Aims of the Mission

In January 1997, the International Crisis Group (ICG) fielded a two-person team in Zaire and the Great Lakes region . The aim of this exploratory mission was two-fold:

• to highlight the main trends in four of the various crises in the region (Zaire, Kivu, Burundi, Rwanda);

• to identify specific areas where preventive intervention might occur and, following consultations with other experts, suggest a strategy for ICG engagement;

The following report contains the team's observations and key policy recommendations with the aim of helping ICG weigh what added-value it can provide to preventive efforts in the region. It incorporates the suggestions of a number of regional experts, practitioners and policy makers who were invited to provide input at two consultative meetings chaired by ICG in Brussels on 30/1/97 and Washington D.C. on 3/2/97.

Analysis : Context

Three main themes make up the international context of the central African crisis:

1. A regional crisis: The region of central Africa is rich in crises. The team focused on the political crisis in Zaire and the violent crises in the Great Lakes region (Burundi, Rwanda and eastern Zaire). But Zaire itself also impacts on other crises in the Zaire lies in a pivotal position. If a worse-case scenario develops in Zaire, the international community may well be forced to confront an ark of conflict from Port Sudan on the Red Sea to Lobito on the Atlantic. Already there are indications of a strategic alignment between Zaire, Sudan and possibly Kenya in opposition to Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda with possible links to Eritrea. Yet international analyses have often failed to fully integrate the Zairian factor into these crises. And the crux of these crises is in the Great Lakes: thus the war in eastern Zaire is both local and regional in nature.

2. Lack of cohesion in international policy: The international response to these various crises lacks cohesion. Past responses have been weak, piecemeal and at times dominated by short-term humanitarian objectives, particularly during and after the April-May 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The United Nations has shown little leadership, although the recent nomination of M. Sahnoun as SRSG to the region is unanimously viewed as a positive step. The Troika (the US, France and Belgium) have not managed to lead the Zaire transition to its conclusion. In particular, tensions between the French and Americans constitute a leitmotif of mutual fear and mistrust throughout the region. While there may be increasing elements of consensus at the top, mid-level policy-makers continue to view each other with paranoia and act accordingly, which merely reinforces the fears of the other. The French continue to see an anglophone plot in the Great Lakes, while the US remain obtuse to France's concerns.

3. African initiatives: One positive element has been the novel display of African interest, unity and leadership in the region. Several initiatives have come forth (Nyerere in Burundi, the OAU's endorsement of Sahnoun), not all successful, but demonstrating a degree of collectivity that needs to be built on.

Recommendations for ICG in Central Africa


The team returned with a number of strong general observations regarding the nature and shape of possible ICG action in central Africa.

• ICG should focus its engagement on those areas where it has practical and useful entry-points and where it can bring international attention to impact meaningfully on events.

• ICG should explore opportunities for establishing a permanent presence in the region. Building contacts, maintaining an on-going analysis and elaborating and articulating preventive strategies are the only way to effectively track such a complex and evolving situation. Many interlocutors highlighted the lack of any international, on-the-ground presence capable of developing a wide-ranging analysis. Visiting delegations and fact-finding missions are relatively common but contribute little to the sum of the international community's knowledge.

• Although the implications of events need to be understood in the context of the region, to achieve a practical, integrated analysis, two elements are necessary. First, the primary unit for analysis - and most certainly for any prescribed action - must remain the individual nation-states in the region. Secondly, national analyses need to be brought together to catch the various crises in an analytical cross-fire. Only then should wider policy initiatives be put forwarded (for example, the proposal to hold a regional conference).


