Declaration on the situation in the Great Lakes region of Africa

ROME COUNCIL, 21-22 January 1997

(original French)

Eastern Zaire and the Great Lakes region are threatened with mayhem because of the threat of confrontation between Rwanda and Zaire with the presence, amongst others in this eastern part of Zaire, of the Banyamulengues, originally Tutsis from Rwanda, who settled several generations ago in the south of Kivu and on the Zaire-Rwandan border.

But the main reason for this armed conflict is the threat to Rwanda of almost two million Rwandan refugees, under the orders of the former armed forces of Rwanda on Zairean territory.

The situation in eastern Zaire presents at least two main features:

- the threat of war between Zaire and Rwanda;
- a civil war between the Zairean central government and the Banyamulengues, the People's Revolutionary Party, the National Resistance Council for Democracy and the Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire. The insurgents intend to exploit the weakness of a country which has been virtually without a government or any effective authority in power for over three years.

The crisis in eastern Zaire has rightly aroused public opinion because Zaire is an immense country bordering on 11 other states. But this crisis can only be properly appreciated if set in the global context of the crisis which has been assailing the Great Lakes states since the beginning of the 1990s.

The problem

1. Burundi

Burundi's adoption of a new Constitution in March 1992, introducing multiparty democracy into the country, was greeted as heralding in a new age.

The election victory of the Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) over the Union for National Progress (UPRONA) seemed to signal the end of the period of intercommunal hatred between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority.

But on 21 October 1993, the world was forced to face reality: the Burundian army hit the headlines with an outbreak of violence which led to the death of the first civilian President of Burundi, Melchior N'Dadaye and a large number of officials and politicians. This coup severely jeopardised the democratic process, and it also revived intercommunal hatred, opening up a period of turmoil with mass murders on both sides, and massive migration.

In this state of extreme tension, Cyprien Ntaryamira, the former Minister of Agriculture replaced Melchior N'Dadaye as Head of State with the support of the UN and the OAU on 5 January 1994. His appointment was the result of a difficult compromise between the ruling party, the opposition and civil society. But on 6 April 1994, President Cyprien Ntaryamira lost his life in an air crash together with his Rwandan counterpart Juvenal Habyarimana. The death of the new Head of State reopened the crisis. In an attempt to halt it, a government Convention was agreed by all the political groups bringing Sylvestre Ntubatugagna to power. But the violence continued to devastate the whole country until, on 25 July 1996, Major Pierre Buyoya seized power in a coup, adding yet another difficulty to an already highly complicated situation.

2. Rwanda

Until 1990, Rwanda appeared to be a comparatively stable country in the Great Lakes region. Three events were rapidly to change that state of affairs:

- the opposition to democratisation which was forced on President Habiyarimana in 1990;
- the economic crisis aggravated by famine in the south of the country;
- the needs of the Tutsi refugees in Uganda, demanding Rwandan nationality and to be returned home.

On 1 October 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched a massive armed offensive against Kigali. The regime of President Habyarimana was seriously shaken. The UN, the OAU, France, Belgium and the US managed to force the Rwandan government and the RPF to the negotiating table. Negotiations were held at N'Sélé, at Gbadolité and a peace agreement between the Rwandan government and the RPF was signed in Arusha on 4 August 1993. This agreement provided, inter alia, for the establishment of a "broadly-based transitional government".

Due to different constructions placed on the agreement by government and opposition, rivalries between the Tutsi and the Hutu, regional tension between the North and the South, and the reluctance of President Habyarimana to implement an agreement stripping him of most of his prerogatives, the country was paralysed and the crisis deepened. It was in this tense climate that the presidential aircraft crashed on 6 April 1994, killing Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian opposite number, Cyprien Ntaryamira.

With the deaths of N'Dadaye, Ntaryamira and Habyarimana, three Hutu presidents lost their lives in the two countries (Burundi and Rwanda) in less than a year. Violence had reached its peak. For Rwanda alone, the genocide has resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims.

The situation in Rwanda and Burundi triggered off a widespread exodus of Tutsi and Hutu depending upon whether the Tutsi or the Hutu held power in Kigali or Bujumbura. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians and Rwandans, in fear of their lives, fled to Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, and in even greater numbers to Zaire, in the province of Kivu.

What are the solutions?

What solutions can the Socialist International propose?

1. Because of the insecurity caused by the war in these countries, an unprecedented human disaster is unfolding before us, putting the lives of several million people in jeopardy. Even under normal circumstances Burundi and Rwanda are overpopulated countries, faced with an acute shortage of arable land. A few months ago the return to Rwanda of at least one million refugees from camps in Zaire led the international community to cancel the deployment of the multinational force to protect the people and humanitarian convoys.

We believe, however, that we must urge the international community to step up its humanitarian work.

2. Helping to establish a democratic government in Zaire is the only way to secure lasting stability and to prevent Zaire from exploding with wholly unpredictable repercussions on the whole of Central Africa.

3. The civil wars that are undermining the countries in the region must be brought to an end, as must the war between the states there.

4. National reconciliation policies must be established and implemented in Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi in order to foster the immediate resumption of the democratisation process on bases that are defined jointly by the national political authorities. The security of some cannot be guaranteed through the insecurity of others.

5. Once this climate has been created, the peaceful and volontary return of the refugees must be supervised.

6. Lastly, we must step up our efforts to ensure that the international community provides assistance of all kinds for the reconstruction of Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire.

7. The mission of the SI: to implement the decision taken in February 1996 in Ouagadougou to send a fact-finding and evaluation mission to the Great Lakes region within three months.

8. Legal and judicial security must be promoted to protect the right of exiles to return home, and the right of defence guaranteed to those accused of genocide.

9. A global solution must be sought in the Great Lakes region, particularly in the framework of a conference on peace, security, stability and development involving all the states in the region, convened under the aegis of the United Nations and the OAU.