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High-Profile Rwanda Mission Puts Humanitarian Concerns Above Politics


In the 14 years since its genocide, Rwanda has made one of the most remarkable postwar comebacks of any poverty-level country in history -- in public health, agriculture, tourism, small business, and technology. The high-profile bipartisan American delegation of former government officials that visited the country last week witnessed solid economic growth as it assessed Rwanda’s needs for the future. The mission, organized by the ONE Campaign antipoverty group, included former US Senate leaders Bill Frist and Tom Daschle, former White House Chief of Staff in the Clinton administration, John Podesta, former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and Cindy McCain, wife of the presumptive Republican party nominee, Senator John McCain. Shyaka Kanuma is editor of Focus, an independent English-language newspaper in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. He says that Mrs. McCain did not get the glittering coverage that Senator Barack Obama now is receiving on his extensive tour of Europe and the Middle East, but that the high-profile visitors were well received in the hope of attracting continued US aid for Rwanda’s recovery.

“The coverage was pretty wide in the local press. I don’t know about the US. Obviously, all you can see is Barack Obama right now, having a trip to the Middle East and Europe,” he noted.

The ONE Campaign, an American group that advocates for the fight against global poverty and disease, has been involved in efforts to restore ethnic harmony and economic well-being to Rwanda. Domestically, the ONE Campaign has actively enlisted the 2008 presidential candidates of both parties to give prominence to the US fight for justice around the world in catastrophic impoverished locales like Darfur, Sudan and Rwanda which have endured genocidal strife. During the New Hampshire primary, candidates McCain, Obama, Huckabee, Hillary Clinton, and others often welcomed questions at their local community rallies from ONE Campaign boosters in the crowd, who helped the candidates publicize their commitment and recruit others to help the more unfortunate around the globe.

Mrs. McCain returned this year with the ONE Campaign delegation to Rwanda, where she served in 1994 as a medical aide caring for young war orphans. Journalist Shyaka Kanuma acknowledges the more private aspect of her visit, compared to both her husband's and Senator Obama’s well-publicized overseas trips and describes the mission, which ended on Sunday as a humanitarian working visit.

“I think she was genuinely here on a humanitarian mission out of genuine interest to see what is going on since she last was here. I don’t think it in any way connects with her husband’s campaign,” he says.

On the other hand, Kanuma notes that the bipartisan nature of the high-level delegation was viewed by Rwandans as an opportunity to show off the tremendous progress the country is making and to make their case for reinforcing the aid pipeline.

“Rwandans are more interested in what can be gotten out of this trip and more interested in what it does for this country and its public relations. Here you are having this country that as recently as 14 years ago was attracting all these fighters and now you have Bill Clinton here and you have United Kingdom Conservative Party coming. So Rwanda is doing something right because you don’t have these kinds of high-profile visits in any other part of the region other than Rwanda,” he said.

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