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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—June 11, 1998

Speakers: Suliman Baldo, Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch/Africa, and Richard Bogosian, State Department Special Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi
June 11, 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 from Suliman Baldo, Senior Researcher for Human Rights Watch/Africa and Richard Bogosian, State Department Special Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The withdrawal of the U.N. investigative team was a significant setback. It made any domestic policy process that takes into account respect for and the administration of international humanitarian law less likely. The United Nations will release the investigative team’s report to the public, and it is unclear what the reactions from the region will be, other than stark denunciations.

One of the difficulties with the U.N. team from the beginning was the absence of a consensus on the objective of the mission. It was unclear whether the team was only to establish the facts of what happened during the time period in question, or to more thoroughly investigate the particular patterns of alleged abuses and command structures of the armies involved, thereby actually implicating certain parties and individuals. This uncertainty led to an internal debate and the ultimate resignation of three team members. External problems later caused the obstruction and eventual withdrawal of the investigation.

The situation on the ground appears to be one of dashed hopes and unfulfilled expectations. The government’s ability to stabilize inflation and the rate of exchange initially provided hope, but most people are not seeing an improvement in their day-to-day living conditions due to the high cost of living. There has been a relative closure of political space and freedom of expression when compared to the Mobutu regime, and in Goma particularly, there appears to be a systematic attack on human rights groups. Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) in other areas report more freedom to denounce abuses and publish reports of human rights violations, as long as they do not name the military or security officials who are directly responsible.

There is still some hope for change. The recent reshuffle of the cabinet (where some ministers have been detained and are under investigation for misconduct and corruption) is a promising sign. There is also a Minister for Human Rights in the new cabinet. Two welcomed and critical signs of systemic change would be for the Kabila government to:

  • Completely lift the ban on political activities and allow public participation in the process leading up to the elections in April of 1999; and
  • Allow a dynamic civil society space in which to operate and provide grassroots support for reconstruction and democratic development.

The World Bank Trust Fund of $32 million provides the first opportunity to see if there is any flexibility and openness with regard to the participation of civil society and NGOs in the development process. The government initially rejected the proposed operating guidelines, but the World Bank expects the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government to agree on the most recent implementation protocols that provide for a social fund with participation from non-governmental actors. The money will be spent on health, education, roads, and urban renovation.

Burundi

The peace process in Burundi moves ahead this month with much hope despite the confusion between public statements and private assurances, the fact that each political or military faction is represented by a group A and a group B, much skepticism, and inconsistent conditionalities. The feeling is one of pragmatic compromise, where the moderates of both Hutu and Tutsi factions may be able to meet the requirements and demands of a majority of their communities. There are certain key elements to a successful round of negotiations:

  • The external dialogue must complement the internal one that has preceded it. In other words, the regional leaders, particularly Nyerere, must feel that an important turning point has been reached in Burundi and accept the recent restructuring of the National Assembly and the inauguration of Buyoya as president.
  • The international community must recognize the immediate need for funding reconstruction and development in Burundi, as well as the longer-term need for supporting what is likely to be a lengthy negotiation process. This raises the issue of donor coordination, a much talked-about but less clearly implemented issue for the entire region.
  • Buyoya must remain true to his stated objective of achieving peace and moving forward. The other regional leaders and political/military factions must trust that he is, indeed, true to his word.
  • The lifting of economic sanctions must be on the agenda.
  • The pervasive fear of an attack by one or the other rebel groups must be diminished over time as the process continues.

Rwanda

The IMF approved a three-year loan for Rwanda amounting to US $95 million under the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF). The money supports the government’s economic program from April 1998 to March 2001. While this funding was made available under typical structural adjustment guidelines, countries like Rwanda - those emerging from extreme and complex emergencies - may have special needs that will need to be met by new IFI funding models. Donors must think about the extreme variety of needs and the simultaneous impact of rebuilding on every front. Structural adjustment programs are typically aimed at only economic and fiscal overhaul.

The humanitarian situation, particularly in the Northwest, continues to challenge the government and the international community. Remnants of the ex-FAR and interhamwe continue to conduct bandit raids on villages and IDP camps in the region, leading to insecurity, pervasive fear and mistrust, sustained poverty, malnutrition, and public health epidemics.

Other East African Events

There are two recent developments in East Africa that could have tangential effects on the Great Lakes region.

  • The fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea could play a significant role in the region, particularly with Kagame’s recent efforts at mediating a settlement between those two countries’ leaders, Meles Zenawi and Isais Afwerki, respectively.
  • The East African Cooperation (EAC), led by Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, may lead to regional cooperation and common institutions in Eastern Africa for the first time in thirty years. The negotiations appear to be moving seriously forward, closer to a policy measure. The effects of any agreement would certainly be felt by Rwanda, Burundi, and the North and South Kivu regions of DRC.

 

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