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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—August 6, 1998

August 6, 1998
Council on Foreign Relations


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

The meeting featured reports on military security and assistance in the Great Lakes region by Vincent Kern, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, and Lt.-Col. François Pascal, an analyst in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. In view of the revolt that had recently begun in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and spread to that country’s west, much of the discussion dealt with those events.

US Military and Defense Policy in the Great Lakes

There are currently no US military assistance programs in either the DRC or Burundi, as neither country meets the required benchmarks. An assistance program to Zaire ended in 1991. Burundian officers in the past had participated in International Military Education and Training (IMET). The US does, however, have sizable programs with Uganda and Rwanda.

  • In Uganda the US plans to establish a military attaché and has established an IMET program. It also receives demining aid, non-lethal military equipment, and participates in the Front Line States Initiative to improve the defenses of states bordering on the Sudan. Uganda also participates in the Africa Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), under which one battalion has been trained.

  • Rwanda participates in Joint Combined Exchange Trainings (JCET). It receives only demining equipment. The US will soon provide Rwanda with about 90 radios. Rwanda has also participated in IMET since 1995, training officers on their role in a democratic society. The US has provided more conventional training through four JCET exercises. Given the public commitment of the President and Secretary of State to combating genocide, the US is considering further measures. A 20-person evaluation team was in Rwanda at the time of the meeting.

In Eastern Congo, the US assessment is that the purpose of the revolt is to topple the government, not just secure the Kivus. It is moving more quickly than in 1996-97.

On the role of Rwanda, the US information is that Rwandan soldiers never left the eastern DRC and therefore did not have to be sent back in. Kabila’s statements about expelling Rwandans were mainly for domestic political purposes.

Aid to the Rwandan military poses difficult problems with regard to human rights. They are fighting genocidaires and also committing violations themselves. The current US mission includes an officer from the Department of State Bureau of Human Rights. The people at the top of the Rwandan army are fine, but many of the newer lieutenants and NGOs are not well trained, leading to abuses.

Military Briefing

The continuing conflicts in all countries of the region show the lack of any effective international vision for Africa. Arms trafficking, smuggling, and use of foreign military advisers are the forms of aid and trade in this part of Africa; the majority are becoming more impoverished and dependent on humanitarian aid. There was a tremendous sense of guilt after the 1994 genocide, but no effective policy. All countries bordering on the DRC are involved in it today, and there is a trend toward splitting that country. Kivu is rich in strategic minerals needed for modern and future technology. Hence there are vast stakes beyond gold and diamonds. There are numerous militias for hire that are all engaged in cross-border alliances and warfare. Many killings are covered up. The US established a radar listening post in Uganda in 1996 that is still working.

Despite the talk about the Arusha negotiations in Burundi, there is still fighting. The mediator Julius Nyerere supports the Hutu rebellion. Hence he is supporting the embargo on Burundi. That embargo is enriching many people in Tanzania. Gasoline is cheaper in Bujumbura than in Arusha or Kigali.

As for Rwanda, it does not want to topple Kabila. The citizenship issue regarding the Banyamulenge dates back decades, but Kagame is using it to protect Rwanda from Hutu incursions and provide security for the Swahili traders.

There are conflicts among external countries in the region and also regional powers (Angola, Uganda, South Africa). South Africa cannot do much in the area, and the countries aided by the US (Eritrea and Ethiopia) are fighting with each other.

In addition there are private military companies such as Executive Outcomes, of South Africa. But there are also Israelis, French, Americans, and the US special forces. US forces are doing JCETs in Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan (with the SPLA), Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. Why? It is a policy run by different commands than those engaged in diplomacy. The French sent back four body bags of Americans who were killed in Kivu while with Angolan troops in 1996. Now the American military presence is also denied. Strategic minerals are the stake.

Comments and Questions

The only way to accomplish something is with big sticks and big carrots. If the US and international actors don’t get involved in a big way, it will continue to be a terrible mess. If we can’t do something on the development side, we won’t be able to do anything on security either. Otherwise, the private interests will continue to jerk the strings.

But it is extraordinarily difficult to get money out of Congress for such purposes. There is not much public support in the US to do anything in Africa. The President showed he was very committed on the trip to Africa, however.

The other aspect not discussed in this meeting is the progress in the Burundi negotiations. In addition, the heritage of the sovereign national conference in Zaire (now Congo) could be strengthened if the outside world helps the process in Burundi. That will provide a political way out of this mess.

The US and international community are not taking the depth of the problem up in a serious way. NGOs must take this up with Congress, and the World Bank must step in with debt relief and lines of credit for honest authorities. "The situation is not hopeless. We faced similar situations in other parts of the world, but in those days we had more money and took ourselves seriously and did not lie a lot, and I’m afraid it’s reached a point of pompous statements and posturing, and then we beat a retreat under the cover of a lot of rhetoric, and we’ve got to get beyond that."

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