• Recommendation 1:

That ICG choose Zaire as its principal entry-point. a) There is considerable scope for crisis prevention in Zaire. Zaire is absolutely central to a number of crises in central Africa, first among them the crisis in the Great Lakes. ICG can bring significant added-value in Zaire where there are fewer international actors. b) The different crises in the region present a dilemma of imminence versus opportunity. While international action may focus on the more imminent and compelling crises - in Burundi and Rwanda, for example, hundreds die of insurgency and counter-insurgency every week - in the rest of Zaire the crisis appears for the time-being less acute. Yet there are more opportunities for constructive international action in Zaire. Western governments, for example, command far greater political leverage in Zaire than they do in Burundi. c) It is critical that ICG is able to track accurately the immense complexity of Zaire's crisis and make sense of events as they unfold. By the nature of the organisation, ICG's analyses are likely to be perceived by all actors as objective. ICG would, therefore, be in a strong position to encourage western Governments - to which the Zairians are very sensitive - to undertake specific actions. d) The broad, multinational membership of the ICG Board, means that ICG is well placed to bring policy makers together in a bid to reach a common understanding of events. In relation to central Africa, there are serious gaps opening up between policy makers on opposite sides of the Atlantic and, in particular, between the French and the Americans. A more unified international position towards Zaire, would have important implications for its future stability.

• Recommendation 2:

That while Zaire would be the principal entry point for ICG, it would also be necessary to maintain a presence in the Great Lakes area. This would give ICG the unusual if not unique capacity to analyse the Great Lakes conflicts from both east and west. ICG should build on its presence in Zaire to establish a real east-west "analysis-bridge" focusing on the Great Lakes, possibly by establishing a smaller presence in east Africa. Kinshasa remains too remote from the Great Lakes to serve as anything but a distant watching post on the east. At the same time few analyses emanating from Rwanda, Burundi or elsewhere in the east accurately factor the Zairian dimension into the many Great Lakes crises (Kivu, Burundi, Rwanda, Western Uganda, South Sudan).

• Recommendation 3:

That ICG should gear its analysis and advocacy efforts around a number of specific issues that are both concrete and compelling A number specific issues were raised by interlocutors, both local and international, during the mission. These demand critical attention and might serve as preliminary starting points for further ICG analysis and advocacy efforts.


1. Develop initiatives aimed at bridging US-French policy differences on Central Africa.

2. Develop a framework for further study into ways to bring about increased economic integration in the Great Lakes area and beyond, i.e. a central African economic region.


1. Encourage donors to carry out an effective census in Zaire in advance of the elections.

2. Develop further programs to support Zairian society to build policy platforms around the critical issues of nationality and socio-economic reform.

3. Help donors to achieve a more positive grasp of the opportunities offered by Zairian civil society

4. Achieve a better understanding of western involvement in the Kivu crisis.


1. Initiate a good governance reflection group in Rwanda focusing on representative local government, political power-sharing and the long-term viability of the current Rwandan government.

2. Analyse strategies to improve relations between the RPA and local Hutu populations.


1. Lobby for a far more substantial Human Rights Observer presence in Burundi.

2. Explore the possibility and desirability of a renewed and expanded deployment of Military Observers.

3. Examine possible actions to strengthen and enhance the impartiality and credibility of the Burundian judiciary.

Analysis : Rwanda

General Context

[Rwanda] There is clearly a mutuality of interest between Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the rebels of eastern Zaire to maintain north and south Kivu as a friendly area or buffer zone. It was this shared objective, as much as any ethnic, pan-Tutsi alliance, that led each of these countries to support the rebel movement in Zaire. The outcome of the war in eastern Zaire in recent months has outwardly consolidated Rwanda's position in the region. Although there has been some criticism of its alleged role in Zaire, Rwanda continues to attract widespread Western support, especially from the US. Given the genocide and destruction of Rwanda in 1994, the transformation of the country into a functioning state is indeed a remarkable achievement. Its performance to date indicates a genuine desire on behalf of key elements in the government to develop the state in the longer term.

Future involvement in Kivu

It is clearly in the medium to long term interests of Rwanda to maintain a friendly buffer zone in eastern Zaire. While the Rwandan government's pursuit of such interests is likely to stop short of participation in any rebel attempt to overthrow the regime in Zaire, one can anticipate Rwandan policies designed to ensure that the Zairian Government - with whatever outside support it can muster - does not retake Kivu. A counter-offensive from Zaire, should be expected to be met with resistance stiffened by Rwanda with Ugandan support.

