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Clinton on Rwanda 14 May 1994


MAY 14, 1994


Bill Clinton’s global forum:

Did it tell the whole story?

By Ashali Varma

May 3, 1994 New York: At a “global forum” televised by CNN and available to more than 140 million people in 200 countries, President Clinton was asked what the United States could do to stop genocide in Rwanda.  This is what Clinton said in response: “America cannot solve every problem, and must not become the world’s policeman, but we have an obligation to join with others to do what we can to relieve the suffering and restore the peace.”

What the president didn’t say–and what the development community and myriad non-governmental organizations frequently fret about –was that last minute measures to stop a civil war or avert a famine are very costly, requiring sudden and huge commitments from the international community at a time when even rich countries find themselves strapped for funds. Moreover, such band-aid measures usually don’t solve the problem–you have only to look at Somalia where, despite the best intentions of Washington and the United Nations, things went terribly awry.

The killing fields of Rwanda may not be the result of any one factor, even though it seems to be the fashion among commentators to say that “ethnic rivalries” are responsible for the carnage. But surely lack of economic opportunities, social disparities, over-population, poverty and debt are among the causes of civil war, famine, mass migration and large-scale murder.  To recognize this well in advance and make resources available today can prevent costly intervention later.

The world media have a critical role to play.  By addressing development issues and offering a forum for the voiceless, newspapers magazines and the electronic networks can help draw attention to incipient tragedies, and not wait until they become international disasters.  They must move beyond sensationalism and attempt to inform the world how such tragedies can be avoided.