Beyond the numbers, there are human beings

By the end of January 2010, the Ministry of Education did not have the number of schools licensed to operate in Rwanda, the Ministry of Public Service and Labour did not have the total number of government employees, the Ministry of… and the Fund for the Support of Genocide Survivors known by its French acronym (FARG) did not have the number of genocide survivors in Rwanda.
L-R : Minister in charge of Gender and Family promotion Jean d’Arc Mujawamariya ; Eugene Barikana
L-R : Minister in charge of Gender and Family promotion Jean d’Arc Mujawamariya ; Eugene Barikana

By the end of January 2010, the Ministry of Education did not have the number of schools licensed to operate in Rwanda, the Ministry of Public Service and Labour did not have the total number of government employees, the Ministry of… and the Fund for the Support of Genocide Survivors known by its French acronym (FARG) did not have the number of genocide survivors in Rwanda.

The New Times on January 28, 2010 reported that, “during a recent retreat, lawmakers expressed concern over lack of specific figures of survivors and ordered government to come up with the exact figures in a period of not more than six months”.

Employees who look twice at their pay-slip may have noticed, in the recent past, an increment in their salary which is neither a mistake of the accountant nor the generosity of the employer but the policy towards FARG.

Many employees may not have noticed the change because the contribution of 1% of their monthly salary may not be easily noticed. Whereas the policy in regard to the contributions to the Fund may have changed the question remains whether the intended beneficiaries got what was due to them.

The Fund was created in 1998 with annual contributions of at least 5% of the county’s annual budget, contributions from employees, businesses and institutions the Fund was supposed to better the lives of those who were orphaned, widowed and who  were incapacitated by the killers.

It is on record that in the first eight years of its existence the Fund put up 8,000,000 housing units at a cost of $15m, provided medical treatment to 700,000 survivors at a cost nearly $7,000,000, offered seed money for income generating activities to the survivors and spent $50 million on 250,000 and 7,000 students in secondary and higher education respectively on scholarships for school fees and supplies.

It was reported that nearly 60% of its budget was spent on primary, secondary and higher education and approximately 15% on housing.

Reports of abuse and misappropriation in the fund have been rampant which may stem from either the unknown number of survivors or the fund managers in the past have deliberately kept the numbers unknown to abuse the fund.

Local government officials have also swindled the money in past prompting the Minister in charge of Gender and Family promotion Jean d’Arc Mujawamariya to say that “If you cannot feel guilty of embezzling funds provided to help an orphan, then you are more dangerous than those who killed his or her parents.

In my opinion, such a person should face trial accordingly”. According to the survivors’ national umbrella organization Ibuka, local leaders added “people of their choice onto lists of supposed vulnerable survivors – leaving the genuine fending for themselves”.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government Eugene Barikana was quoted in the media as saying that, “If the government is to summon leaders on this issue, I am sure most of you will face trial,”  he said  addressing local leaders in the western province, “Districts have been presenting wrong data on survivors’ activities.

They always keep on inflating numbers after adding their relatives on the list”.

In one interview the late Alison Des Forges, was quoted as saying that genocide victims have “received very little concrete assistance” because, given the number of victims and the current funding levels, “there is simply not enough to take care of everyone’s needs” while the Director of African Rights, Rakiya Omaar, is reported to have observed that for widowed mothers the “single biggest concern... is to have a house so they can leave it to their children when they die”.

The bitterly contested census of genocide survivors carried out by the National Institute Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) and published in August 2008 was revealing: the total number of survivors was 309 368 of whom 66% were aged 35 and below; 22.7% and 19.8% were male and female orphans respectively;  there were 93,855 child genocide survivors aged below 20 years of age; of whom 55.5% are single, 30% are married and 12.4% are widowed; Orphans account for 69.3% of the category of vulnerable survivors and there were ten times more widows than widowers. Other sources have put the total number of survivors at between 400,000 and 500,000.

Beyond the numbers and figures, however, there are human beings who are vulnerable and hurting. Many of them do not understand the complex numbers and would not care. They care, nonetheless, about their daily struggles to survive and the future of their children and siblings, in case they have them. Many of the survivors have got little of what they were supposed to have got. Many of the houses that cost millions of dollars were built with mud and wattle and are under threat from ants which eat away the wooden poles that keep the houses standing (in many cases the poles were used before they dried) and the houses are a threat to their occupants.

Many of the survivors need and will need continued counselling from the trauma they underwent nearly sixteen years ago. Others need physical treatment or medication if they are to see another day from the physical incapacities and injuries they suffered, particularly rape victims.

Many of the material support meant for the survivors were diverted or substituted for poorer quality or cheaper ones. Many times students starting the school term would be given barely enough transport to reach schools which made schooling for them even harder and dropped out.

Many survivors are unable to find work due to various reasons and will need support. Only recently in Gasabo District there was an outcry by genocide orphans who were told by FARG to go and rent something they were opposed to.

Whatever the rationale for the change of policy of contributing to FARG, its operations and the disputed numbers; the genocide survivors need support and will need it in the foreseeable future.

Because of the history of education policies in Rwanda prior to 1994 many of the survivors can hardly find employment and when they do, they earn less than 5,000 according to research.

When the Kacyiru mother of one teenage daughter, who was impregnated and could not continue with education, starts seeing “killers” attacking her in the middle of the night, her daughter and granddaughter do not think of how many other survivors there are in Rwanda.

They run to the neighbours who come and press her against the ground to calm her. The woman whose leg became cancerous because of the rusty nails in a wooden bar killers used to batter her does not need to know the millions of dollars spent by FARG; she needs to survive the next day.

The 67% of the hundreds of thousands of survivors raped during the genocide and infected with HIV/AIDS need and will need support. Many of the 20,000 children, products of raped victims, will need support.

For the mother in Kacyiru, the man with a “bullet in his head” in Nyamagabe and the widow in Ngoma, I would love to continue contributing to the FARG unless there is an alternative because their needs are still many. Of course a better and honest management team at FARG would be reassuring.

Email: Ekaba2002@yahoo.com