Effects of recent repatriation

The offensive in Kivu which involved attacks on refugee camps and the subsequent return of nearly one million refugees, was clearly orchestrated with Rwandan and Burundian support. The inability of the international community to take definite action against the existence of the camps for over two years angered the Rwandan Government and has had a bearing on the negative perception many in the Rwandan government have of the international humanitarian community most notably NGOs. The central focus in Rwanda to date has been to remove the threat of the refugee camps on its border. Once this was achieved, the government hoped further problems would be contained and addressed within Rwanda's borders. They have underestimated – perhaps seriously — the effects of more than one million people returning and may in fact have unwittingly imported a civil war. There are major security problems within the country, especially in Hutu strongholds such as Ruhengeri, Gisenyi, Kibuye. Insurgent attacks have increased and the RPF has responded strongly with cordon and search operations resulting in the deaths of large numbers of people. Such a hard-line reaction can only result ultimately in losing the hearts and minds battle of a significant proportion of the population upon who future peace depends.

Possible divisions within the army

There are some indications that the RPF is not as united as once thought and that hard-line elements within the army – particularly those groups originating from Burundi – are prepared to take more extreme action. There are certainly different approaches being adopted by the various sections of the RPF in the country. The soldiers originating from Uganda, for example, appear to be taking a more moderate approach. Obvious dangers would arise if the highly-disciplined and hierarchical structure of the army was eroded by deepening divisions.

Land and resources

The return of refugees has highlighted again the acute problem of over-population and land shortages. An underlying cause of the genocide of 1994 was the reduction in the size of the family plot which in some areas had declined to below subsistence. The return of the old case-load refugees from Uganda and Burundi has more than replaced the numbers killed in the genocide and subsequent war. In addition it appears that both ethnic communities are promoting large families as a means of boosting their numbers. Finally, the huge influx of returning refugees has also created disputes and conflict over ownership of previously abandoned land. The issue spills over on to a more regional dimension when the availability of land beyond national boundaries is considered. Both Tanzania and Zaire have vast, relatively un-populated areas within their borders. In this context, the maintenance of a buffer zone to the west of Rwanda may have longer term economic as well as strategic implications.


The process of putting on trial those accused of genocide has become seriously bogged down. The International Tribunal, although well funded, suffers from chronically inept administration. Trials have begun but look certain to proceed very slowly. The Rwandan justice system has also begun trying the more than 90,000 detainees held in its prisons. Quite apart from questions of proper legal representation for those accused, which have been dealt with elsewhere, the time needed to provide the most basic due process will mean the courts will be still sifting through the back-log more than 20 years from now.

Medium and longer-term future

While Rwanda faces serious problems in the short term, there is concern that the vision of the current government has not in reality extended past the evolution of recent events or begun to look for a way forward in the medium and longer term. The most pressing issue is shoring up the longer term sustainability of Rwanda. Where, for instance, will the country be in ten years? The current government is perceived as a minority government – dominated by Tutsis – and, therefore, inherently unsustainable. In part, future stability will depend on the establishment of some form of representative government that can involve the whole population at all levels. Yet widespread suspicion persists and, as Tutsis are well aware, any form of multi-party rule will inevitably result in the majority Hutu ethnic group taking power. These concerns are not yet well addressed. At issue is whether Rwanda follows a Ugandan model of reconciliation – albeit with a more difficult bi-polar, Hutu-Tutsi situation in comparison to Uganda's multi-ethnic environment – or declines the way of Burundi where minority fears have created almost insurmountable divisions and endemic instability. The issue is not whether Burundi will go the way of Rwanda's genocide, but whether Rwanda will degenerate into the situation of Burundi today. Rwanda's evolution into statehood, therefore, is at a critical stage. The future direction of the country – given the return of refugees from the camps which had dominated its planning – is far from clear. However, in the event of an overzealous reaction by elements within the army, there is an extreme risk that sections of the population will be pushed into isolation, fuelling an active and bloody uprising. A new vision of where Rwanda might be in, say 10 years time, involving alternative models of representative government, needs to be developed. This might also have a important effect on developments in Burundi. As yet very little discussion about directions beyond the immediate future has taken place despite a genuine openness about these issues on the part of government. There is an urgent need to capitalise on this readiness and to investigate the possibilities of establishing a national policy forum – in essence a group of concerned and experienced people that might work alongside government towards more sustainable models of representation.

