Published in Aktuelt (Denmark)

August 29, 2000

Posted at willum.com

 

 

THE WEST DID NOT LEARN FROM RWANDA

Ill-Fated Peace Agreement

 

 

 

By Gunnar Willum and Bjørn Willum

 

 

 

Seven years ago in the dusty Tanzanian town Arusha, an optimistic international diplomatic corps witnessed that the government in the small Central-African country Rwanda signed a peace agreement with the rebel movement Rwandan Patriotic Front.

A peace agreement that turned out not to be worth the paper it was written on since a small group of extremists in the government had no real interest in yielding power. They had only signed because of the international donors stuffing the country with aid.

Instead of implementing the peace agreement, the next year the military junta committed genocide on up to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. According to experts, 5000 well-trained soldiers would have been needed to stop the devastation that these primitive murderous gangs caused.

Instead, the UN withdrew 2500 peacekeeping soldiers who were in the country when the conflict began.

Yesterday US President Bill Clinton landed in the same provincial town in Tanzania, on his second Africa trip as active President, where he joined former South-African President Nelson Mandela - once more to add the fingerprint of the international community to a piece of paper, which is meant to formally pave the way for peace in Rwanda's neighbour country, Burundi.

A repressive regime has here fought a ruthless battle against the civilian population and various rebel movements; the latter have retaliated by carrying out random massacres on civilians.

The peace agreement, which is meant to pave the way for democratic elections after a 3-year transitional period, is far from being completely negotiated, since there are still great disagreements on crucial issues, such as the control of the army.

Yesterday, the peace negotiations had therefore run into some thorny problems just a few hours before Bill Clinton's arrival in Arusha. At the last moment, members of Burundi's Tutsi minority said that they would not - as previously agreed - sign a peace agreement with their political arch enemies. The very peace agreement that Nelson Mandela had negotiated and almost staked his reputation to see it completed before Clinton's arrival.

"We will not sign today - we need more time," a spokesman said for a coalition of Tutsi parties from Burundi, better known as the G-10.

Consequently, Clinton and Mandela only witnessed that parts of the agreement were signed.

At the end of his period in office, Clinton is eager to polish his tarnished reputation in foreign politics. Already in 1998, during his first Africa tour, Clinton visited Rwanda to apologize to the survivors that the United States - in the early stages of Clinton's period in office - had watched passively while the massacres took place.

But critics warn that Clinton and Mandela are about to commit the same mistake the diplomatic corps committed in 1993.

The fact is that it is frightening how the situation resembles the one in Rwanda in 1993, where a powerful clique in the army has no interest in running elections or surrendering their power and privileges; instead they are more than willing to drown the peace process in blood.

Neither Mandela, Clinton or other Western countries have however considered doing what is necessary to secure a lasting peace: Deploying troops capable of protecting the civilian population and guaranteeing the peace process, according to professor René Lemarchand, who in the last 40 years has followed developments in Central Africa.

"The shadow of Arusha is hanging over the Arusha talks. Do not assume the Tutsi-army will sit by," he says.

Because even if there are 6 million Burundians, who want peace, the army is - like in Rwanda before the Genocide - dominated by a clique of people in power, who all come from the same part of the country, namely Bururi. This is a clique that does not only exclude all Hutus from power, but also Tutsis from other parts of the country.

Furthermore, Burundi's President, Pierre Buyoya, who yesterday signed the peace agreement on behalf of the government, is not at man one can expect to challenge this monopolization of power, René Lemarchand says.

He points out that Buyoya seized power by a coup d'etat following the murder by a group of army officers of the popular Melchior Ndadaye, the first democratically elected Hutu president. A murder that ignited the 7-year civil war, but which no military officers have had to account for under Buyoya's rule.

Another threat against the peace process comes from the two rebel movements that did not participate in the peace negotiations, Lemarchand says. "They will probably resume violence."

The only solution, he says, is the one the West had always avoided: A vigorous international peace force with a peace enforcement mandate that - unlike the force in Rwanda - can actively guarantee the population's safety and clamp down on those extremists on both sides, who want to use violence to spoil the peace process.

"There is talk of 2.000, but there is a need for at least 5.000 troops, maybe more," Lemarchand thinks - adding that they have to be well-trained.

"The Hutu delegates think it is necessary with a peace force," he says. Something that Buyoya and the army reject outright.

But, in fact, Lemarchand says, "the only way to guarantee the security of Tutsis is by foreign troops."

But after 7 years and more than 200.000 killed, mostly civilians who have died in regular massacres committed by either the Hutu rebels or the Tutsi army, the West still seems unprepared to provide more than a few well-chosen words and solemn peace conferences.