Air Date: June 23, 1998 Program 9825


Howard Wolpe, Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, US Department of State
Mohamed Sahnoun, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General in Africa

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Today the images haunt us all—the dead choking the Kigara River, floating to Lake Victoria. The international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy as well.

MARY GRAY DAVIDSON: President Clinton's trip to Africa last March highlighted the failure of the international community in Rwanda four years ago, but the President also pledged to find new ways to solve conflicts before they explode into crises.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: We must as an international community have the ability to act when genocide threatens. We are working to create that capacity here in the Great Lakes region, where the memory is still fresh. This afternoon in Entebbe leaders from Central and Eastern Africa will meet with me to launch an effort to build a coalition to prevent genocide in this region.

DAVIDSON: During this half hour of Common Ground we hear from the President's Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa, as well as Secretary-General Kofi Anan's Special Representative to Africa. Common Ground is a program on world affairs on the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Mary Gray Davidson.

Howard Wolpe is a former member of Congress from Michigan. Last year President Clinton appointed Wolpe as his Special Envoy to the entire Great Lakes Region of Africa, which includes Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and the former Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It's the most densely populated region of Africa and the site of Africa's worst conflicts in recent years. The roots of those conflicts however, are different, says Howard Wolpe.

HOWARD WOLPE: If you take the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the origins of the conflict are 20 years or more of Mobutuism, of a dictatorship that led to the total collapse of any state infrastructure, to the economic pauperization of the population. This is a country that is as large as the entire United States east of the Mississippi. A single country. And it borders nine other countries. It is a country that is rich in mineral wealth; it has tremendous economic potential. It has a well-educated population, particularly in the diaspora but also within the country. And has enormous potential to help stabilize and accelerate the positive economic developments of southern Africa. But on the other hand, if it cannot be stabilized in this transitional period and if we cannot address some of these underlying social, economic and political difficulties, it is a country that could spin out of control and really undermine even the economic progress of southern Africa.

If you turn to Burundi and to Rwanda, there are different origins of the conflicts in those two countries. The core issue in both is a conflict between the minority Tutsi populations of these two countries and the majority Hutu population. But again, Burundi and Rwanda are themselves very different. In the case of Rwanda of course, you have this history of this terrible genocide directed against Tutsis and against moderate Hutus. And now you have a Tutsi government in control and still dealing with the aftermath of that terrible trauma of genocide, in which perhaps 800,000 people were slaughtered.

In the case of Burundi, unlike Rwanda, Hutus have never been in control of the government, except for a very brief period of time. And you have a Tutsi minority, an excluded Hutu majority. There's also a history of enormous killing but in the case of Burundi it was the Hutus that were the principally victimized population historically. So you have these two very intractable conflicts, Burundi and Rwanda, that have produced tremendous refugee flows at different points in time, that have impacted the other countries.

DAVIDSON: Also with me today to talk about the Great Lakes Region of Africa is Mohamed Sahnoun, an Algerian and the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Africa. Ambassador Sahnoun, in your analysis was the defeat of the late President Mobutu in the former Zaire as positive as people had hoped for? What's been the result since his....

SAHNOUN: Well, as Howard said, there is of course, the rule while Mobutu was in power over 30 years has brought very, very negative effects and consequences for the country. I visited the former Zaire, which is now the DRC, in the early '60s and I visited again recently when I was involved in the mediation process together with President Mandela, and some of the cities had in fact even deteriorated further than they were in the '60s when Congo became independent. In the case of Kananaa, which used to be called Stanleyville, I visited then in the '60s and I visited again, I was amazed by the almost no development of the city at all. Despite the fact that this is one of the richest countries in Africa. And had potential to probably develop even faster than many African countries. The second South Africa in terms of potential and in terms of means. So, it's I think one could almost say that any government after Mobutu would, is a positive step. But of course one would have to judge the new regime after a while, especially in terms of how the human rights record would show off and also the democratic system, the good governance and the development of the country. I think that one should give some time to the existing power to really judge and assess their ability to respond to the wishes of their people.

DAVIDSON: In addition to the problems with late President Mobutu what else do you attribute these conflicts to? In the region in general?