Analysis : Burundi

General Context

[Burundi] The future of Burundi is dominated by the paranoid fear of the minority Tutsi community that it faces certain genocide. Seen through this lens, any concessions to the Hutu majority are perceived as suicidal by most Tutsis. Widespread and self-reinforcing terror pervades all levels of Tutsi society. It is bolstered by a desire to maintain total economic, political and military domination of Burundi. As a result, a strategy of elimination has been followed - eliminating any threat to Tutsi domination and therefore, survival. The massacres of 1972, 1988, 1993 are examples of where widespread killing has occurred with virtual impunity to guarantee continuation in power, reinforcing the success of this strategy. Attempts at maintaining a semblance of even minimal adherence to the 1993 elections have been systematically undermined by sections of the Tutsi minority. Buyoya's ascension to the presidency was the culmination of this "ongoing coup" and this policy. However, these events have resulted in intensified opposition by Hutu military groups which have made large sections of Burundi insecure and are able to threaten key strategic assets such as the electricity system. Although perceived as a moderate, Buyoya is closely constrained by the will of the army and the Tutsi opposition. The loss of either - in reality closely linked - would result in his downfall and probable replacement with a more hard-line alternative. His room for manoeuvre is, therefore, constrained, although his sincerity cannot yet be judged as he has been unable to offer any real concessions.

Effects of Sanctions

Seen in this context, the sanctions imposed by Burundi's neighbours in the aftermath of the July 1996 coup have worked to further isolate the Tutsi community and intensify their fears. The sanctions are being circumvented: there are reports of individuals, including highly placed officials in neighbouring countries, exploiting the sanctions for personal profit. Prices have increased dramatically: petrol and even staples such as beans have doubled or tripled in price. Poorer sections of the community are particularly hard hit. And because goods enter unofficially they bypass the Burundian government and its coffers. Government income is consequently low and there are fears that if salaries of government officials and the army are not paid, risking chaos that could result in widespread killings and the replacement of the Buyoya regime. In supporting a total embargo the international community has effectively painted itself into a corner and ruled out virtually all other options to influence the current government. The sanctions "stick" has been used to little effect on the current regime - it has possibly increased Tutsis' feelings of isolation and increased their resolve to survive no matter what the cost. Yet removing the embargo would send all the wrong signals to a government which, it is widely felt, has not gone far enough to satisfy demands to restore democratic institutions. Moreover, western governments have avoided voicing opposition to sanctions because that would deflect from their policy of pushing for African solutions to African problems. Similarly, the presence of sanctions rules out any more "carrot" type approaches which might have a more positive effect on the Burundian Government.

Human Rights

Reporting on killings is made difficult because of a lack of access to areas where massacres are said to have taken place. Figures vary from 35,000 since the coup in July 1996, as claimed by Hutu groups, to around 15,000 for the whole of 1996, as estimated by a western embassy in Bujumbura. There is a need to for more accurate reporting, both as a means of maintaining pressure on the Burundi government and to enable more realistic assessments of human rights violations to be communicated to the Burundi leadership which currently has to rely solely on the advice of its own officials. To contain Hutu communities and extend greater control over any possible insurgent activities, the government has developed a "villagisation" policy, where communities are being forced to live in village-like concentrations rather than the traditional single dwelling pattern. This type of policy will have serious implications if people are not able to gain access to their fields. There is a risk of the development of dependent populations and the opportunity for more serious human rights abuse.

Strategic considerations

The current regime has been strengthened by the emptying of the refugee camps on the borders and the opportunity to inflict heavy casualties on Hutu military groups as they fled across northern Burundi from Zaire to seek sanctuary in Tanzania. While there are areas of common strategic interest with Rwanda - the development of a buffer zone for example - there appears to be no unconditional Tutsi alliance between the two countries. Rwanda is clearly concerned about what will happen to Burundi ticking away on its border - an increase in the level of the conflict in Burundi may result in an in-flow of refugees into Rwanda, for example, creating major new problems for the Rwandan government. As a result, Kagame, the Rwandan Vice President, has reportedly advised Buyoya to begin negotiations with opposition groups as soon as possible. Talk of an international military intervention is opposed vehemently by the Tutsi parties. In such a climate of fear, any intervention can only be perceived as weakening their position, even if it now only relies on violence. Most commentators agree that military intervention could trigger a blood bath, yet currently the Hutu - particularly Hutu opposition leaders - lack any real protection.

