Reparations and Reconciliation

I do global health work in Rwanda empowering women in health in rural villages. Rwanda’s model of Reconciliation post Genocide 1994, where nearly 1,000,000 people were slaughtered in less than four months, is an unsung model of healing for the world community – Israel/Palestine/Gaza, the Middle East, yes, even families.  What is reparations, is it money doled out to whom, where is the accountability for funds getting to intended need?  How is corruption and greed prevented?

Reconciliation involves all concerned – perpetrators and victims sitting down and confronting and facing each other. For all are now survivors committed to a stronger unified society.  Rwanda’s progress is remarkable, leading Africa in WHO and UN Sustainable Development Goals. Neighboring countries in East Africa marvel at the progress and recovery post Genocide. Rwanda now has the highest percentage of women in government than any country in the world – 64 percent, the U.S. a paltry 19%. Yet, healing and recovery from the trauma and unimaginable mass suffering, murder, torture, violence, rape, and abuse, especially to women will take generations if ever. As with the Holocaust, it must never be forgotten, so it will never be repeated, lessons for today.

How is reconciliation different from reparations?  Rwanda’s Reconciliation model went village to village with all participants judging their neighbor perpetrators and weighing ‘reparations’ – prison or not. As well, one Saturday a month is set aside for each citizen to perform community service to enhance the local village, community, and country. Reconciliation is a model including a narrower construct of reparations. I ask citizens, leaders, Embassy officials – how do you account for the remarkable turnaround, all say to a person – leadership and a desire to do and be better.

What would reconciliation look like in the U.S. for the crimes of slavery?  It can be done by eliminating the blockage of the social determinants of health that prevent communities and individuals and families in these communities from thriving. Transportation, access to primary health care, productive jobs and opportunities, schools that are equipped with resources, both human and capital, to produce future productive citizens with a joy and purpose in life and society. Decent housing, reverse food deserts with ready access to fresh produce and healthy foods.  What communities lack these requirements for health or as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) describes as the “Culture of Health”?  Look around, we do not have to look far, inner cities, racially segregated reflecting the values – politics of government.

Here in Washington, DC, we have these communities within view of the U.S. Capitol Dome.  The U.S. ranks #37 in basic health indices according to WHO data for all ‘developed’ countries. Within view of the  U.S. Capitol, there are high schools with no toilet paper; every visit to Office Depot there are school teachers spending hundreds of dollars of their own money for school supplies. Of the G20 Nations, the U.S. ranks at the bottom in striving for UN Sustainable Development Goals, just below Russia. These goals address basic human rights like good health and well-being, no poverty or hunger, quality education, gender equality, clean water (Flint, MI) and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry-innovation-infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities. Responsible consumption and production, climate action, protection of waterways and ocean-life below water, life on land-ecosystem and environment, peace, justice and strong institutions, partnerships for the Goals.

Now let’s look to the tax bill of 2018, who benefits? Those who pushed it through Congress – Ivanka Trump as ‘special advisor to the president’ has said this is her greatest policy achievement. Look again, whom does it benefit, the swamp the president continues to flow in and out of the White House.

For hope, there is always the 2020 elections to take step by step to remove barriers to communities suffering from health disparities, injustices, and lack of access to social determinants of health, and the values manifested in politics devoid of moral courage and ethics. Starting with the for profit pharmaceutical, insurance and sick-care, fee for service medical industrial complex strangling all citizens.

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