To Snip or Not to Snip? That Is the Question: Rwanda, a Small Country of 26,300 Sq Km Is the Size of the US State of Maryland, but It Plans to Sterilise over 700,000 Men of Reproductive Age in an Effort to Curb What the Government Says Is "Out-of-Control Population Growth". Yoletta Nyange Reports

Article excerpt

NEARLY 10% OF RWANDA'S population, or at least a third of the male population, is expected to "voluntarily" enrol for a non-reversible procedure to be sterilised in a government-sponsored population control programme--that is, if you believe Dr Richard Sezibera, until recently Rwanda's health minister (he was appointed the new secretary general of the East African Community on 19 April 2011).

The sterilisation programme follows the introduction in 2.009 of a two-children-perwoman policy by President Paul Kagame's government.

However, the vasectomy programme, which has received widespread international media coverage, has met with sore resistance from Rwandans both at home and in the diaspora, judging by the number of online forums dedicated to this topic alone.

But the Rwandan government argues that the country is overpopulated and it is in the national interest to do something now to control the growth of the population. In the face of mounting rumours of a hidden agenda, however, the government has tried to downplay the magnitude of the vasectomy law but has done nothing to repeal it.

The deputy health minister, Agnes Binagwaho, was the first to come out and say that "there was no target to carry out 700,000 vasectomies". That "would be both unethical and a violation of human rights", she added for good measure.

But, speaking at the first Commonwealth Rwanda Media Forum held in Kigali on 29 March 2orr, Rwanda's foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, said the government was questioning itself, to see "at what point do we make sure that programmes and policies are discussed and understood, before we actually implement them".

Then came Arthur Asiimwe, the director of the Rwanda Health Communication Centre, himself a former Reuters journalist. He blamed everything on the media. "Some journalists went and twisted things," he said. "The figure of 700,000 was a target for male circumcision only," he claimed, before his tongue slipped, forcing him to add that, "we do go to families that have 5 or 6 children, and give the man a form to sign that he agrees to be vasectomised. But the wife also has to co-sign."

So, it is not voluntary after all? If anything, the inconsistencies in the official answers so far have increased the worries of concerned Rwandans and human rights activists, who fear the government is up to something more than it has cared to explain to the nation.

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According to the opponents of the policy, since the project is proving hard to sell, a better way would be to look for a brand ambassador in the person of President Kagame himself. …

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