Proselytism was officially frowned upon in the Indian Empire. Conversion from one religion to another was highly political and potentially explosive. The Wesleyan missionaries' teetotalism and modest stipends separated them from colonial neighbours. World War I disturbed a period of relative calm in Upper Burma. The Wesleyan missionaries were relatively ignorant about rural politics and were generally less sympathetic. The Wesleyans were perplexed because pongyis were poisoning the minds of ordinary 'Burman Buddhists'. Even the American Baptists were shaken by Buddhist truculence in the towns. The Hsaya San rebellion broke out in Lower Burma at the end of December 1930. The Marxist-dominated All Burma Students' Union (ABSU) and Dobama Asiayone (We Burmans) expanded rapidly during the 1930s. Dobama had begun as a student political movement in 1933 but quickly embraced industrial workers and cultivators.
Politics and religion were two sides of the same coin. Wesleyan missionaries went to Upper Burma for many and complex reasons but their main purpose was to convert Burmans to Christianity. Religious conversions caused bitter divisions within colonial communities. Wesleyans in Burma, for example, often suspected new converts of seeking social or political preferment. Wesleyans in Upper Burma discovered that Indian street sweepers and lepers were most easily proselytised. Winston described Buddhist Burmans as primitive, backward and crude. In 1904, despondent Wesleyan missionaries complained that the Burmese national character had been 'formed by generations of loose morality.' Wesleyan attitudes softened as the Burmans became more compliant. Many of the younger missionaries were captivated by their 'confiding, simple nature'. During the 1920s, the transformation was evident in the bazaars and backstreets of Upper Burmese towns. Spiritual confrontations between Christians and Buddhists became intensely political.
Everyone suffered some pain when Burma lurched from past into present, and the prize was plucked from old sparring partners. Democracy is the most potent issue in modern Myanmar. Many Burmans and Western liberals regard democratisation as the prerequisite for development. The survival of the Methodist Church in Buddhist Upper Burma is little short of a miracle. There were only slightly fewer members in the Mandalay District in 2006 than there were in 1900. After 1966 it became impossible for the Church to proselytise, and it has survived only by retaining existing members. Missionary voices rarely challenged government policies either in colonial times or in Independent Burma. Maitrii Aung-Thwin defines Burma's past, present and future as a complicated potion of personalities, intellectual influences, culture and political forms. Charney is right to identify Buddhist monks as the custodians of 'Burmese tradition and the core of Burmese intellectual life'.
The Wesley high schools were extraordinarily successful during the early years of the twentieth century. The Colonial Government was investing heavily in education. It encouraged mission schools generally and it was particularly impressed by the Wesley high schools. The Wesleyan schools quickly became academic powerhouses, renowned for progressive teaching, firm discipline and high moral values. In 1911 Buddhist elders requested Rev. Edgar Bradford to start a Wesleyan Anglo-Vernacular School in Salin, a prosperous town south of Pakokku. Bradford obliged and a school was opened in 1912. Wesleyan education in Upper Burma reached its zenith in 1917 when 2,216 pupils had registered in thirty schools. The student disturbances of 1938–39 damaged several successful mission schools in Upper Burma and separated them from their surrounding communities. In 1944, the exiled Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman Smith, promised that Methodist mission schools would be returned to their former glory after the war.
The Roman Catholic Convent was the only school in Mandalay that catered specifically for Eurasian girls. A.W. Bestall launched a furious campaign to persuade the Missionary Committee to provide funds for a Wesleyan Eurasian girls' school in Mandalay. The missionaries were also very interested in certain aspects of public health, but their preoccupations were extremely selective. Leprosy melted hearts in Victorian England. One other social problem was entirely new. Wayward Burmese adolescents were addicted to films. They may have picked up the bad habit from the missionaries' magic-lantern shows, where mesmerised audiences gawped at cartoon Bible stories. Although leprosy brought the lives of individual sufferers crashing down, it was not the most important health problem in Burma. It was a political issue. In 1900 the missionaries asked the Missionary Society to send a missionary doctor. In 1911 Bradford described the hospital in Pakokku, a 'congested town, which is unsanitary'.
