down this way. The same colorful clothing, the same industrious look to the people, trudging along under their burdens. We seem to see more bicycles down here, many with men pedaling and women riding side-saddle behind. It’s a rather sweet picture, with the demurely dressed women in that posture which reminds one of another time. A number of kids on those unique bike-like scooters appear on the side of the road as well, and a fair number of kids chasing hoops or tires, which they roll with sticks. We see small herds of cattle being moved alongside the road. They are great looking animals with quite extraordinary horns. Huge and thick, kind of reminiscent of the Texas Longhorn in length, but they are curved upward, much thicker and peculiar in shape - not oval, but kind of elongated rather than round and look as though they’re almost double-edged, as in a broadsword. Kind of like antelope on steroids, they could certainly do damage if they chose to.
After a couple of hours of driving and managing to make our way successfully through a good number of roadblocks (the UN vehicle seems to work in our favor down here) that indicate a certain military readiness in this area, we ask Khassin to stop for a bladder break. Barbara suggests we don’t wander far off the road, saying there was a lot of fighting in this area and the possibility of land mines is very real. (Thrilling when you’re trying to find some privacy behind a bush.) Daryl finds some bones he thinks are what’s left of a child. It could be the bones of a small animal, I think, after taking a look, but, sadly, he could be right.
Coming down out of the highlands of Rwanda toward the Kagera River, which acts as the border with Tanzania, the country is quite striking. Big, beautiful valleys appear and boast curious, cone-shaped humps that must be extinct volcanoes. The river itself, red-brown in color, flows beneath a bridge at the border station. The waterfall isn’t visible from where we park, but we’re told there’s a whirlpool below it which is famous for keeping the bodies turning for days and turning off tourists (?), hence the net.
If the purpose is to intimidate would-be returnees, as suggested by Mark last night, it’s evidently working. A priest and two French Canadians we meet in the line at passport control say not one person has volunteered to repatriate from the camp they work in north of Ngara.
The line for document processing is quite long and at the same time we’re going through it a soldier is seemingly intent upon searching all our bags, so we take shifts standing in line and going back to stand watch and make sure nothing disappears from our gear. Just at the point when we’re about ready to go (two wagons have come across from the Tanzanian side to pick us up as we’re saying good-bye to Khassin on this side of the border), there is a shout and the soldier searching our bags and two or three others take off running onto the bridge. In a minute they’re back with a sheepish Daryl in tow. Apparently he was trying to get a picture of the river, or the falls, or something, and they didn’t like the idea. Boy, talk about making a federal case out of it! It’s an irony they don’t appreciate, of course, but the idea of this sweet, agreeable guy creating a problem that causes anxiety among these soldiers is enough to make you laugh, except for the embarrassment Daryl obviously feels at having been the cause of such a stir.
All together now and processed to the evident satisfaction of the attending soldiers and bureaucrats, we offer thanks to Khassin, load into the new wagons and head across the infamous bridge and into new territory.
Tanzania is beautiful. A continuation of the rolling hills and valleys we’ve come through nearing the border, it is dramatic in its contrast to the mountainous terrain of Rwanda. The Kagera flows off to the north and the green, brush-covered hills roll away in the distance to the north, south and east. This part of Tanzania, at least, is nowhere near as densely populated as is most of its neighbor to the west.
Another border we’ve crossed is a cultural one. Tanzania, like Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa and other eastern and south African nations, is Anglophone (English speaking), reflecting the English colonial influence in this area, and we suddenly find ourselves driving on the left side of the road. After a brief stop at passport control and a short drive on a pretty good road, we come over a rise and see Benaco Camp laid out before us. 220,000 Rwandan refugees are settled here, and this is one of four (I believe) camps in this immediate area.
As we near Benaco one of the effects of this refugee flood becomes quickly evident. The hillsides are shorn of trees, having been stripped for firewood. The line of pedestrians has reappeared on the side of the road, many of them children in this case, and the goal is obviously the further procurement of wood for fuel.
Over the next rise there is excitement on the road ahead. Nearing, we see that a loaded semi has smashed into something, almost completely blocking the road. A crowd has gathered, soldiers are in attendance to keep order and things are apparently well in hand. Two other trucks are stopped nearby and the transfer of goods from the wrecked truck is being handled. I can’t see what it was that the truck collided with, but it made a hell of a wreck of the cab of the semi.
