Deadly Reality: Rwanda Is Dying

The body count has climbed past 100,000 in Rwanda with no end of killing in sight. The corpses pile up on land; mutilated bodies float down rivers. Half a million refugees are fleeing the latest round of mass murder by the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. There can be no doubt that this is a crisis demanding strong outside intervention.

In the wake of the United Nations’ expensive effort in Somalia and numerous on-going peacekeeping operations, an all-African peacekeeping force with U.N. support may be the only politically palatable response to this tribal war. Mounting such a force won’t be easy because the Organization of African Unity prohibits meddling in the affairs of its members. The challenge is also complicated because one of Rwanda’s neighbors, Uganda, a logical source of troops, already has taken sides. But there is a precedent for the kind of peacekeeping force that’s needed--Liberia.

When the world ignored massacres in Liberia, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) organized a regional peacekeeping force to intervene. For three years the troops, led by Nigerians, have patrolled the area around Monrovia, sometimes engaging rebel fighters. The perseverance of these peacekeepers has paid off with negotiations and plans for an election.

Neutrality was an issue in Liberia’s civil war too. Charles Taylor, the rebel leader, questioned the neutrality of Nigerian troops because their president had supported a political rival. In response to Taylor’s concerns, the United Nations, the OAU and the United States helped to bring in troops from Uganda and Tanzania.


Rwanda needs similar help. The United Nations ought to find a way to provide it. U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has called on Africans to provide troops for a peacekeeping force financed by Western countries. The Clinton Administration, though against sending U.S. ground troops, is sending $15 million for humanitarian aid and would consider an airlift. So far, no African nation has pledged troops.

No one is safe today in Rwanda. Children and Red Cross workers have been killed in an orphanage. Patients have been murdered in a hospital. Parents have been massacred in their homes. Diplomacy has failed. Intervention is in order--but Africans must take the lead.