WOLPE: I think there are many....

DAVIDSON: Dr. Wolpe.

WOLPE: I think there are many variables. In all three, again all three countries are each unique, each somewhat different. In the case of Burundi and Rwanda in particular are two of the most densely populated areas in the entire continent of Africa. You have had two very poor countries. And in which there is a tremendous struggle for land and for economic resources. And you had a history, a traditional history of, in which the ethnic minority of Tutsis tended to be the dominant group, and particularly in Burundi where Hutus were historically excluded from virtually every institution; from the economy, from schools, from government, from the military, particularly recently. And so you have this history of inequality as between the principal ethnic groups and you have the manipulation of ethnicity by ruling elites in both countries, Rwanda and Burundi. And ways to perpetuate their dominance and to continue to exclude large segments of the population. So at the heart it's been the struggle for power, in which ethnicity has become a weapon in that struggle.

SAHNOUN: Yeah, I think I would like to add to what Dr. Wolpe said. There is certainly this feeling of antagonism between the communities, both in Burundi and Rwanda, which I must underline was also to some extent the legacy also of the colonial period. One should I think remember that these were German colonies and then they were for, under the League of Nation Mandate, given to Belgium as a Belgian Mandate. And there was a tendency from the former colonial power somehow to even enhance that distinction between Hutu and Tutsi. Some of the writers and the historians have written recently on the fact that the Belgians, because they had their own division between the Flemish and the Walloons had a tendency to somehow look at this distinction as very fundamental. When you talk to the people there they would say that before this colonial period there was not such an antagonism. That these differences are not really a fundamentally ethnic difference but maybe a caste difference or something of that sort. Therefore that legacy has certainly, is bad. I'd like to add too, the fact which I mentioned earlier on also, is the environmental degradation, is the fact that there is a very large increase of the people, and these are people who are working, who are really agriculturists. They are farmers. The land is very important. And now there are more people claiming rights for the same land. And that is one of the most important factors in the antagonism.

WOLPE: Burundi and Rwanda are in many ways quite unique if you take a look at the rest of the African continent. The groups that are in conflict are groups that have historically intermarried, they spoke the same language, they had the same culture; indeed, one has difficulty even applying the term ethnicity to the two groups in the traditional sense. And as the Ambassador indicates, there is much more of a caste or class differentiation between Tutsis and Hutus than the traditional kind of cultural differentiation. The colonial experience was very significant. And particularly in Rwanda, the colonial power actually started using identity cards, sort of creating new ethnic identities. Making these things much more powerful, much more significant. And much more available for manipulation by political elites who were striving for power and for economic resources and for control of the economy.

DAVIDSON: We'll pause here for a short break. I'm talking on this edition of Common Ground with Howard Wolpe, President Clinton's Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and to Mohamed Sahnoun, the Special Envoy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan to Africa.

Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of Common Ground programs are available, and at the end of the broadcast, I'll give details on how to order.

DAVIDSON: Obviously, fueling all these conflicts are the weapons and Ambassador Sahnoun, just recently the Secretary-General of the United Nations issued a statement saying he wants the veil of secrecy lifted from the arms merchants in these conflicts. Where are the arms coming from and what percentage are illegal?

SAHNOUN: Well, that's an important factor. This is one of our greatest concerns, especially in the Great Lakes region, but in most of the conflict-prone areas. The amount of arms which are available both to, to all sides in the conflict is amazing. And the Secretary-General as you mentioned has raised now this problem in his report to the Security Council on Africa. And there are a number of institutions such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and so on who are also now putting this issue on the agenda, high on the agenda of the international community. So that there should be mobilization around this issue so that we can stop these arms transfers. They are mostly from arms dealers who of course are taking great benefits from this traffic. There were arms which were available from before because they were, the governments themselves had ordered these arms. There are also arms which are transferred from neighboring countries. There were countries such as Somalia and so on where there were large amounts of arms and they were ready to sell some of these arms to the neighboring factions in neighboring countries. So unfortunately it, there are still dealers who sometimes go and tap the resources of diaspora, of people from these areas who live around in the world, in Canada and the United States and Europe, and try to use this money to buy arms. So there certainly should be in the way we have been able to mobilize the world opinion and international community and the UN around land mines, I think we should do the same for the arms, for the small arms.