A quick pass through Benaco on the way to the UNHCR compound shows us that the physical lay-out is much different here from the camps in Goma. The terrain is more hospitable, for one thing, and that has allowed for more order. Wide roads replace the narrow, twisted lanes of Goma and the structures themselves are laid out neatly in blocks, rather than thrown up in clumps wherever chance allowed. Some of these structures have a more durable appearance with substantial wood frames; some have mud and wattle walls. There is room between the structures for small gardens, which are plentiful.
To the south, Musuhura Camp is pointed out. A new camp, there was time for planners to prepare even more carefully than here at Benaco and it looks it.
On another hill is Lomasi Camp, housing 180,000 more.
We continue over the rolling countryside, traveling on wide, freshly bulldozed red dirt roads toward the UNHCR compound some twenty minutes away. Looking out over the African countryside I am again reminded of how sensual this land is. There’s something about it that appeals on a visceral level.
As we start up a pretty good-sized mountain, making our way over a series of switch-backs, I see a friendly sign with the familiar CONCERN logo. They’re everywhere.
After what seems a good deal more than twenty minutes, we pull into the mountain-top home of the UNHCR, Ngara, Tanzania. A tent camp very reminiscent of MASH (a point that is bound to be made a number of times while we’re here), except for the hilltop setting and extravagant view it’s similar to Mandera Camp, in Kenya, where we stayed on the Somalia trek. This one is run by a friend from that journey, Maureen Connolly. Maureen is a tough, smart veteran of these refugee situations who ran one of the camps on the Kenya border with Somalia. An American who looks like a school teacher, smokes incessantly, has the throaty voice to show for it, a great smile and a wonderful laugh, she is possessed of a no-nonsense manner, a clear command of the situation and is obviously adored by those around her.
We’re directed to stow our gear in the tents - David and I end up in one, Daryl and Bobby in another and Caroline and Barbara in a third - and then meet back at the rec. tent for a briefing.
The rec. tent, or whatever they call it, is their version of what we would have called the NCO Club on the MASH set. There is a bar with a good supply of beer, whiskey, soda and bottled water, a couple of tables with chairs around them, all of it surrounded by olive drab canvas hung on a wooden frame. The great thing is that the east side is wide open and looks out over the valley below, with the rolling hills of Tanzania wandering off toward the Indian Ocean. Quite a majestic sight, as it appears that we’re atop the highest peak around.
Maureen tells of the founding of the camp: She and another UNHCR specialist were sent out to scout the area and set the possible sites for camps in July, once it became clear that things were coming to a head in Rwanda. She says they figured for camps to house the usual numbers of refugees, in the area of 50,000 per site, and had materiel on the way in when they went down to the border to look over the situation and were confronted with waves of people, as she describes it, coming over the mountains. They just dug in, she says, started telling people where to put their gear and got on the radio. By mid-July there were 330,000 people encamped in the area. Now there are 600,000.
Though things are in pretty good shape now, they have some problems with cholera and dysentery. The water supply is a limited - a big contributor when there’s cholera. They’re down now to a limit of 5 to 6 liters of water per person per day. “20 is what you aim for,” she says, “10 is acceptable.” In the U.S., for example, we probably use 300 liters per person per day.
They are still getting 500 to 600 new refugees into the camps per day, though it has slowed down in the last few days. 2/3 or them come from Rwanda (from the ‘safe zone’, the DP camps). 1/3 from Burundi. They have started discussions in the camps regarding repatriation and some small numbers are starting to go back voluntarily.
“The Tanzanian Government,” she says, “ is a dream to work with.” They simply turned over control of large tracts of land to the effort. “The downside is if you want them to take action,” for example to help with security. “It’s more difficult.”
There were 52 bodies in the river in December. All male.
There are power struggles between factions within the camps. And, more dangerously, with her staff. For example, a while ago a man here was identified as being a “mass murderer.” The staff had identified him and gotten verification, so informed him he was to leave. Within twenty minutes, she says, there was a howling, machete-wielding mob surrounding the staff office in the camp. People were trapped inside for two hours and it was made very clear that if anyone forced this man to leave there would be hell to pay. He stayed. (I think she said he’s gone now, but it was clear that there was no option at the time.-- [this is a situation Simon had described to me when we were in Goma.])
