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Rwanda: Why sterilize the poor?

June 14, 2011

Rwanda’s economy is said to be doing well, so how does population size become a problem that requires dire, questionable voluntary vasectomies of the poor?

by Charles Kambanda, PhD

Poor Rwandans are targeted by the government’s call for voluntary vasectomies of 700,000 men who can’t support their children.
In controversy is the minister of health’s announcement of what the government of Rwanda calls voluntary vasectomies (sterilizing) of 700,000 males between 2011 and 2013. The target group is men who cannot pay bills for their children’s upkeep. The poor who make over 75 percent of Rwanda’s population are only uncertain of when their males will be sterilized.

At issue is not whether the country needs sound family planning policy. Whether the political elite will stick to voluntary vasectomies is the main concern. Conceptualizing “voluntary” vasectomies in Rwanda’s contemporary public policy, history gloss and politics is utterly crucial.

The timing of sterilizing 700,000 males raises red flags. In Rwanda’s socio-political environment that swivels on passivity, apathy, suspicion and docile citizenry with militarized “civil society,” securing free will of the men to be sterilized borders on insanity.

Who are the poor?

The deprived are the Twa, a secluded ethnic group. The needy are the Hutu peasants who survived the Congo refugee camps’ massacres. The hard-up in Rwandan society are those few Tutsi survivors of genocide who have not benefited from the genocide survivors’ fund. The underprivileged are the Hutu populace that was uprooted from their land, without compensation, under the habitant and land reform government policy.

The poor are those Tutsi returnees who have no close relations in the Tutsi dominated government. The bitter fact is that poverty in Rwanda runs along the country’s ethnic divides. The poor are mostly victims of the country’s unresolved ethnic and power sharing crisis.

History is seldom a bad teacher. However, people are hardly good students of history. Rwanda’s post-independence history, not different from the country’s pre-independence era, insinuates a constant fight between the Hutu, the majority ethnic group making up about 86 percent of the population, and the Tutsi, the minority ethnic group making up about 14 percent. The Twa hardly make up 1 percent.

Growing or dropping in numbers of either ethnic group is an issue for each ethnic group’s political and physical survival. The Hutu-Tutsi co-existence failed on a win-win modus operandi. The victor seeks to depopulate the loser, or at least to delay the other ethnic group’s violent return to power.

War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide have long been a “social engineering” and depopulation strategy geared at incapacitating the loser in the country’s power grabbing paradigm. In 1959 it was some Hutu’s turn to “depopulate” the Tutsi.

In the 1980s a Hutu-led government flocked the Tutsi to cannibals and crocodiles in the country’s national park, Akagera. Although scholars disagree on whether the 1994 genocide was committed by only the Hutu against the Tutsi, the scholars appear to concur that genocide was a strategy to “tame” the enemy’s unmanageable and unwanted population.

The brutal massacres of the Hutu refugees in Congo, which the United Nations’ Mapping Report accuses the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan troops of, could also be viewed from this perspective. With growing international enforcement of laws on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, Rwandan society appears vulnerable to apparent legal methods of birth control like “voluntary” vasectomies to achieve the traditional ethnic depopulation conspiracy.

Sociologists, philosophers and psychologists have long discussed whether a poor person can make choices. Do the poor have free will? The Rwandan government does not appear uptight about this paradox. The poor, who cannot nourish their children, are said to be going for “voluntary” vasectomies. This is the proverbial hiding of the head in the sand.

If poverty is a criterion for vasectomies, free will cannot exist

This new policy forcefully encourages human beings to dispel with their primary animal instinct: reproduction. Image sourced at
If the policy be voluntary, the 700,000-man target contradicts what the government of Rwanda calls voluntary vasectomies. Last year, 2010, the vice president of Rwanda’s parliament marketed, in vain, a policy proposal for compulsory sterilization of the “socially retarded” Rwandans. It took excessive efforts by international human rights organizations to thwart the policy proposal. The 2011 “voluntary” vasectomies policy may be a continuum of the 2010 policy proposal.

Public policy analysts consent that current latent public policy ideas and motives of any country must be read in light of the similar previous policy. First, the government of Rwanda implemented the habitant and land reform policy. People were supposed to abandon their traditional homestead and go to live in settlement centers – imidugudu. The previous homesteads were meant to be for farming. Initially the government called it a voluntary policy.

Implementation of this policy turned out to be forceful and inhumane. Some government officials snatched victory from the jaws of defeat; they grabbed the land people had abandoned for settlement centers. Second, the government’s policy of what was called voluntary sharing of land between the Hutu owners and the Tutsi returnees ended in the forceful grabbing of land from the Hutu in many regions of the country. Will vasectomies of the unprivileged males be voluntary as the government suggests?

Self-propagation is a basic need and right. However, producing excessive children, as many Rwandans do, is a symptom of insecurity and poverty. There is a general demographic pattern for the well-off to produce between one to three children. The deprived generally produce more than six children. It is no surprise that in a country like Rwanda, where about 75 percent of the population survives on less that $1 a day, the population is increasing by 3 percent per annum. If quantity of the population be the problem, vasectomies are not a durable solution.