DAVIDSON: Dr. Wolpe, the United States is one of the largest exporter of arms in the world. What is the US position in curbing this flow of weapons, and in the Great Lakes Region?

WOLPE: Oh we actually I think took the initiative in the Security Council recently and in reinvigorating or restarting the United Nations study of arms trafficking in the region. So we can get a handle on it, so we can begin to expose the networks and dampen down this remarkable explosion of weaponry in the region. Having said that, it also should probably be, needs to be stated that in the genocide that took place in Rwanda, in which the estimates are 800,000 or more people were killed, most of that killing was with machetes. Was with rather, was not high firepower involved. Which goes to the really, obviously, forces us to look at the underlying causes of the conflict in the first instance and also compels all of us to spend as much energy as we can in attempting to develop truly lasting political solutions to the conflicts both in Burundi and Rwanda.

DAVIDSON: Well, we've been focusing on the conflicts in the region. Where are the bright spots in this part of Africa?

WOLPE: Oh, there are many bright spots. And one of the things that the, President Clinton's visit to Africa was attempting to do was to highlight precisely the more positive aspects of the African experience, in the Great Lakes and elsewhere, that have, has too frequently been neglected entirely by the media. The media have a tendency to report, "good news is no news." And so there's a selective focus upon the wars, upon the famines, upon the negative dimensions. In Africa you have today—and in that region as well as in southern Africa, and even parts of Western Africa—a number of countries that have made very significant economic reforms, that are doing much better economically today than they were previously. There are some—I think it's 30 countries now—that are actually having economic growth rates that are in anywhere from the 3-10% range. In, I think it is somewhere around a dozen countries, economic growth rates now exceed the rates of population growth. You have many countries that are in the course of democratization, that have introduced very significant kinds of democratic reforms that are broadening the base of popular participation in governance. Even within the region in which we are speaking such countries as Uganda are really experiencing rather significant kinds of economic growth as a consequence of some very major reforms that the, and political stabilization that have been produced in recent years. And Tanzania is now embarked upon a much more significant kind of economic reform effort. And of course in the neighboring southern African region, if you take a look at not only South Africa but Namibia, Botswana, you have examples of countries that are really doing quite well both politically and economically.

DAVIDSON: In fact, President Clinton chose to cohost a summit of regional leaders in Uganda and I assume that was a very purposeful choice.

WOLPE: It was. And we chose, the reason for the focus on his trip, on that region, was both because we see it as an area of tremendous potential and tremendous challenge. We've really been speaking about both sides of that equation. But this was an effort to try to sit down with regional leaders to talk through both the potentialities. In terms of economic growth there's a lot of interest in the region with Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, in particular; in strengthening the economic community within the region; to begin to talk in terms of regional economic institutions. There is a tremendous potential that if that can begin to create broader markets, can really allow the region to become much more effectively integrated in the global economy. One of the things the leaders told us in response was they also needed not only to talk about integration they need economic transformation. If you have open, free trade and they have no goods that are sellable to the international community, global integration does not mean very much. So we talked through that kind of agenda that would serve the interests both of Africa and of the Western industrial states.

DAVIDSON: Ambassador Sahnoun?

SAHNOUN: Yes, I think I concur with what Dr. Wolpe said. You have the whole region of Southern Africa which is now already stable. All the countries in southern Africa. We have had recently a change of president in Botswana done in a constitutional and normal way. The former president withdrew after his mandate was over and a new president has taken over. And so, and as also Dr. Wolpe said, in a number of countries we have a very high economic growth. In Ghana in West Africa, a couple of other countries in Central Africa also. So there are some bright spots. And one would, should also add that the fact that there are conflicts today in Africa can also be explained by the need for the people to put their demands and their concerns, if necessarily, in a violent way, when they establish their governments, to not respect human rights and to not respect good governance. During the Cold War this was not possible. There was in a sense a support to dictatorships. We have spoken about Mobutu earlier. Because he served a specific purpose during the Cold War he was in a sense supported and encouraged by foreign powers. But today this is not the case anymore. And people are able to put their issues now on the table in a sense. And sometimes they, because there is no other way they chose the violent way. But to a large extent these are really important developments. What we should do in the international community, so of course is to help to see to it that these developments are nonviolent and as peaceful as possible.