Now they have a security system: “Green, amber and red. Yesterday it was amber, which means everybody out of the camp by 5PM; don’t go away from your vehicle (and 2-way radio).”
Q. - What precipitated yesterday’s alert? A. - Rumors. (To which they evidently now pay close attention.)
Q. - How do you get information about what’s going on inside? A. - We’ve established the best community service program I’ve ever seen. There are women’s groups and other organizations where information is shared.
Q. - With regard to security, what about UNAMIR (the UN Force)? A. - “The Hutus hate UNAMIR!”
Q. - What is your feeling about the decision of MSF to leave the camps because they refused to help murderers? A. - “You’re either a political agency or a humanitarian agency.”
There is in the camp a “Belgian crazy who identifies as a Hutu.” (This is the man Simon described as running the radio campaign which incited much of the killing: Georges Ruggiu.) He is “a homicidal maniac who travels with a group of fit young Hutu armed with spears - and probably grenades.” He dresses as a Hutu warrior, wears his hair in a particular way associated with the Hutu warrior, etc. He’s clearly nuts, she says, and a potential problem, but one they’re not equipped to deal with. The Tanzanians don’t want to have anything to do with it.
Q. - What is the feeling here about the issue of feeding and sheltering mass murderers?
A. - We need direction from the international community. If we are to separate them out, how do we do it? Where is the list?
Q. - Is there a concern about weapons in the camp? A. - “I’m not convinced there are many. Hand grenades, yes. But the war was fought with pangas (machetes).”
“We’re constantly faced with problems we don’t expect because none of us has ever dealt with a camp this large before.”
Considering the time it has been in existence, the camp is working well. Educational programs have been set up and are working, handicraft programs are in operation. There is a thriving market and commerce is in full swing. “It’s a city.” (The hope seems to be that the programs will give the people a taste of independence and help to free them from the grasp of those who exercise control over them at this point.)
Outside of Benaco, as we observed, all the trees were quickly cut down. An education program was launched, explaining to the people why they shouldn’t cut down the trees, and then crews went out and marked trees that should not be touched. So far, indications are that it is working fairly well. However, if a long-term fuel solution isn’t found soon, she says, there will be no wood within a day’s walk by the middle of February.
They’ve had complaints from the local population that the refugees are now seen in the animal reserve, 30 miles away, setting snares and killing animals.
Q. - Are the refugees so comfortable here that they’re unlikely to be willing to return?
A. - “These people are farmers living in an urban situation. They have poor diets, little employment and restrictions on their freedom. They are not comfortable.”
Given the hour and the security concerns, it’s too late to go back down and through the camps, so we’ll cool out here, have dinner and go down in the morning. At dinner we meet more of the staff, who trickle in from their various assignments, and find the same international mixture of men and women, most of them rather self-effacing, who seem to have a combination of adventurous spirit, an excess of courage and a desire to serve. Australian, American, European, you name it.
Two women come over and mention that they’ve heard I have a connection with CONCERN and invite me to a party down there but I’m too tired and pass, asking them to send my regards.
An Italian woman, a lawyer with whom we talk over dinner, is here on temporary assignment as a protection officer. She’s been in Southeast Asia for a couple of years and talks about how difficult it is to do this work if one is married. Her husband is an accountant (an American, I think), so they have to try to find situations where her assignments coincide with places where he can find work. They’ve been in Sri Lanka, I think it is, for a year and are happy there, but this opportunity came up and here she is, for a few months anyway. What a life!
A young American woman is here, having volunteered to come back after serving somewhere in Africa with the Peace Corps. She’s bright and funny, saying at one point that “those (Peace Corps volunteers) who return from Asia come back enlightened, those from Latin America come back politicized and those from Africa come back laughing.”
Though there are lights in the tents and strings of bulbs along some of the connecting paths, night falls dramatically here and one moves around with care. The toilet facilities, at least the ones I can find, are grouped together down the hill at the easternmost point of the camp and consist of closet-sized rectangles with a zipper front, which turn out to be a sort of pissoir, with gravel or crumbled rocks serving a kind of kitty-litter purpose; larger rectangles with the same zipper entrance offer a wooden commode over a pit latrine; and others about the same size, with side-by-side compartments for showering. With night comes a considerable drop in temperature, so I decide to put off the shower decision until morning.
