As this issue of the Bulletin went to press reports from Ngara indicated that this district in Kagera Region had suddenly received over 200,000 refugees fleeing from Rwanda. The exodus was described as the largest and fastest the United Nations had ever seen in Africa. Every hour 10,000 refugees were said to be squeezing across the two-lane border bridge at Rusumo. The exodus followed the deaths of Presidents Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi on April 6th when their plane was attacked by gunfire at Kigali airport. This was immediately after they had attended a meeting in Dar es Salaam with President Mwinyi who had been acting as Rwanda peacemaker for many months. They had chosen to travel together in the same plane because the Rwanda president’s plane was faster.
The Times later reported (May 9th) that the world’s largest refugee camp had been established at Benako, Ngara District, and had soon become ‘a broad colourful canvas of humanity, testament to the tolerance and dignity that Africans, faced with wretched injustice, somehow muster. This seething mass of humanity passes relentlessly up and down the two roads that pass the camp, concentrated around convoys of 20-ton lorries, Toyotas and Landrovers, dispensing what the international community has to offer. Tanzanian Red Cross workers, screaming through megaphones, order the Wakanbizi (editor Wakimbizi?) -refugees-into rows 100 ft deep. In the sun the scenes are jovial but in the rain Benako’s mud oozes beneath the leaden skies and a hellish medieval misery descends’.
The paper reported that ten planes crowded with journalists had arrived at the tiny Ngara airstrip in one morning. The manager of an Italian engineering company helping at the airport watched in dismay as a huge CNN charter plane shuddered across the mud and dust strip. “This cannot go on” he said. “With all the termites, this airstrip will soon look like a gruyere cheese”.
Refugees at the camp reacted angrily when one of the journalists closed in on a semi-conscious woman who was slumped at the front of one of the long food queues. The Tanzania authorities had begun setting up hundreds of tents to accommodate extra police.
Engineers from Medecins sans Frontieres were said to be working round the clock on a pipeline to the Benako camp in an attempt to stop refugees tramping through the quagmire to get at the only source of water, a murky lake nearby. It was estimated that up to half a million gallons of water were needed per day for the refugees.
Speaking to some of those Rwandans who had escaped to Ngara, Charles Kizhiga, in the Dar es Salaam Daily News, quoted them as saying ‘We have lost faith in any form of government ..our country should be governed by a strong foreign army, not Belgians or French, and they should stay until two generations pass’.
ANGER IN MWANZA
On April 27th it was reported that 70 Rwanda and Burundi nationals in Mwanza region, who had celebrated the deaths of the two presidents at a party at the New Mwanza Hotel, had been arrested on the orders of Prime Minister Malecela. The celebrations had angered Tanzanian residents in Mwanza where flags were flying at half mast. Tanzanian Director of Public Prosecutions Kulwa Masamba later stated that it was not a crime in law for someone to celebrate another persons death.