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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—March 12, 1998

Speaker: Batabiha Bushoki, Coordinator, Campaign for Peace
March 12, 1998
Council on Foreign Relations

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[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

The meeting featured a presentation by Mr. Batabiha Bushoki, the coordinator of the Campaign for Peace, a coalition of civil society leaders and representatives from non-profit organizations in North Kivu. The Campaign for Peace works to coordinate action between members of civil society from different ethnic origins, as well as to represent voices of civil society to local and national government officials.

Following Mr. Bushoki’s report, and a brief question and answer period, the meeting joined a forum at The Brookings Institution on “Africa: State of a Continent,” with a keynote address by Dr. Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. Panelists included Salih Booker, Francis Deng, Roberta Cohen, Terrence Lyons, and John Stremlau. Transcripts from the proceedings are available from The Brookings Institution.

The Situation in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

A broad overview of the situation in Goma, North Kivu addressed questions of insecurity, continuing ethnic conflict, economic stability, rule of law, and the democratization process under the Kabila regime.

Insecurity Security problems in the Kivus are closely connected to the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. Local populations perceive the military cooperation and movement of troops between these countries and the Kivus as foreign and occupying forces; however, this is only one perception on the issue of insecurity. The question of nationality remains unresolved, particularly for the Banyamulenge and Congolese Tutsis, as was demonstrated by ethnic conflict in Masisi prior to the 1994 Rwanda genocide and 1996 war, and more recently in South Kivu. The locals have seen armed conflict sweep through and disrupt the area, leaving destruction and economic hardship behind. This phenomenon has created many forms of resistance, sometimes without a clear understanding of purpose. The Mai-Mai, which are a good example of this, now seem to comprise any armed militia fighting against the current government, both in DRC and Rwanda. The term “Mai-Mai” appears to constitute a state of mind more than a structured organization.

Economic Stability For the first time since 1992, the peasants of North Kivu are able to sell their crops at rural markets and in the city of Goma without fearing that either their goods or the cash from their sale of goods will be confiscated by government soldiers. This allows them to make direct linkages between honest labor and personal livelihood. The rate of exchange for local currency has been stable for almost a year, and after years of hyperinflation, people are now able to save in local currency. Government officials, civil servants, and soldiers are being paid monthly, which has not occurred on a regular basis for years. Yet even with these promising signs, most Congolese remain terribly impoverished after thirty-five years of Mobutu rule.

Rule of Law and Questions of Nationality At the national level there are signs of government reform, but one must carefully distinguish between a policy goal and the implementation of that policy. Although the outcome fell short of what was hoped for, the well-known provincial conferences attempted to include civil society in policy discussions about reconstruction and development. Along these same lines, the Commission of Pacification was created to listen to local representatives and subsequently draft a set of policy questions on the future of the Kivus. Officials from the Commission visited Goma and initiated a very welcomed exchange with the Campaign for Peace. Additionally, the government, while comprised disproportionately of Katangan officials, does include representatives from other ethnic groups and different regions, which gives some indication that the Kabila government is not completely opposed to power-sharing.

At the same time, one participant pointed out that the government has been exclusive, condemned political opposition, and almost ignored its constituents. The capacity of local officials to effect policy is also unclear. For example, a 1982 law that gives decision-making autonomy to decentralized authorities remains ambiguous and effectively relies more on the personalities of office-holders than on the positions held. There is not a system of justice, which is necessary for upholding the rule of law and human rights. Consequently, accusations of much-reported human rights violations continue.

There are noticeable problems of administrative management in North and South Kivu. For example, the strategic issue of identity cards and the question of nationality have still not been addressed. The question of nationality, particularly for the Banyamulenge and Congolese Tutsis, is both a political and a legal question. Political parties are distinguished along ethnic, rather than ideological, lines. Nonetheless, a point that was stressed in the meeting was that this ethnic identification is not always negative and should not be seen as such.

Support for Kabila Rather than supporting or not supporting one person, there was an expressed need to support the rule of law and to stabilize democratic values.