Back in the tent, David and I make ourselves as comfortable as possible on the army cots provided and turn out the light.
Sunday, January 29, 1995 -
A surprisingly good night’s sleep ends with the early morning light coming through the mesh windows. There is something magical about the African morning. Outside, a vast panorama of undulating hills and valleys stretches out before us: a sleeping woman, her contours defined by banks of gray mist as the sun peeks through broken clouds above. Burgeoning. Life inspiring. Africa.
David has found a shower tent just above us on the hill, so I wander up there to discover men heating water in large barrels. At request, they fill a rubber reservoir with the heated water and presto!, a hot shower is available. It’s a great and unexpected luxury and in spite of having to do an interesting two-step to get out of one’s clothes and into the shower tent without dragging everything in the mud, a wonderful treat. It’s much like being back in the service, or the Scouts, or being a kid at camp - whatever your experience. There’s a great sense of accomplishment associated with scrubbing off the dust with hot water in the fresh air and then scraping off whiskers before a scrap of mirror over a collapsible rubber basin. You seem to appreciate everything so much more.
We grab some breakfast with the staff and hear a security announcement over the two-way: “There was a shooting in the village next to Benaco Camp last night. Upon investigation it appears to have been an incident between individuals. Nevertheless, the situation remains Amber. Anyone going into the camps today should be sure to stay near a radio.”
Discussion ranges at breakfast - they’re trying to figure out how to deal with the phenomenon of forged ration cards, latest in the “nightmare” of scams they’ve had to face regarding equitable distribution of supplies, food, etc. Those who control large amounts of food and supplies, of course, have an additional hold over the population in the camps.
One person recounts a story told about a development presaging the outbreak of the violence in Rwanda - a week before the plane crash in which the president was killed a number of trucks full of women were spotted heading toward Kigali from the south (where Interahamwe camps were rumored to be providing training). The trucks were stopped and searched by UNAMIR forces, who discovered that the “women” were actually young men in drag, carrying machine guns.
Rita, a German nurse, has offered to give up her Sunday morning to drive us down to the camps. Bouncing down the red dirt road again we pass a few small groups of new refugees making their way to the camps.
Inside Lomasi Camp we find the same classic refugee camp configuration, with wide roads around blocks of carefully laid out structures. There has been some concern expressed about “permanence” in the camps, suggesting that there is an intention either on the parts of the UNHCR or the refugees themselves to stay here and never return to Rwanda. One of the reports I heard suggested that structures in these camps were being made of concrete, or laid on concrete, which is taken as evidence of such a plan. Asked about that, Rita points out that the only concrete anywhere around is used for official structures where food and supplies are to be stored. They’ve tried plastic, wood, bricks and mud, she says, but concrete is best because it’s easiest and fastest to put in, simplest to maintain and keep clean. Other than those structures, the only concrete we see is used for the base of the water tank (for the same reasons) and in constructing latrines (for purposes of sanitation).
We meet a Tanzanian man who works for UNHCR in the camps. He gets out a small motorcycle and leads our jeep around to various sites.
Rita points out a number of meetings being held in the open, from which our vehicle is regarded with some suspicion. These gatherings are described as “church” and “educational” groups, but in fact, she says, are used for political strategizing. As we pass one, the man leading the session waves in a friendly way and Rita grimaces, identifying him as a “conniving guy,” known to be a hustler and a liar.
We stop at a water tank set up by Oxfam, where people are lining up to load buckets, jugs and jerry cans with their family’s water supply. Many kids are here and it’s soon a replay of the scene at Kitale Camp north of Goma, with kids hanging all over us and Daryl, Caroline, David and Bobby shooting pictures of them, to their delight.
Back in the wagon Rita says she feels OK when among the people here because she makes it a practice to walk around a lot and they’re used to her. Barbara asks her if it’s the same in Benaco Camp - she says, “No.”
We stop for a minute to look at a CONCERN distribution site. Rita refers to it as “Fort Laramie” and says she’s talking to them about trying to dress it down a bit. Fenced to protect the supplies inside from being raided by needy refugees, they’ve gone overboard, in her view, by lining the fence with canvas or plastic sheeting, thereby making it hard to see into and know what’s going on in there. This causes worry on the parts of the people, who are suspicious anyway, and provides grist for the mill of the troublemakers who want to foment distrust. She’s urging them to take down the sheeting and bring kids inside to look around, so that they’ll tell others what’s going on and thereby discourage rumors.