Conclusions on Burundi

The pervading mood in Burundi is deeply pessimistic and it is difficult to see how the international community might be able to establish much leverage to improve matters. Containing the fear of both ethnic groups should be the dominant strand of any policy towards Burundi. The international community should aim to support Buyoya to provide him with some room for manoeuvre and pacify his constituency while at the same time apply pressure for longer term political alternatives and all-party negotiations. One agreed view - shared by both international agencies and the government - is that the number of human rights observers and possibly also military observers needs to be dramatically increased. This could:

• assist Buyoya to control his own army, particularly at the local level.

• provide witnesses to, and therefore deter, the widespread violence

• provide better information on human rights abuses that are currently widely misreported.

There also needs to be international attention and pressure put on the government to cease its villagisation policy. Finally, a detailed investigation should be conducted on possibly means by which the judiciary in Burundi could be reformed and its credibility enhanced.

Analysis : Zaire

What is at stake in Zaire?

[D.R. Congo, formerly Zaire]The stakes in Zaire are unusually high: the nature and integrity of the Zairian state itself; the potential for widespread violence and regional upheaval; and the danger of a humanitarian vacuum that could draw the international community into one of the most difficult and complex environments in the world.

General context

There are two aspects to the current situation in Zaire:

1. the transition to democracy, compounded by the new problem of Mobutu's illness and possible demise;

2. the war in the east, which is at once an expression of Zaire's many internal ailments and the link to the region's most threatening area of crisis, the Great Lakes.

Zaire's faltering political transition

Zaire today faces two transitions. The first is the long-haul transition from single- to multi-party politics that began in 1990 after intense western pressure on Mobutu. Seven years later, the slow process of reform has yet to bear democratic fruit: the Mobutist kleptocratic system remains in place. Yet, political parties are legal and thriving and a constitutional framework for political change has been elaborated. Two points are of particular relevance to ICG. First, the transition has never been violent, despite many delays in its implementation. A legal political process exists that ICG might build upon and help bolster. Secondly, the transition's failure so far can be ascribed, at least in part, to a lack of western political will to maintain pressure on Mobutu. There is clear scope for ICG to help generate political interest and policy cohesion in the West. A second, more immediate transition is now occurring as Mobutu's political presence wanes. Since taking power thirty years ago, Mobutu has created and presided over a political system the sole purpose of which has been to extract the resources necessary to maintain the régime in power. Zairians will struggle to define a new nation state, with new state machinery, in the wake of Mobutu's disappearance. To a certain extent, the post-Mobutu phase has already begun: local, regional and international players are already preparing for his succession (predictably, of the three, the international reaction is the least active). And while the future of the country hangs in the balance with the long-term transition to democracy incomplete, it is the outcome of Mobutu's death that will dictate the immediate course of events, especially if he dies before elections are held. Yet until he dies, he remains the linchpin to the political situation.

The war in the east

The rebellion in the east involves two levels of issues. On one level are structural Zairian issues (e.g., state failure, access to citizenship, local control over resources, abuses by the security forces etc.) that make the Kivu crisis (now extended well beyond Kivu) an acute manifestation of problems that exist elsewhere in Zaire (Bas-Zaïre, Haut-Zaïre, the Kasais, Shaba). On another level are the needs and designs of Zaire's eastern neighbours, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, and the continued instability in southern Sudan. The result is a battlefield where six national armies (FAZ, RPA, armed forces of Burundi, Uganda and Sudan, and the ex-FAR), a dozen rebel movements (including UNITA and the SPLA), tribal "irregulars", mercenaries, advisors and other external "security consultants" are involved in a web of murky and shifting alliances.

The war in the east raises several issues:

• Nature of the rebellion: The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), ostensibly headed up by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, is an ad hoc group that brings together a number of opposition movements with differing agendas. While Kabila has announced that he wishes to oust Mobutu but maintain a unified Zaire, his supporters and backers may have other agendas such as: guaranteeing citizenship for disenfranchised Banyarwanda in Zaire (Banyamulenge and others) and creating a buffer-zone for Zaire's eastern neighbours. With differing goals and agendas the ADFL may have difficulty maintaining internal cohesion over time .

