During 1993 and 1994 Ngara and Karagwe districts of Tanzania have received over 600,000 Rwandan and Burundian refugees. In late September 500,000 were still there and between 250 and 750 a day continued to arrive, adding to the Tanzanian population of 210,000.
The Tanzanian and international response to this influx has been remarkably good, although the food pipeline is under strain. In addition, Tanzania has to bear the burden of patrolling the border and preventing camp violence from overflowing into the Districts. However, the response to the needs of the people of the two districts has been very much poorer. With the honourable exceptions of UNICEF, AMREF, Caritas of the Netherlands and of Germany, the ICRC, OXFAM and the UNHCR, the international agencies and NGO’s are not well informed about the true situation. Whether the recent analysis spearheaded by the Prime Ministers’s Office and the UNICEF report by the present author will change this remains to be seen.
Over the years 1994 to 1999 the minimum cost in lost cash incomes and additional workload to the Tanzanians of Ngara and Karagwe will be about £40 million, an amount comparable with a whole year’s income of the residents of the Regions. Of this amount, food sales lost because of the ruined state of the roads and the collapse of the Kigali market account for over a third. These could be reversed by spending £14 to £17 million for the repair of the Kyaka-Rusumo highway and of the District networks and the installation of maintenance equipment at District and Regional levels assuming that the European Union completes work on the Burundi-Rusumo highway which has been delayed by the diversion of the contractor to camp building.
Environmental damage will take at least five years to make good if the refugees leave within a year. Germany (DTZ) has begun replanting trees and is sponsoring projects to promote fuel efficiency, but trees take time to grow and the denuded areas already extend six miles beyond the confines of the largest camp. Many new wells are needed but the ground water supply cannot survive the trebling of the population of Ngara district. The Dutch, who, like UNICEF, take a direct interest in the problems of the Tanzanians as well as those of the refugees, are adding an agro-forestry and livestock element to their existing rural development programme by including Ngara and Karagwe in the Districts covered. Both the German and the Dutch initiatives are medium to long term.
The losses suffered by the 100 or so villages may not seem large in terms of the replacement costs involved, but are massive for villages of between 1,500 and 3,000 inhabitants with a total annual cash income of perhaps £17,000. The difficulties encountered include pit latrines prematurely full, the stripping of trees and the burning of school furniture and books for fuel, the entire 1994 maize crop eaten green leaving no seed for planting, severe reduction of the plantain and potato crops eaten, or camped on, by refugees and the failure of springs. It appears that the only immediate help for villages hitherto has come from the Catholic and Anglican Dioceses and the Christian Council of Tanzania.
Unless the rains fail, no overall food shortages are imminent. Indeed, banana and beer sales to refugees and broader trade with personnel serving the refugees have probably balanced the loss of normal crop sales to date, albeit not by the same households. After the initial jolt, UNICEF, AMREF and Caritas have restored Government and Church medical supply systems reasonably fully and have helped to find additional staff to meet refugee needs.
The Tanzanian performance at national, regional, district and village levels is remarkable. But at each of these levels Tanzania lacks the resources to make whole again. About £20 to £25 million are needed to do that, over half for transport system restoration and a third for wood and water balance reconstruction.
The problems, especially as regards wood and water, will spiral out of control if the refugees remain where they are indefinitely. They will not return to Rwanda in the near future, if at all. The ‘dead boat’ still fishes for murdered men, women and children in the River Rusumo; wounded refugees arrive daily; all too credible reports of killings and looting are regularly received. Mwalimu Nyerere went to urge return, but on hearing and seeing he stated categorically that it could not happen before 1998 and should not happen now. The only real alternative to the Kagera camps is 10 clusters of refugee villages of 4,000 inhabitants each dispersed throughout Tanzania. These could eventually become normal communities self-sufficient in food and basic services and enable the refugees to build new lives for themselves. In refugee camps only hate grows.
The obstacles confronting such an approach are twofold. First, it is hardly an easy option for Tanzania’s leaders to espouse during the run-up to a general election. Secondly, the infrastructure cost, judging from the experience of the refugee crisis of 1959-60, may exceed £140 million and the moving and settling-in costs a further £30 million. Mobilising funds of that order will be hard, with the UN and UNHCR relentlessly demanding early return of the refugees, apparently for budgetary reasons unconnected with any serious assessment of the Rwanda situation.