As an example of the kinds of rumors that get started and can cause trouble, she tells of people getting some of the ration cards, which are numbered, and adding up the numbers. When a card adds up to 666, the refugees won’t take them because they’re fearful it’s connected with the Devil.
Traditional folk medicine practices are continuing with some of the people, which can cause problems. There has been a recent flurry of still-births due to the ingestion of a certain herb which is given to ease labor. What it does, she says, is to prolong the labor and has thereby caused the death of many newborns by suffocation.
These are some of the problems she’s trying to figure out ways to deal with.
We visit a clinic and are approached and escorted through by a good looking young man who acts as our guide. The fact that he’s wearing army boots suggests that his interest in what we see and who we talk to is not casual.
An interesting custom: Rwandese hospitals don’t provide food for patients, so a friend or family member stays with each patient to help, feed and provide attention. They’re called “Guardians du Malade.”
Rita takes us through a child health clinic, a pediatric clinic and a maternity ward. All are fairly rudimentary, but clean. Concrete floors are swept regularly. Flies are everywhere, of course.
They’ve had a problem here with a discrepancy between the numbers of deaths reported and the number of corpses buried. It’s another way to jigger the numbers, as I get it, but I can’t figure out how that works to their benefit. In any case, she tells us they have designated “grave watchers” to help deal with the problem.
Many of the nurse-midwives and assistants at this clinic are Kenyan and Tanzanian women. A measure of the paranoia and distrust is that a big security problem developed earlier when some spread it around that these women were part of a conspiracy to kill the children and wipe out the Hutu.
Finally, when we’re about the head out of this camp, I get the opening I’ve been waiting for when our guide on the motorcycle asks if anyone wants to ride with him. I’m on the back before he has time to reconsider his offer. It’s great!! We race over the dirt roads ahead of the jeep, stop to talk to a couple of his friends, and are on our way back to the marketplace when we sputter to a stop, out of gas. Oh, well, it was fun.
We flag down the jeep and leave the bike by the side of the road. Rita takes us into the center of Lomasi Camp and we stop to look into the marketplace. It’s a bit like being back at Mugunga Camp, but not quite as openly hostile. We walk and look, hear some mutterings about “Muzungu,” and shop at the wooden stalls arranged in line at the open air market. Caroline and Barbara end up buying some colorful cloth, and I wonder aloud (though not overly so) about the possibility of buying an automatic weapon, then we head back to the wagon.
It’s not a particularly comfortable place, I must say, but Rita seems fearless.
Finally, Rita has arranged a meeting with a young man who, she says, is one of the leaders here. What he’ll say she isn’t sure, but the chance to talk to him is ours.
We drive to one of the camp meeting houses just as a light rain is beginning to fall, climb out and file in. Soon he comes. John Paul is, I would guess, in his early to mid-thirties and is introduced as the leader of the Ngarama Commune.
I dislike him immediately, I will admit. He has an arrogant attitude, an insolent grin and a manner that says he’s going to toy with us. Rita begins by asking him:
Q. - What are the main problems here, from your perspective? In the camps and with the refugees in general.
A. - Water.
Q. - What do you think is the biggest problem?
A. - The UNHCR knows them.
Q. - Can you give us a bit more help with your response, please?
A. - There is a water problem. Q. - Anything else? A. - There is a logistics problem. We arrived in April. Part of the population has not gotten plastic sheeting and other non-food items. (Rita points out that all the registered refugees have received their allotted supplies. If he knows people who have not gotten things he should bring them to her for registration and they will be given the appropriate items.)
Q. - What did you do before coming here?
A. - Born in 1963 in Abyumba, near the Ugandan border. In 1972, moved to Ngarama. Spent 12 years there, went through school. Studied at the school of Pedagogy and became a teacher. Taught young children for 3 years, then teenagers for 2 years. Taught Kinyaruanda language and science. Then worked in the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Communal Development - was in charge of the commune (village) as Administration Representative. In 1989 was elected Burgomestre (mayor) of Agarama Commune. Eight months later the war broke out right next to us and we fled.
