In 1994, Rwandan genocide claimed somewhere between 800,000 and 3 million lives. To put this in perspective, many Americans are still haunted by the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, when 3,000 people died from terrorist attacks.
Genocide and famine are topics that don’t earn as many headlines here in America as political scandals or celebrity relationships do. But Wofford student Shannon Brunner has been paying attention, and she is studying the continual problems of genocide and famine as part of Wofford’s Community of Scholars program this summer.
“I saw a CNN documentary on genocide, Scream Bloody Murder, while taking a year off from college,” says Brunner, who transferred to Wofford last January. “I went out and bought some books on it the next day. Then when I got to Wofford I took an Interim course on genocide. We compared the genocides in Rwanda and Sudan, and talked about what we could learn from them.”
She then took a course on NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) taught by Dr. William DeMars in the spring of this year.
“He has given me many resources and taught me a great deal on this topic and been very helpful,” says Brunner. “We focused on different NGOs and their effects on humanitarian crises. From there it kind of grew into a project combining the two and finding out what influences they have had on genocide and other humanitarian crises.
“Some of the NGOs I am studying are Oxfam, Save the Children Fund, Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), and Human Rights Watch.”
What she is finding may surprise you, unless like her you have studied the situation closely.
“A good deal of my research thus far has focused on how humanitarian aid can actually cause more harm than good in some situations,” she says. “For example, prolonging the war in Ethiopia or calling for a cease-fire in Rwanda.”
Famine is mostly a natural phenomenon. Genocide is man made. Both are deadly and sometimes tied in together.
“I am studying famine and genocide as two separate tools of war in this research,” says Brunner. “However, it is possible for famine to become genocide if the motive of the genocidaires is to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
“There are many tools and strategies now to avoid famines caused by climate. What is almost more common now is famines that are man-made, those that are caused by either the government not doing what is necessary or as a tool of war.”
Brunner has used books, scholarly articles, documentaries, and news reports from the genocides when they were happening in her research. She has been to Africa once and would like to go again. The main thing she wants to learn is why this sort of thing is still happening today.
“So far, I’ve looked at some of the theories on NGOs,” she says. “I’ve looked at the Ethiopian famines of the mid 80s and then the one that is called the Famine of Sudan from 1998 to 2000. I compared the humanitarian response between the two and looked at how it changed from one to the other and what they learned.”