The first beneficiary of development is the human person

The quality of a country’s human resources and not the quantity is what matters. Investing in human development is the only sustainable solution. The Rwandan government has sustained one of the most expensive wars in Africa. It is well documented that Rwanda has one of the biggest and most heavily armed militaries in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Rwanda runs the most expensive presidential personal security unit in Africa.

Rwanda’s economy is said to be doing well. Ironically, money is available. How does quantity of the population become a problem that requires dire, questionable voluntary vasectomies?

Human history demonstrates habitual failure by some leaders to reconcile the existence of the poor in an environment that the political leadership project as prosperous. Adolf Hitler exterminated the gypsies alongside the Jews because the gypsies – the poor – would negate the economic prosperity of Germany. This is how seriously the world takes protection of the poor.

Crime against humanity

Rwandan American Law Professor Dr. Charles Kambanda
Denying people the right to self-propagation on the basis of their failure to meet costs for their children ought to be an issue of utmost concern for the international community. Targeting the poor with vasectomies is presumed forceful because the poor always lack free will.

Vasectomy in this unique Rwandan context might amount to a crime against humanity. The essence and function of government is redistributing resources and power among the citizens. Vasectomy in a Rwandan context manifests government failure to perform its core functions and responsibilities. The policy mirrors incivility, lack of public conscience and negates the basic ethical tenets.

Dr. Charles Kambanda, Dip.Phil., BA, LLB, MA ETPM, MBA, MA HRTs, LLM, PhD, teaches at St. John’s University Law School, LLM Center, New York, and previously lectured at the National University of Rwanda, where, according to the Rwanda News Service, he was known for his outspoken nature. This story first appeared on The Proxy Lake: Views and News on the African Great Lakes Region.

26 thoughts on “Rwanda: Why sterilize the poor?

  1. Paul

    Kambanda, we Rwandans know you very well !!! It is not a surprise to us of what you are uttering by telling lies to the whole world. You need to listen to Hon. Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State in her statement in Addis Ababa where she praised Rwanda for its sounding and growing economy. I think you are aware that she has people on the ground who operate independently and report independently to Washington!!!

    1. Musaza

      But USA said the same about Idd Amini Dada OF Uganda. USA once praised Bin Laden as the "future" of the world!!! USAonce praised Sadam! Where are they now? Who brought them down? Not USA? You think Kagame will be an exception? I think not.

  2. Dunia

    Rwanda is a country where genocides have happened, Killings between Hutu and Tutsi. Where the president (Tutsi) has repeatedly said that he regrets not to have killed all Hutu in many speeches. It is very questionable to use Vasectomy. This is regarded by all Hutu as another form of genocide.

    Charles Kambanda is therefore very right but the Rwanda government should stop this tricky system to exterminate its people.

  3. Murenzi

    This program to sterilize males has nothing to do with ethnicity, genocide or any other issues expressed above. Rwandan society has a tradition that is based on large families. Now if you arent aware, Rwanda is among the most densely populated countries in the world, with families continuing to have six to eight kids per household, and yet the economy is one of the poorest. On top there the AIDS epidemic that the government is trying hard to keep in control. Now unless you are a malicious, apathetic person, you’d know that having tons of kids who end up starving, or are born with AIDS or end up on the streets is not doing the right thing. Why make other people suffer from your action even if done subconsciously? Now you people have personal issues with the president, and are going around spreading bad images/rumours and stinking the image of Rwanda. Really guys why dont you take your issues with the President to him personally. Charles Kambanda, PHD, I didnt know you, but know I do, what a waste. You could do better.

  4. Paul

    Dunia, Shame upon you!!!!!!!!!!! In 2011, U and Kambanda are still harboring ethnic divisionism !!!!!!!!!!! U must be mentally disturbed!!!!!!!!!!! U must have left Rwanda in 1994 and u don't know what is taking place in Rwanda!!!!! H.E has never stated your allegations. Rwanda will move on as planned!!! U will find your colleagues along the way!!!!!!!!

  5. June Sina

    Kambanda is not Rwandan-I know him very well.He is one of the few Ugandans who took advantage of the disorganisation of the Rwanda's education system shortly after the Genocide and came posing as a University Lecturer while he himself was still a student at Makerere University in Uganda.He cant even speak a single word in Kinyarwanda.We are not worried about you sir because you are a foreigner after all.

    1. Williams

      So what? Does he need to be Rwandan, anyway? Discuss the weakness of his analysis, if any, not what he is. This is how adults behave. You are behaving like a spoilt child. Sina, find another forum for your childish mentality.

    2. Nkurunziza

      But his article is not in Kinyarwanda. Therefore whether or not Professor Kambanda speaks Kinyarwanda should not an issue. Not so?

  6. Ashley S.

    Prof. Kambanda! Lol, I happen to be in one of your classes and I indeed believed you're a good teacher in many ways. However, please stop this ethnic divisions and focus on the future of your home country. I have personally been in Rwanda at least three times. One of the reasons of my travel to rwanda was to study the impact of the genocide on the Rwandan population and its consequences. Unless I really misses the point, which I highly doubt, most of what you're saying here is wrong! Do you really get anything from turning your back on the people who desperately need you? Can you really stand up and claim, in front of your trusted friends, that Rwanda is an evil place to live? Let's be honest here. Rwanda is not USA and they certainly still have a long way to go. However, even the little progress that is made can be easily weakened by people like you who focus too much on the past than on the future. Help your people move forward. We, american people, do not necessarily need you.