• It is widely accepted, however, that the rebellion is under-girded by robust Rwandan and, to a lesser extent, Ugandan and Burundian support . This is an important element differentiating the current situation from the rebellions in Congo in 1963-65 which were mercilessly put down by Mobutu . This, added to the fact that there is widespread popular anger against the Mobutu régime, mean that the current rebellion is not a mere throwback to the 1960s.

• Prospects for the rebellion: The ADFL's aims, as mentioned above, remain unclear: how far west are they willing to go? To a large extent, the ADFL's progress is linked to the vacuum created by the withdrawal of the FAZ and the collapse of the Mobutist "state" before them. Ultimately, this could lead the ADFL to take Kisangani and Lubumbashi. This would almost certainly force the government to negotiate. Another scenario is that the ADFL chooses to limit itself to the swathe of territory it now controls and consolidate that while waiting for the political situation to evolve in Kinshasa.

• Conflicting reports exist on the extent to which local populations have welcomed Kabila's forces. It is clear the flight of the FAZ was welcomed by almost all. Rebel authorities have made an effort to jump-start local government and services, including the paying of salaries. But there are also reports that the ADFL have engaged in numerous human rights abuses and that they are trying to exert much more control over civil society (for example by confiscating HF radios). Many local Zairians are said to be concerned by the "foreign" component of the rebellion and the fact that numerous corrupt officials have found a role to play in the new "administration". Most observers, however, concur that popular dislike for Mobutu's régime outstrips misgivings about Kabila: Local Zairians may not support the ADFL as much as resist a return of the FAZ.

• Prospects for Government reaction: Prospects for a successful FAZ response have been dampened by the dismal outcome of the long-trumpeted counter-offensive (l'offensive totale et foudroyante — total and devastating). General Mahele's military capacities are not in doubt but he faces suspicion from fellow officers (especially leading generals such as Eduki, Nzinga and Baramoto) who fear his effectiveness and Tchisekedi who is concerned about his popularity. The FAZ are in such a state of moral and material disarray that a number of analysts believe that it will take more than the 300 mercenaries reported in Kisangani to turn the tide of this war, especially in the face of active external support to the ADFL .

For all these reasons - external support to the ADFL, weakness of the FAZ, popular resistance to a FAZ/mercenary return, and the ADFL co-option of local élites - it is highly unlikely that the rebellion will collapse as did those in the 1960s. The following two issues, therefore, need to be addressed:

1. Humanitarian Consequences: The humanitarian situation in eastern Zaire is grave, both for the so-called "lost refugees", who number between 150 and 300,000 according to estimates, and displaced Zairians who are likely to be trapped between the two sides, especially if a successful counter attack can be staged. The dilemma facing the international community is similar to that in eastern Zaire in 1994, when humanitarian answers (the refugee camps) were provided to political problems (how to deal with a government guilty of implementing a genocide).

2. Elections without Kivu: Kivu is one of the key opposition regions to Mobutu, and accounts for around 15 percent of the total population. The two provinces were the cradle of the civil society movement in Zaire and were already deprived of elections in 1987 because of the nationality issue. Should Kivu remain under ADFL control, it will be difficult to organise meaningful elections without Kivu.

In brief, the incomplete transition to democracy, the illness of the President and the uncertainties surrounding his succession, and the war in the east make for a very precarious situation is Zaire. Yet, there are positive aspects that could offer leverage to foreign initiatives.

Positive dynamics in Zaire

From a structural point of view, despite the serious difficulties that characterise Zaire (a kleptocratic state, a collapsed economy and infrastructure, a discredited political class) a number of positive dynamics exist that seem to hold true throughout the country:

• There is an overwhelming feeling of fatigue with the Mobutu regime and Prime Minister Kengo's government in particular. In particular, there is broad popular support for action to curtail the capacity of the security forces to abuse society.

• Zairians throughout the country seem to share a feeling of wanting to remain Zairian within a federalist state, even in Shaba and the Kasais.

