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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—November 1, 1998

Presider: Barnett R. Rubin, New York University
Speakers: Richard Bogosian, U.S. Department of State, Tony Jackson, International Alert, and Kathi Austin, Human Rights Watch/Africa
November 5, 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 reports by Ambassador Richard Bogosian, special coordinator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Greater Horn of Africa initiative; Tony Jackson, adviser to the Great Lakes Project for International Alert; and Kathi Austin, consultant to the International Crisis Group. The speaker was Barnett R. Rubin, senior fellow and director of the Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations. The discussion dealt primarily with the need to find strategies to approach the numerous interconnected conflicts in the region.

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its External Dimensions

The speakers emphasized several dimensions of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). First, the conflict is now regional. Although the warring parties rarely carry out large military offensives, the large number of countries and warring groups involved increases the danger that the potential for the conflict to spread. Such escalation from a regional to a continental conflict would make the conflict even more difficult to resolve.

Second, the conflict is becoming thoroughly ethnicized. The ethnic violence and instigation of murder for ethnic reasons are growing. It is much more difficult to control fighters mobilized along antagonistic ethnic lines to carry out large-scale massacres than fighters controlled by states pursuing national objectives.

Third, international actors need to find strategies to deal with the different levels of conflict, balancing a common approach to the continental conflict with specific strategies for specific conflicts. Attention must be given to a Congolese internal political settlement that would make a ceasefire possible and withdrawal of external forces workable.

The U.S. Position

Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, and Gayle Smith, special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs of the National Security Council, recently visited key capitals of the region during their tour of the DRC, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Rwanda, and Uganda. While they urged the parties to stop fighting, they did not present a U.S. peace plan. Susan Rice said that their role was to support regional efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement that would lead to the withdrawal of foreign forces and securing the borders in the region. Susan Rice met some of the DRC rebel leaders and governments. She affirmed support for the territorial integrity of the DRC while acknowledging the different concerns of the people and countries involved.

The speakers expressed hope that there would soon be a political settlement that would make some kind of negotiated ceasefire possible. At the 12-nation meeting organized by the Zambian president in Lusaka, plans for a ceasefire were drawn up. In the event of a ceasefire, a peacekeeping force will be needed. Due to the size of the DRC, any peacekeeping operation will be difficult and expensive. One speaker underlined that this would bring the U.S. government face-to-face with domestic considerations and would require funds for such initiatives. While the United Nations might call for action, it might not receive adequate troop commitments.

One speaker suggested the African peoples draw up their own proposals for the United States to support through some form of economic or technical assistance.

Burundi

While Arusha 3, the discussion of democracy and governance, went quite well, the negotiations ended earlier than expected. Nyerere ended the meeting after ten days as a result of insufficient funds.

Meanwhile, Burundi’s economic situation is fragile. The conflict in the DRC is threatening the country by cutting off the last trade route unaffected by sanctions. The government of Burundi and the army are determined to defend their western frontier to insure the transport of goods from the south along Lake Tanganyika. However, they do not seem to be in an offensive mode, going in to attack the DRC. The Burundian government also wants to assure that the National Center for the Defense of Democracy and the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), the Ex-Forces Armees Rwandaise (ex-FAR), and other hostile forces rearmed by Kabila do not approach the border. Furthermore, the World Bank, which is planning to send a mission to Burundi, will not provide assistance as long as the sanctions are in place. One speaker argued that donors should help pay the cost of a ceasefire, which would probably lead to the lifting of sanctions. Programs are needed to retrain the rebel troops and introduce separate functions for the army and the police.

Finally, the fighting continues to rage on in Burundi, and refugees, who continue to flee into Tanzania, exist in terrible conditions. One speaker explained that those refugee camps are highly politicized, and that it is important that their own political needs and representation be taken into account at the negotiating table at Arusha. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers this point problematic because it is very difficult to allow a refugee community to have political representation while maintaining the civilian nature of refugee camps.

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