Q. - What are the prospects of going back home? A. - Good chance.
(Rita then explains the DP situation - he was a DP [displaced person, one who is has left his home because of danger or calamity, but has not crossed an international border, so is not technically a refugee] for a long time [probably in the French Protected Zone] and is now an official refugee.)
Q. - Will you go back to the same place?
A. - (He goes into a long dissertation which says, in essence, that a commune is not only a place, but is people and a structure.)
Q. - What will have to happen before you go back?
A. - I had a place, a home, land, belongings. One of my conditions is that everyone goes back to the same place, gets the same land and belongings. It’s also important to look into why we had to leave. In October we had to flee from the killings. Now we are here because we had to flee again from killings. Have they stopped? Information from the radio, international organizations, human rights groups and from people who have come out more recently suggest the killings are still going on. So we have come to the conclusion that the killings are still going on.
Unable to resist, I offer that the information that we have from the same sources suggests that whatever killings are now going on, if any at all, are few in number and certainly pale in comparison to the massacres that took place in the Spring. “What”, I ask, “is the justification for the massacres that everyone now acknowledges did take place?”
His answer is to the effect that the claims of massacre are magnified by those who have an interest in placing blame. Those killing that did take place, he says, was “provoked.”
This is not a nice guy, in my view, and this interview is going nowhere, so it is not unhappy news to have Rita say that it’s time for us to head out.
As we head back up the mountain over the red dirt road the light rain continues, causing some concern. We’re scheduled to go out this afternoon on a small plane to Dar Es Salaam and that won’t be possible if the weather gets too bad. By the time we get back to the compound, however, things are looking a bit more promising, so we grab a quick lunch and get our bags into the cars. We’re waiting, Rita says, for one of the pilots to show up - a good idea, it seems to me - so there is time for some quick good-byes before he shows up and we head out once again.
Rita, sweet woman, comes along to say good-bye.
The plane is a Piper Chieftain. Normally a 10 setae, this one has had two seats removed because of some load they had to bring in, so has only 8 seats. I’m a bit anxious as to whether or not the old claustrophobia will kick in, but load my bags in with the rest and grab the seat at the rear next to the door. No problem so far. Daryl sits to my right and has his own concerns, due to his tendency toward motion sickness, but utters not a peep. Barbara and Caroline are in the row directly in front of us and Bobby and David sit facing them just behind the pilot and co-pilot, who climb in, lock the door and fire it up.
Still no claustrophobia. What a lift! I’m beginning to think the Bosnia/Somalia experience has cured me of that, if such a thing is possible. Whatever the case, happy day!
The pilots waste no time and we roar down the red dirt strip until the heroic little plane pulls us into the African sky. The lush green rolling hills of Tanzania spread out below and we tip our wings to the north and east and head toward Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean.
The land below is gorgeous, fascinating. The vast expanse of land is dotted only by the occasional hut or cultivated patch and looks untouched, primarily uninhabited, virginal. There is something simply extraordinary about the pungent vitality of this continent. I’ve read about it, heard others sing its praises, but am surprised to find myself so affected by its beauty.
I keep hoping we’ll see some wildlife, as we don’t appear to be all that high, but nothing moves that I can spot. All seems to be well with everyone and I try to keep Daryl talking, attempting to keep his mind occupied, hoping to serve the same purpose my friend Jonathan Estrin did for me when I was verging on panic during one of our plane trips in Kenya two years ago. He seems to be doing OK.
Bobby, David, Caroline and Barbara are playing some kind of game, telling jokes, passing the time. (It’s only later I find out that they were uncomfortable about the small plane, too, and trying to divert themselves to stay calm.)
After about an hour and a half in the air we come down in a little spot in the countryside - almost literally a spot - to refuel. It’s perfect, out of another time. A little man comes out with a hand-operated pump to refill the tank. We find a rather nasty, very primitive restroom, to our relief, load up again and head off into the blue.
After another hour and a half we’re coming into Dar Es Salaam. It’s prettier from the air than it is when we get onto the ground. A dirty, crowded old port city is what we find once we’ve gotten our stuff together and are headed to the hotel.
The hotel itself is OK, with a large, open, marble-floored lobby, shops on the perimeter and a kind of modern colonial feeling. The rooms are typical, except there’s a sign on the door of each room urging us to use the safe-deposit facilities at the desk and to not go out walking at night. At all times, it warns, we should “beware of tricksters.”