• As a result of the never-ending transition, Zairian society seems to have internalised democracy, unlike many other African nations; the opposition remains to committed to non-violent change.

• A vibrant, articulate, organised and politically conscious civil society exists that offers new visions for society and real alternatives to the current political class.

The international community can seize on these trends and harness them to facilitate Zaire's transition to stable and accountable government. The potential pay-off is great in a country that is rich in both natural and human resources, and where stability could contribute to the resolution of many regional conflicts (the Great Lakes, South Sudan, Angola and the Central African Republic). Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Zaire today is the fact that the worse has yet to happen: there is scope and reason for international involvement.

Key areas for intervention

In developing a response to the situation in Zaire, the international community should concentrate its efforts on addressing the following key issues:

Mobutu's Death

If Mobutu dies tomorrow, two issues arise. The first is that of succession. The post of the speaker of the transitional parliament, the constitutional heir to the president, is vacant. The fall-back solution, a collegial presidency by the two vice-presidents of the parliament, will not hold the country together. This constitutional crisis is an important one because legal mechanisms for change exist but are undermined by the unwillingness of the political class in general, and the presidential mouvance in particular, to use them. The second issue is that of law and order. Most observers agree that wide-spread troubles are unlikely, but that localised looting involving rank-and-file soldiers could occur in large cities. The international community should push the two political families to agree on a speaker. International players should engage with current military leaders, in particular Chief-of-Staff Mahele, to establish the army's plans.


Elections are scheduled for mid-1997 but it is widely expected that they will be postponed. Elections are critical if the country is to achieve a full transition to democracy. Socially and politically, the country is ready. However, physical conditions are appalling: no infrastructure, no census, no local administration and the added problem the war in the east. If the elections are pushed through on schedule, the prospects for them being free and fair are at best remote. There are a number of preliminary conditions that the international community should push for: a carefully monitored census or at least real voter-registration; improved transport and communications; political control over the armed forces; and the establishment of a truly independent electoral commission. Donors should also push for an electoral timetable that is realistic and yet does not postpone the elections to such an extent that the population ceases to believe in them


Zaire is an under-populated, resource-rich country separated by artificial borders from countries with higher populations and fewer resources. It is bound to serve as a magnet for neighbouring ethnic groups, and even political ambitions. The problem is further exacerbated by resource and population disparities within Zaire (e.g., Kivu) that can cause internal imbalances and resentments. The issue of "foreign nationals," some of them established in Zaire for decades (e.g., West Africans in Bas-Zaire, Angolans - balunda - in the Kasais and Bas-Zaïre, Banyarwanda in Kivu, etc.) will remain an explosive issue for future Zairian governments. The Zairian government must be encouraged to address this issue anew. The framework provided by the 1973 and 1981 nationality laws is far from satisfactory. Reforms need to be drafted in a consultative manner and should transcend the short-term needs of narrow political elites.

The Military

There is a paradox in Zaire: the military, from the corrupt generals down to the hungry soldiers, are considered by Zairians as one of the primary evils of the Mobutu regime. But they are also perceived by many as the only national institution capable of managing the post-Mobutu transition. In the nearer term, certain elements in the military are seen as potential arbiters in case of a show-down between the widely unpopular PM Kengo wa Dondo and the mouvance présidentielle on the one hand, and E. Tchisekedi's Radical Opposition (USOR) on the other . In this context, the appointment of General Mahele is positive. Mahele's popularity with some opposition politicians and in "the street" was boosted after his display of (relative) probity and demonstrated ruthlessness in dealing with the 1991 soldier riots in Kinshasa. The military, then, is likely to be at the crux of developments in the next few months: it has the potential to influence events either for the better or for the worse. Beyond the events of the next few months, the military will also hold a central position in the re-building of Zaire, for two reasons. First, the military, if left unreformed, will always be a potential progress-spoiler in any future transition to democracy. Secondly, a country the size of Zaire, wealthy in natural resources and bordering on nine countries, will forever need effective security institutions. The debacle in the east does not mean that the military do not remain central players on the political scene. The international community, therefore, needs to engage with the Zairian military to encourage the support of the military for a civilian transition team if Mobutu dies before elections both to avert a repetition of the 1991 and 1993 soldier-led riots and to ensure that the military does not interfere with the electoral process before, during or after the elections. In the longer term, donors should consider supporting military reform in Zaire, however unpalatable a prospect that may appear today.

