PrintPrint CiteCite
Style: MLAAPAChicago Close


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

Speakers: Howard Wolpe, Presidential Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, and Marie-Elena John Smith, International Human Rights Law Group
February 12, 1998
Council on Foreign Relations


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

The meeting featured presentations by Howard Wolpe, Presidential Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region and Marie-Elena John Smith from the International Human Rights Law Group.


Bujumbura is as tense as ever, a result of the recent attacks in and around the city. In broad terms, Tutsis appear to fear an invasion of rebels into the city, and Hutus fear that frightened Tutsis will launch an attack on them within the city. The need to have a formal negotiating framework to which all parties, internal and external, are engaged is more imperative than ever.

There has been a significant split between the UPRONA parliamentary group on the one hand and the Mukasi-led faction of UPRONA on the other. The former is supportive of peace negotiations, while Mukasi remains opposed to any negotiations with armed rebel groups. Nonetheless, representatives of the National Assembly and the Buyoya Government have engaged in a significant dialogue to establish a joint commission. The mandate of the joint commission would be to relaunch peace talks in a more formal way by meeting with regional leaders and Mwalimu Nyerere. All of the suspicions and fears that have heretofore underpinned the Burundian conflict are ever present and trust levels remain very, very low.

Those that are not part of the internal dialogue of the joint commission [the CNDD (National Council for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD) in particular] are understandably anxious to get all of the key players around the table and remain uncomfortable with the joint commission as long as it is an internal process. They see the joint commission as constructive, but only if it becomes part of a broader, more inclusive process.

While nobody has yet to talk about the real issues, the joint commission may be a strategic initiative and a mechanism to relaunch and reassert the commitment to the peace process by all parties.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Despite the strained situation between the Kabila regime and civil society groups in DRC (particularly North and South Kivu), representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were recently very active in provincial meetings which were intended to prepare for a national conference on reconstruction in Kinshasa. To the credit of then Minister of Reconstruction, Etienne Mbaya (now Minister of Planning), Hamuli Kabahuza (head of the Conseil National des Organisations Non-Gouvernementales de Developpement (CNONGD) was invited to be a consultant to the process from the very beginning, although the government made it clear that these meetings were to focus on physical infrastructure issues, reconstruction, and development, while the contentious issues of citizenship and nationality were not to become the focus.

With very few exceptions, the government directive was ignored at the provincial meetings. In North Kivu, three quarters of the delegates represented civil society groups. Their recommendations did address reconstruction and development issues, but they also addressed political issues, such as the ban on opposition political parties, the nullified process of the 1992 National Sovereign Conference, the impunity with which human rights violations are being carried out, and the need to openly discuss the process of democratization.

The Government reacted quickly. For example, some local delegates were replaced with government appointees. The national meetings on reconstruction in Kinshasa were indefinitely postponed (first said to be annulled and later only suspended with no future dates). The Minister of the Interior went on television and warned that anyone violating the ban on political activity would be prosecuted by military courts. Nonetheless, Mbaya did express concern that the inclusionary process continue, and Kabila made an immediate trip to Bukavu, where opposition parties and civil society organizations are strongest. However, following Kabila’s departure, arrests of religious, civic, and civil leaders resumed.

With regard to the Congo report, one participant raised serious concern about the mandate, role and definition of civil society. The expressed concern was that the government might view the phenomenon of a burgeoning and disparate civil society as a threat, enemy, or dangerous political force. In these cases, the government would never establish a constructive relationship with civil society and, at worst, feel the need to completely crush it. The broadening rift between governments and civil society organizations is a disturbing and negative trend that has arisen throughout Africa.

With respect to Burundi, the main issues facing the international community include the current economic sanctions, a proposed arms embargo, and the role of Nyerere as moderator. The Clinton administration continues to support the regional initiatives and positions on all these points. For example, the regional states have said that they want to retain the sanctions with some modifications on humanitarian grounds. The United States feels that it must officially support one regional peace process which is clearly mandated to be led by Nyerere, although there is continued support for productive bilateral negotiations between the government and CNDD as well. Without specifically addressing the issue of an arms embargo, the Administration is interested in possibly expanding the current United Nations International Commission of Inquiry (UNICOI) into arms trafficking in Rwanda to include Burundi.

The recent clashes among the army, militia factions, and civilians in the Kivus has been very disturbing, particularly as a linchpin for escalating violence in the entire region. While no political agenda beyond ethnic killings has clearly emerged, there does appear to be some coordination on a military level. Forces of the ex-FAZ, ex-FAR, Mai-Mai, and Interhamwe appear to be coalescing as a regional force.

Finally, with respect to the Administrations support for a regional justice initiative, much more than capacity building measures must be designed and implemented. A judicial system must first be one that is perceived as just by the people. This means that in Rwanda, there is a distinct need to deal with the credibility of the government and the extent to which people feel connected to an overall sense of fairness with rehabilitation efforts. Without this premise, all efforts at capacity building will not mean a whole lot.

More on This Topic