I’ve been dying for an Indian meal since we were robbed of it in Kigali and everyone else is agreeable, so we find out about one and jump in two small cabs which take us through the crowded and dirty streets. The restaurant is fairly straightforward and apparently popular. The food is great. There is a noticeable lightness to everyone due to the fact that except for one meeting tomorrow and some long flights ahead, the adventure is essentially over. It’s a loose and relaxed, very happy meal.
Afterward, Bobby, Daryl and Caroline decide they want to investigate the night life in “Dar,” so I leave them to it, head back and turn in.
Monday, January 30, 1995 -
This morning we’re to meet with the UNHCR Representative for Tanzania, a Mr. Kolude Doheny. After a bit of confusion regarding schedules, we’re ushered into his office by his Deputy, Lloyd Dakin. Mr. Doheny is a tall, powerfully built, extremely handsome Nigerian man with a rich, deep voice who emanates a sense of comfort and capability.
He says that in the beginning the strategy in terms of dealing with the refugees was to use what they themselves presented as a natural order. That being the case, “within four days we could feed them.” The issue of the atrocities and the responsibility for them came later.
The Benaco refugees came in earlier than did those in Goma and were either not, or perhaps were less obviously, members of the military. Initially, at any rate, there were fewer members of the military and militias. The fact that it was such a huge group (200,000 in one day) was alleviated to some degree by their level of organization.
As to the question of how to deal with the atrocities - first of all we must define what an atrocity is. Next we have to decide if we have the right to withhold assistance from hungry and needy people even if we know they are guilty of such behavior.
Then, how do we maintain security for our own staff if we are part of the process of passing judgment against them?
The issue is one of time. The dilemma is what to do and how to facilitate it.
Once moves are made against the leaders, architects and murderers, the relief effort must cease.
There is also the question of the effectiveness of the International Tribunal.
An example of the difficulty faced is that of the identified criminal who was turned over to and arrested by the Tanzanian authorities, only to be released by them because he had not committed a crime in Tanzania. When he returned UNHCR told him he had to leave, but within two hours he had organized a mob that threatened the lives of all the expatriate staff (this is obviously the story Maureen told us, but with a prologue I hadn’t heard).
It will take time. Things must be sorted out by the international community. Now, in the camps (some of the smaller ones), people are selecting their own leadership and perhaps new, untainted leaders are emerging.
The process involves the refugee population getting better and more beneficially organized and getting to know the relief organizations better.
What are our choices? We can take away their food. We can eliminate their leaders by introducing troops for security. It will have to be done gradually and it will take time.
And there are political problems. The RPF is in control in Rwanda, but the majority of the people support the MRND (the old government).
Even if food support stopped, the refugee population would probably stay in the Benaco/Ngara area. Goma may, however, be a different story.
The reality is that we will probably have refugees in Tanzania for 2 to 3 years. The government here hopes they will be gone within 6 months (this is an election year - the first multi-party election).
Tanzania has seen refugees from Mozambique and Burundi in the past, many of whom have stayed here and become self-sufficient. That is not an option now because of the new political reality faced by this government: “the desperate circumstances of the population as compared to the desperate circumstances of the refugee.”
For Tanzania, the question is, why not establish safe areas in Rwanda for people to return to? The problem is that the host country doesn’t want them and the people fear going home.
200,000 Tutsis are returning to Rwanda from Uganda who have never lived there. “How do they live?” There are so many empty houses, so many empty tracts of land, that those from the early years of the diaspora say “we are claiming what is ours.” This, then, is the problem faced by the Hutu who want to return.
Tanzania, on the other hand, has itself gone through a virtual revolution since Nyerere’s time. His attitude was, “The refugee is not a foreigner, but a guest in need.” “He was very strong on humanitarian issues, but not so good on economics.”
Citizenship was made available to refugees through a naturalization process. Land was given. It was a society based on humanitarian principles. Now, the economic impact on the average Tanzanian may be changing the dynamic to the point that this will no longer be possible.
Q. - What is the message we should take to the US?
A. - Refugees are 70% women and children. Refugees want to go back home. Politics and economics create complications. Time is essential to find a solution, to find a way to sort out and deal with the minority within. That problem is the job of the international community.
“Not caring is not an option.”
“Repatriation will take place when everything else is settled.”