  7. Selina

    Birth control will not solve proverty, Rwanda's problem is letting foreign LEACHES remain in their political and economic affairs

    If only the Hutu and Tutsi and other ethnic groups can stop using petty difference to divide them and become more cohesive

    UNITY is the answer to all of Africa's problems

  8. pierre

    Kambanda, I pity you !!! Am worried of the the American students you are poisoning with your ethnic divisionism you are still harboring!!!!! The university authority should dig you deep!!!! Otherwise you killing young generation!!! Why don't you concentrate on your greener pasture you went to look for!!!!!!!!!! Mind your business!!!!! leave alone Rwandans!!!! Apart from having been in Rwanda for sometime and benefited, you are not part of the them!!!!

    1. Selina

      If what's going on in Rwanda non of our business then why is it being reported
      in this newspaper, here in the US????????

      We're not the only ones medling in your business so is the U.S. Gov't who possibley implemented
      this birthcontrol method

      1. pierre

        There is no such policy in Rwanda, those are manipulations by your so called Doctor who claims so who is mentally disturbed !!!

    1. aunzamu

      Kambanda's views there for deceiving people and according to his students at University in Rwanda, this man used to poison people with his ethnic division, so people should not rely on what he is now saying. He is not serious, even though he is Phd!

  9. @dempsonwinney

    I thought i was only the person who know Kamabanda Charles (kambacha on yahoo e- mail) fortunately enough, many people even Americans have known you especially not because you are a useful creature but because you have divorced your sens of sincerity. Rwanda did alot of things for you including payment for your tuition at various levels irrespective of the fact that you were not Rwandan child. You came from deep in the village of Sembabule in Uganda, you have been modeled by Rwanda and now turned into a detractor. I argue you to stick on you profession not make a short cut to politics.

  10. pierre

    If I was Kambanda with a dirty background as he is, where majority knows me, I would make sure that I am not known by anyone where I am!!! I would concentrate on my survival to avoid people exposing my dirty background !!!!! Like claiming to be a Rwandan when am not!!! Do you speak as a concerned Rwandan or an expert on Rwanda?

  11. Mutetsi

    I am not sure Rwanda is moving to the right direction. I would need to be educated on this. However, going by the comments on this article, I observed three major things: 1st. All postings against the author of the article appears to be from one person. The "English" being used is the same. All mistakes are the same throughout the "comments". 2nd. I am not sure the "comments" make sense. All I read is that Dr. Kambanda is not Rwandan, the author of the "comments" keeps saying he/she knows Dr. Kambanda. However, the article is nowhere about Professor Kambanda's history. The article says nothing about "ethnic division". 3rd. All the "comments" against Professor Kambanda's article do not deal with the substance of the article.

  12. Magayana

    Suppose Professor Kambanda was not Rwandan as Pierre claims, would it change anything? Does one need to be Rwandan to write an article about Rwanda? Doe not being Rwandan mean "dirty background"? I find Professor Kambanda's analysis a perfect presentation of the problems Rwanda must address. Why sterilize, in the first place? Why don't you talk about improving people's quality of life? Rwanda's President earns $30,000.oo per month on top of all the facilities he enjoys as President. He flies the most expensive jet on the continent. Rwanda's army has been able to terrorise all the neighboring countries. Rwanda runs the most expensive lobbyists in WASHINGTON and London. If all these unnecessary cost were reduced by half, people's lives would be great and there would not be any reason to fear for the "increasing" population

  13. Habyimana

    Bravo Professor KAMBANDA CHARLES the great thinker of our time. You make Rwandans feel proud. You taught me at the National University of Rwanda. You won the prize of the best Professor, 2004. Professor Kambada you are an icon of truth. I just like the way you confront injustices without favor. You are a true son of the great but messed up continent, Africa. You speak with that strong authority. I admire you

  14. Makuza

    Professor Kambanda is a very intelligent person that Rwanda should have done everything possible to retain him. I just met Professor Mureramanzi, another very bright Professor who fled Rwanda four years ago. Instead of looking for ways to convince such people, some Rwandans have resorted to character assassination!! What can you do about people like these whose intelligence has been tested and proven substantial? Professor Kambanda Charles was prominent in Makerere University, Uganda. His former students in Makerere have always showed him with praises.

  15. akiiki richard s

    if what i have read is true,then a new form of 'genocide' is already happening in Rwanda! however,i think this borders on insanity and find it hard to believe.

  16. junior

    Kambanda i consider you as a failed professor, u got the Nationality u wanted, its wat gives u the liberty of talking all that no sense. we no u very well, u taught us u know but thats not how they look for a leaving. am very sorry for u.

  17. Rwakasisi

    No time for the people misleading Rwandans. Rwandans knows who they are and where are from.
    and they cannot be taken with such views an visionary people.


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