Goma, Zaire, July 1994

Operation Support Hope

Military-NGO partnership in humanitarian emergencies


US military, OFDA, UNHCR, DHA, NGOs, Hutu refugees


Now in power after decades of Tutsi superiority in Rwanda, the new Hutu leadership egged on a mass genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus that killed 800,000 people and scattered millions in nearby territories. However, later that year, Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, fell to the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front, as did the northwestern town of Ruhengeri 9 days later. Hutus fled the country in mass numbers to Goma, Zaire and Burundi, with refugee populations now numbering an unprecedented one million and 200,000, respectively, in less than 48 hours. Refugee camps were hastily built, and cholera soon began to break out in the overpopulated Goma gamps. By July 17, it was estimated that one refugee was dying per minute due to cholera, dehydration, and exposure.


Civil-military operations centers (CMOCs) were installed in Goma, Zaire and Entebbe, Uganda by the end of July. The UN led the installment of the CMOCs, which were used as a single point-of-contact between the US military and NGOs. The Pentagon's goals were clearly outlined as providing air traffic and communications control, providing military security at airfields, providing surveillance aircraft to track refugees, deploying loading/unloading equipment, and establishing a purified water system. The military provided security for NGOs, who were given complete freedom to act according to their own research, but the uncertainty of military goals contributed to a strange relationship that distanced military strategy from humanitarian work.

Peace Engineering Takeaway

The refugee situations of both the Tutsis and the Hutus could have been avoided had the Rwandan genocide itself been prevented. The refugee camps and resulting humanitarian aid was a response to the violence that had already occurred. The emergency response to the crisis created by unsafe camp conditions required an engineering solution that had to be facilitated by the UN, the US military, NGOs, or any/all of the above. Proper communication is required to coordinate effective emergency engineering response. While the CMOCs functioned well to facilitate relationships between the US military and NGOs with the UN as a mediator, separating the military from the NGOs on the ground served to separate the missions of the military and the NGOs, as constructive relationships in crises are formed by interaction among personnel. While security is an important function for the military, the emphasis on security over co-coordination removed any benefits of social mixing between the actors and thus mitigated chances of success.
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