Melvin A. McCaw, 49, the director of Africare operations in Rwanda since last year and an authority on development programs in Africa, died July 4 at the Palm Beach Hotel in Gisenyi, Rwanda.

Africare officials in Washington attributed his death to natural causes and said Mr. McCaw apparently suffered a heart attack.

Prior to joining Africare, a private, nonprofit organization that receives funding for some of its projects from the federal government, Mr. McCaw had been head of the African programs of the Save the Children, the deputy director of the Agency for International Development mission in Senegal, the director of the Washington office of the African-American Institute and the director of the East Africa regional office of the Institute of International Education.

In all, he lived in Africa more than a decade and he was fluent in Swahili, German and French as well as in English.

At the time of his death, he was based in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. His work for Africare involved running a refugee resettlement program funded by AID.

Mr. McCaw, who maintained a residence in Washington, was born in Omaha. In 1960, he graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta with a bachelor's degree in sociology. He later studied at the University of Hamburg, West Germany, and at the Free University in West Berlin.

In 1963, he was named assistant director of the East Africa office of the Institute of International Education in Nairobi, Kenya. He rose to head the office and he remained in Nairobi until 1969. After a brief stint at IIE headquarters in New York City, he moved to Washington as head of the local office of the African-American Institute, a private, nongovernmental organization.

In 1979, Mr. McCaw joined AID and returned to Africa as deputy mission director in Dakar, Senegal. He continued there until 1982, when he went to work for Save the Children at its headquarters in Westport, Conn. He was African regional director until 1984 and then a special consultant on education and development. He joined the staff of Africare in 1985.

Mr. McCaw's survivors include his mother, Valaria Lee McCaw of Kissimmee, Fla., and two sisters, Janice M. Johnson of Perry Hall, Md., and Valaria M. Lincoln of Los Angeles.