U.S. Ambassador sees progress in Rwanda and Great Lakes
By Charles W. Corey, Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The fundamental focus of Rwandans today is to avoid a repeat of the horrific genocide that occurred in their country in 1994, U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Michael Arietti said October 16. He also credited the country with achieving "dramatic improvement" since then.
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, Arietti said that when people talk about Rwanda, they often are of "two extreme camps," with one calling Rwanda the "miracle child of Africa" and another saying that the progress that has been achieved there is all "superficial" and rests on a "very shaky foundation."
The truth, he told his audience of diplomats and Africanists, is "somewhat in the middle, and neither extreme is accurate or fair."
A visitor to Rwanda today might be shocked, he said, because despite the horrors of the 1994 killings, when 800,000 to a million people were killed in the course of 90 days, the capital, Kigali, "has very few visible marks of the civil war and the genocide. Very much of the city and the country have been rebuilt." He cautioned, however, that "what is below the surface" and its impact on people and individuals is "very, very hard to measure."
He reminded everyone that the "legacy of the genocide is very real and is very much an aspect of current-day Rwanda."
Chronicling U.S. efforts in Rwanda, Arietti said the United States is Rwanda's largest bilateral donor, contributing more than $100 million annually, most of which goes to the country's public-health sector. "We are a very major player in the effort to combat HIV/AIDS, and we are about to begin a really exciting program to combat malaria, with the goal of reducing by 50 percent under-5 child mortality within the next three years," he told his audience.
Rwanda has achieved "remarkable success" in its HIV/AIDS program, he added. He expressed hope that by the end of the coming year, every Rwandan who needs anti-retrovirals will have them, and he praised the country for having a "very active" HIV/AIDS prevention and education program. He said the U.S. government also is working hard to help Rwandans achieve their family planning goals, further expand and develop their judiciary and civil society and advance the overall democratization process in Rwanda.
The United States is working with Rwanda in a peacekeeping role as well, Arietti said. He called the role of Rwandan peacekeepers in Darfur "symbolic of the role that Rwanda could play in peacekeeping both in Africa and around the world." The U.S. ambassador also praised Rwanda's decision to participate in peacekeeping operations in Darfur as emblematic of the "new Rwanda" that is reaching out across Africa.
The United States also is working "intensively" with both Rwanda and its neighbors, he said, to "try to break the back of this lack of confidence and tension amongst the countries of the Great Lakes." But he cautioned that even though "things are vastly better than they were" between the countries of the region, "there is always a risk that things can go backward." For that reason, he said, everyone must remain vigilant and committed to greater progress and reconciliation throughout the region.
The U.S. ambassador made these additional points:
- Kigali's relationship with the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa) is now "good," its relationship with Burundi is "excellent" and its relations with Uganda are "getting better."
- Rwanda sees its future as being part of an integrated Africa and wants to use its bilingual heritage to its advantage as a bridge between Francophone and Anglophone Africa.
Arietti said the United States has been very active in encouraging regional reconciliation -- primarily through the Tripartite Plus Process, which aims to bring together policymakers and military people at various levels so that they can interact freely and build confidence amongst themselves. (See related article.)
With those developments, he said, "the situation in the Great Lakes region is improving and has improved rather dramatically."
Looking at domestic developments inside Rwanda, Arietti said there has been a lot of "forward movement" in the last several years.
"In 1994, the country was truly devastated," he said. Almost two-thirds of the country's population was directly affected physically and all of them were affected psychologically. "The fundamental aspects of the state were destroyed -- the schools, the hospitals, the police forces, the judiciary, the infrastructure. Everything was a real mess," he said.
Today, he said, the country has been able to achieve" a dramatic improvement in overcoming those obstacles since 1994."
For additional information on U.S. efforts in Africa, see Peace and Security.