Q. - What about when a refugee population includes elements whose tactics continue to destabilize the politics of the country of origin?
A. - That becomes a problem for the host country to resolve. Tanzania has one approach. Zimbabwe has another.
We take our leave of Mr. Doheny and head out. Having had such good luck with the Indian food last night, we decide to try another Indian restaurant that is owned by the same people. It’s a bit more up-scale and the food is just as good as the other. Not better.
Back to the hotel, we’re left with some time on our hands before heading to the airport tonight for the flight out. Is it possible that we’re going home? That the life we’ve known is waiting at the other end of the magic carpet ride? Hard to take in, after all this.
Everyone has last minute things to take care of. Roaming the city for a while, hoping I’ll be able to find something to take home to Shelley and other loved ones, I turn up nothing but an oppressive sense of dirt, haste and crumbling facade.
It’s with an enormous feeling of relief - and the uncomfortable sense of dislocation and guilt associated with the ability to simply be able to pick up and go home - that we go to the airport. After checking in, paying our exit tax and going through security, we’re offered the luxury of the first class lounge, where cool, fresh bottled water and other drinks are made available. There’s something insane about a world where the experiences of the past week are so conveniently juxtaposed.
The next day and a half are a blur -
Tuesday, January 31, 1995 -
A groggy crew climbs off the Dar - Nairobi - London British Airways flight at 5-something in the morning, says good-bye to Caroline, who is continuing the publicity rounds for her film, and flops down in the lounge to await the 11:30AM flight to DC. The highlight of this experience is the sublime discovery that British Air’s London transit lounge has the great good taste to provide a shower for its business class passengers.
On the plane, off the plane and presto!, we’re back in the US of A and it’s only the middle of the afternoon of the same day. Can this be?
Hotel room, dinner, buy some clean clothes (clean clothes!!) and try to figure out how to sleep when your body clock has lost its mainspring.
Wednesday, February 1, 1995 -
After spending the morning trying to put some thoughts down on paper (actually on a borrowed computer at the UNHCR office) Daryl, Bobby, David and I are carted off to a Capitol Hill luncheon attended by many from the NGO world plus the Clinton Administration’s new point man for policy regarding Rwanda, Ambassador Townsend Friedman, and Congressmen Bill Emerson (R-MO), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Harry Johnson (D-FL), Tony Hall (D-OH) and Gary Ackerman (D-NY).
Washington is in its own state of shock after the recent election and everyone is scrambling to impress upon members of Congress the need for ongoing support for foreign aid, NGOs, the UN and its agencies. These particular Members of Congress are well-versed on hunger issues and aware of our international responsibilities. Unfortunately, they are also unanimous in their view that the people who need to be educated on these issues are the “freshmen” who are “marching in lockstep with the new leadership” in its cost-cutting fervor. It’s not a pretty picture that is painted.
The four of us are asked to speak about our experience in Rwanda and Bobby, still working through his emotional reaction and reluctant to say anything at all, ends up making a personal statement that is wonderfully moving. Generous and most eloquent in his remarks, he brings it full circle for all of us.
After quick good-byes to David, Daryl and Bobby, I spend the afternoon on the Senate side of the Hill with Barbara and Dawn Calabia from the UNHCR. We meet with Senators Pat Leahy, Chris Dodd, Tom Harkin and Bob Kerrey, who echo the sentiments expressed earlier by the Congressmen and add, in one instance, that the climate is made even more difficult by the fact that this new breed of freshmen “hate government” and are relentless in their intention to cut any programs that are, in their benighted view, unnecessary, “too expensive,” or somehow not conducive to the promotion of Americanism as they understand it.
At a brief meeting with Holly Burkhalter of Human Rights Watch, she is particularly indignant about the use of Zairean soldiers to provide security in the camps because of their atrocious human rights record. After a bit of discussion about alternatives, she shares my frustration at the lack of response from the international community to Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali’s request for such assistance from other nations.
Thursday, February 2, 1995 -
A quick round of morning television and radio talk shows and I’m off to Dulles for the noon plane to Los Angeles.
As the jet carries me toward home and love, warmth, comfort and safety I find myself thinking of the phrase that came to mind at the Washington luncheon: it’s not a pretty picture. There’s another picture, one I’ll never be able to put completely out of my mind, that’s not pretty either. And somehow the two are inextricably linked.