The effectiveness of aid in the face of repeated mass atrocities
Jean-Hervé Bradol and Marc Le Pape
The final chapter puts the spotlight on some of the problems humanitarian workers had to tackle in the situations described above. It’s focusing on three issues that all humanitarian workers working in places where mass violence was being committed were forced to address: How to comprehend, in the midst of an emergency, the political and social dynamics unique to each situation of extreme violence? How to avoid falling victim to or becoming accomplices of criminal forces? How to remain effective in such situations? Humanitarian relief operations in this region had been the topic of evaluations that had led to debates and reforms at the international level.
In the first chapter, we look at the years 1980 to 1994, which are divided into four periods and start with the provision of aid to Rwandan Tutsi exiles in Uganda during the 1980s. We then examine how MSF, between October 1990 and April 1994, delivered assistance to people internally displaced within Rwanda after fleeing the military advance of Tutsi exiles (led by the Rwandan Patriotic Front) and to the 260,000 Burundian refugees living in camps as of October 1993. Next we look at the period of the genocide and the medical assistance the organisation provided – during which time more than 200 of MSF’s Rwandan employees were executed. And to finish, we analyse the call for armed intervention in Rwanda and, more specifically, the French military operation launched mainly in southwest Rwanda in June 1994.
Throughout the 1990s, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was forced to face the challenges posed by the genocide of Rwandan Tutsis and a succession of major outbreaks of political violence in Rwanda and its neighbouring countries. Humanitarian workers were confronted with the execution of close to one million people, tens of thousands of casualties pouring into health centres, the flight of millions of others who had sought refuge in camps and a series of deadly epidemics. Where and in what circumstances were the MSF teams deployed? What medical and non-medical assistance were they able to deliver? Drawing on various hitherto unpublished private and public archives, this book recounts the experiences of the MSF teams working in the field. It also describes the tensions (and cooperation) between international humanitarian agencies, the crucial negotiations conducted at local, national and international level and the media campaigns. The messages communicated to the public by MSF’s teams bear witness to diverse practical, ethical and political considerations. How to react when humanitarian workers are first-hand witnesses to mass crimes? How to avoid becoming accomplices to criminal stratagems? How to deliver effective aid in situations of extreme violence? This book is intended for humanitarian aid practitioners, students, journalists and researchers with an interest in genocide and humanitarian studies and the political sociology of international organisations.
Never before had MSF teams been the direct witnesses of genocide and repeated mass violence on such a huge scale. The method of observation adopted for this book was, as matter of priority, to focus on the work of field teams and reconstruct their perceptions, decisions and actions. The following sources were used: numerous reports submitted to MSF head offices by MSF teams; witness statements published by the Rwandans; public documents from international organisations and research studies based on field surveys. The history of Rwanda is also told through a series of events which shed light on the political dynamics of the 1990s. Lastly, a summary of MSF’s activities in the Great Lakes region since 1980 is also included. Three very specific questions about Rwanda and the Great Lakes region during the period 1990 to 1997 are formulated: Where were MSF’s teams working? What work were they involved in? Which of the obstacles they encountered became the subject of debate, and which of these went on to be made public?
The third chapter explores what happened in Rwanda after the RPF’s military victory in July 1994. Mandated by the UN, the French army controlled the southwest of the country until late August. Camps sheltering Hutus Rwandans fleeing the rebel offensive had sprung up in the region and the health situation was disastrous. From November 1994 to April 1995, the new Rwandan army used force to close the displaced persons’ camps, which resulted in the massacre of several thousand people. The MSF teams involved in getting the country’s hospitals and health centres back into working order were witness to the repression the new government inflicted on certain districts. Meanwhile, MSF provided medical aid in Rwanda’s overpopulated prisons, where mortality rates were catastrophic.