Socio-Economic Reform

Despite the length of the transition period, the opposition — and the USOR in particular — has not put forward a clear program of necessary socio-economic reform. Tchisekedi in particular is obsessed with Mobutu's removal from power ("il faut chasser le dictateur") to the exclusion of longer-term issues. The failure to produce concrete proposals for land reform, health and education policy, infrastructure rehabilitation, economic overhaul is perhaps the transition's greatest failure. Moreover it has undermined the credibility of the USOR's claim that it is fit to run the country, especially vis-à-vis the perceived technocratic qualities of Prime Minister Kengo. To overcome this problem, a number of national commissions, emanating from civil society, should be empowered to develop reform platforms on concrete issues: land reform, health and education policies, rural banking and finance, transport and infrastructure, etc. The results of this work could then be integrated into any new government's work.

Civil Society Dialogue

Most foreign observers are struck by the vibrancy of Zairian civil society. Yet, it is at once articulate and cruelly lacking in both means and outlets for action. It finds itself trapped by a number of barriers. The political class, including the so-called radical opposition, offers few opportunities for civil society to engage in policy dialogue let alone to participate in the process of political change. Religious hierarchies, especially in the Catholic church but also in the ECZ (Eglise du Christ au Zaïre, the Protestant umbrella group), are not always receptive to initiatives for change that come form the grass-roots. Finally, foreign donors, the U.S. in particular, have not always been successful in identifying meaningful partners in a country where corruption is rampant and physical access difficult. Donors need to increase access to Zairian civil society, both directly and through local networks such as the churches and human rights NGOs.

Links to Angola and the Central African Republic

Beyond the eastern flank, two further crisis areas carry great potential for political upheaval and humanitarian disaster: Angola and the Central African Republic (CAR). The links that tie these two countries to the situation in Zaire are widely acknowledged but, with the Kivu crisis, are not always subject to thorough analysis. In Angola, the peace process progresses in a fragile manner. Its success hinges, among other things, on issues that are linked to Zaire: UNITA's ability to maintain elite troops and heavy equipment in Zaire; UNITA's economic outlets in the Kasais and Bas-Zaire; relations over Cabinda, the role of the Zairian merchants in Luanda, etc. A return to war in Angola would be a major setback for international efforts and for US foreign policy in particular. Conversely, the reported presence of UNITA troops in the North-Kivu town of Bunia bears witness to how Angolan issues can impact on the situation in Zaire. Crisis is also brewing in CAR, and shows indications of descent into chaos. Several interlocutors pointed out that any solution in Bangui will have to take the situation in Zaire into account. The situation in CAR will also have an impact on events in Zaire, particularly concerning the role of French policy.

Conclusions on Zaïre

Conventional wisdom has it that Zaire faces three dangers:

1. An eruption of violence when Mobutu dies: Violence is unlikely to spread beyond the cities, but could cause the extensive destruction already experienced by Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Goma and others in the early 1990s.

2. A break-up of the country: It is unlikely that Zaire will witness a sudden rash of secessionist movements. A more likely danger is a break-down into small fiefdoms controlled by small warlords, centred on an economic activity (a gold-mine, a diamond field, a coffee plantation), much like Kabila in the hills above Fizi town.

3. Massive war in the east: Given the current state of the FAZ, it is unlikely that major, sustained warfare with intrastate ramifications will break out. But humanitarian conditions remain critical and could worsen, and the situation in the east makes the issue of elections very difficult.

The status quo in Zaire, if allowed to continue, may not necessarily lead to the cataclysmic events that are feared. But it will continue to destabilise the entire region through political meddling, the illicit sale of raw materials and arms smuggling. Zaire is the regional key. This will inhibit long-term solutions to the wars in the Great Lakes, Southern Sudan, CAR and Angola, as well as the political crisis in Zaire itself. Yet, there exist in Zaire enough positive dynamics to offer entry-points and leverage for effective international action that can actually bring about change in that country.

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