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

October 1, 1998
Council on Foreign Relations


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

The meeting featured reports on events in the Great Lakes from H.E. Théogène Rudasingwa, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda; Ambassador Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, Executive Secretary of the Global Coalition for Africa; and Salih Booker, Senior Fellow and Director of Africa Studies, Council of Foreign Relations. The discussant was Learned Dees from National Endowment for Democracy. In view of the recent events in the region, especially the war in Congo, the discussion dealt mainly with the attempt to pull together an overall policy to counter genocide by supporting political negotiations and a credible transition, and addressing cross-border security issues.

External and Internal Dimensions of the Crisis

Speakers argued that genocide in the Great Lakes is not, as it is sometimes portrayed, an issue exclusive to Rwanda, whose government is depicted as using it to excuse some actions or seek sympathy in the eyes of the international community. It is a regional problem which should be a major international concern. President Kabila and other officials are now making statements similar to those made in Rwanda in 1994, calling for the killing of Tutsis. Throughout the meeting speakers returned to the threat of genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and argued that the international community needs to take it seriously.

Although many foreign countries are involved in the DRC, there is also a domestic rebellion, caused by the lack of a credible transition process under Kabila. Indeed, the foreign involvement is largely the result of Kabila’s failure to stabilize the DRC and establish a credible, effective government that could carry out its regional and international responsibilities. Nothing was done to address the DRC’s economic problems. Kabila did not see a role for civil society in the transition. Security has declined. He is ill and possibly paranoid.

African Responses to the Crisis in the DRC.

Mobutu was replaced through collective action of African states. Now these states are divided over the subsequent transition in Congo and other regional issues. Uganda and Rwanda cite security interests in Eastern Zaire and the need to forestall genocide. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) is now seriously divided, with Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia supporting Kabila, while South Africa is neutral or more supportive of the rebels. These violent transitions are symptomatic of a broad process of change. Some speakers addressed only the dangers, while others noted that such a process may be necessary for a genuine African renaissance and the transformation of the state system on the continent.

Other International Responses to the Crisis

Speakers agreed that the crisis called for a broader international reaction and not just "African solutions to African problems," which one speaker called "a cover-up for the international community to look away from its responsibilities." International leaders and UN resolutions are expressing their outrage about Kosovo, but the generally muted response to the calls for genocide in the DRC seems to be a repeat of 1994. It is important to recognize that this crisis is a threat to peace in the entire region and this question should be brought to the UN Security Council.

Frameworks for a Solution

One speaker suggested a UN trusteeship for the DRC, but others objected, noting the low regard in which the UN is held in the region. Another speaker called on the Great Lakes Policy Forum to focus on specific steps to prevent a recurrance of genocide.

There were several different proposals for an approach involving negotiations of both cross-border security questions, including genocide, and a transition in the Congo. As one speaker noted, "Internal instability in the DRC creates instability in the region." Hence a framework for both domestic negotiations in the DRC and regional negotiations on security and the prevention of genocide has to be established.

Internally, a broad based dialogue should be developed, not only between rebels and the government or with Kabila, but it should also involve all other players in the DRC crisis. There is a need for credible people to be involved, because participants in the process can be as important as the negotiation process itself. President Mandela could play the role of neutral mediator. The OAU could also have a role in the negotiation process as well as the UN.

There was some discussion about the role of the US. One speaker argued that US initiatives for Africa in general, and this region in particular, were insufficient to deal with the problems. The US also has credibility problems in the region, which Kabila is actively seeking to heighten. A US official stated that they were consulting with many actors in an effort to reach resolution, but were not at liberty to give details. One person proposed that the US host Dayton-style, "proximity talks" among the parties. Despite the UN’s credibility gap resulting from its failure in 1994, the international body is indispensable as a coordinator of the many actors and efforts.

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