As a development professional and human-rights advocate, I have some concerns regarding Rick and Kay Warren's PEACE plan in Rwanda. I am impressed with the Warrens' love for God and his church, as well as their desire to see Christ known the world over. Yet this desire and the Warrens' sudden access to vast resources must not be mistaken for expertise when it comes to fighting poverty and injustice in Africa.
African countries have long suffered outside the attention of the church. Direct action is overdue. Africa is a continent full of our brothers and sisters, neighbors, our fellow members of creation. What has transpired in Africa should shame us all. Yet we must understand that the solutions to poverty in Africa do not lie solely within Africa's borders.
Warren uses the ancient proverb, "Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime," to explain his development plan for Rwanda. He wants to help Rwanda "sell its fish." Warren says Rwanda can produce far more fruit than it can actually consume and that exporting Rwanda's agricultural products could be part of the solution to the country's economic troubles.
While this would no doubt provide needed income for a poor country, I wonder if Warren has been able to sit with the leaders of the European Union and the United States to address the injustices of these countries' current agricultural trade policies. Rwanda will not find receptive markets in the consumer powerhouses of the West. Currently, the U.S. and the E.U. provide more than $90 billion in annual subsidies to their domestic agricultural producers in order to protect them against competition from foreign exporters.
These farm subsidies assault the idea of free trade, and the ramifications for countries like Rwanda are profound. Without genuine trade-policy reform, no one in the U.S. or the E.U. will be buying Rwandan produce anytime soon. It is not enough to teach a man to sell fish. The question of who controls the market must also be addressed.
Warren's relationship with Rwandan President Paul Kagame is also of concern. Kagame was the leader of the rebel Tutsi forces that brought an end to genocide in 1994. Yet as president, he has overseen a military that continues to occupy parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Human-rights observers such as Amnesty International and even the U.S. State Department accuse Kagame of not only stripping Congo of its natural resources, but also of mass rape, burning villages, and murdering civilians. Rwandan leaders reject these claims, yet the human-rights community maintains their accuracy.
Years of African corruption in the wake of colonial puppetry have created rifts of distrust between those who are suffering and those with friends in high places. Although Kagame is an improvement from past leaders, his connection to former regimes and to ongoing human-rights concerns should trouble anyone seeking to work with him.
Nongovernment organizations have been serving in Rwanda and other African countries for years, long before the Warrens found their purpose there. With the resources at their command, the Warrens could inaugurate a Rwanda plan without outside help. Instead, I hope they seek out those who have shed blood and tears for the people of Rwanda and Africa, serving for decades under dangerous conditions.
The impoverished world needs educated action accompanied by genuine compassion. It does not need a religious version of the modernization theory that emerged following World War II. That kind of top-down, Western, ethnocentric approach has left us with almost 3 billion people living and dying in extreme poverty. As Warren's team disperses throughout Rwanda with their "in-a-box" development plans, they should know that this one-size-fits-all approach has already failed.
International development is a complex endeavor. For years, many of us have hoped that the sleeping giant known as the American church would wake up to the injustices of poverty that plague our world. If Warren and his acronymic plans succeed in raising the collective awareness of the church about the daily struggles of much of humanity, they will have succeeded far beyond imagination.
God bless the Warrens and their efforts. Only God knows fully the despair that victims of poverty and conflict endure. On their behalf and theirs alone, I pray that PEACE brings awareness and transformation to the people of Rwanda.
Andrew Paquin teaches in the global studies department at Colorado Christian University. Paquin and his family started the 10/10 Project (www.the1010project.org) to help give the poor Jesus' abundant life.
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today's cover story on Rick Warren's PEACE plan was published in October. Purpose Driven in Rwanda | Rick Warren's sweeping plan to defeat poverty. Our full-coverage is collected online.
More recent CT articles on defeating poverty include:
Where Are the Men? | Overseas humanitarian groups target women, and for good reason. But it isn't enough. (Aug. 5, 2005)
Can We Defeat Poverty? | Unless Africa tames corruption, new aid efforts will fail. (Sept 26, 2005)
Purpose Driven in Rwanda | Rick Warren's sweeping plan to defeat poverty.
Jesus at G8 | Christian advocacy for Africa gains notice at top meetings. (July 6, 2005)
End Extreme Poverty in 2005? | No way. But we can still do something significant. (Aug. 22, 2005)
Raising the Compassion Bar | How 575 suburban teens underwrote a medical clinic, schoolhouse, and a year's supply of food for a village in Zambiawith money to spare. (Aug. 10, 2005)
Earlier CT coverage of Rwanda includes:
Healing Genocide | Ten years after the slaughter, Rwandans begin to mend their torn nation with a justice that is both biblical and African. (March 31, 2004)
A Justice that Restores | A method for bringing victims and offenders together. (March 31, 2004)
Inside CT: Forgiveness 101 | Rwanda is becoming a lab for testing new models of Christian forgiveness. (March 31, 2004)
Influence of Roman Catholic Church in Acquittal of Rwandan Bishop Debated | Augustin Misago cleared of 1994 genocide charges. (July 20, 2000)
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