DAVIDSON: And does the United Nations have a specific plan in promoting these nonviolent resolutions and promoting prosperity?

SAHNOUN: Well, this is what the Secretary-General in his last report to the Security Council, you remember this last year, on the proposal by the Secretary of State Mrs. Albright, there was a special meeting, the first time ever of the Security Council, to deal with African issues, and how to prevent conflict in Africa. And there was a request after that debate by the Security Council that a report be drafted on ways and means to avoid future conflicts in Africa. So the Secretary-General has written the report and submitted it to the Security Council. There will be a debate again. And there will be a meeting again at the ministerial level to look at the recommendations he has made. And among these recommendations of course are the need for, to go to the root causes, which are also economic and social.

WOLPE: I want to say that I think that the Secretary-General's report on Africa is really one of the most excellent of documents. It's remarkably incisive. It's well-written. For anyone who wants to get a quick but significant kind of review of the status of the African continent today—politically, economically, socially, and what needs to be done to address the remaining challenges—I think it is one of the most important documents that has appeared for quite some time.

DAVIDSON: And Dr. Wolpe, what is the US approach to promoting peace and prosperity in Africa?

WOLPE: Well, there are so many challenges and one of the first challenges is to disaggregate the continent. And we keep tending to speak of Africa as a single entity. Africa is...

DAVIDSON: Is it better to break it down into regions?

WOLPE: Regions and countries. I mean, every country has a unique history, has a unique set of economic characteristics, and a unique set of political challenges. So it's very difficult to generalize. There are certain kinds of issues that are generic to Africa. For example the problem of debt and the relief, relieving the debt burden. It's something that can make a huge difference to the capacity of African states to meet their social and economic demands of their own populations. The effort at opening trade so as to enhance Africa's capacity to integrate with the global economy is another important dimension of economic transformation. The need to maintain an important economic development program, recognizing that trade alone will not allow the continent to overcome the tremendous gaps in infrastructure, for example. And the need to help facilitate regional economic integration which can allow the African states to collectively exert more economic power and have much more economic capacity. These are the principal kinds of agenda items that are kind of directing and motivating American policy on the economic front.

In terms of the political challenges there are a lot of initiatives that are in process. We are for example beginning to explore with African leaders in the Great Lakes region the concept of an international coalition against genocide. To try to develop much greater international capacity so we do not again have a repetition of another Rwanda. We are right now engaged in the effort in Eritrea and Ethiopia of attempting, at the request of both of the two countries, working with Rwanda, and now with the international community more generally, see if we can try to prevent this conflict from erupting into full-scale war. And so again we are attempting to really act upon the proposition that prevention is a heck of a lot less costly than waiting till after conflicts erupt in their full estate.

DAVIDSON: Ambassador Sahnoun, is there interest within the people of this Great Lakes Region in Africa in working together, in maybe eventually forming something like a European cooperative union?

SAHNOUN: Oh yes, actually. The countries of the Great Lakes Region have already organized a couple of meetings between the heads of state. They have discussed the need to have regional cooperation. There is actually already a structure of the economic community of the Great Lakes states. And there are some experts now working, including with United Nations agencies, including with UNDP especially but also the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank on how to have a regional approach to economic development. There are resources there, especially water resources, which can be developed, but provided that the countries work together to develop these resources. So there is certainly a strong will to see how this can be done. Unfortunately up to now the conflicts, especially when Zaire was, the former Zaire was under Mobutu's rule, the relationships between the different countries were extremely bad. Now the relations are normal. They are improving. And I think there is certainly a will to cooperate.

DAVIDSON: Mohamed Sahnoun has been guest on Common Ground. He's the Special for the UN Secretary General to Africa. We also heard from Howard Wolpe, the Special Envoy of President Clinton to the Great Lakes Region of Africa. For Common Ground I'm Mary Gray Davidson.

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