Blogs > Cliopatria > Two Notes from Africa

Aug 18, 2004 5:29 pm

Two Notes from Africa

On the heavier side, a new war in Central Africa may break out.

On August 13, a group of Hutu rebels attacked a refugee camp in Burundi, killing 160 Banyamulenge refugees (Congolese of Rwandan and Burundi descent, most of whom have been identified as Tutsi) at the Gutamba Refugee Camp. It is believed that the rebels came from Democratic Republic of Congo.

The presence of Hutu rebels–genocidaires responsible for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide–and the support that they have received from Kinshasa for almost a decade has been a major concern for Rwanda and Burundi. The genocidaires continued to attack Tutsi in the two Kivu provinces and in Ituri, and they transmitted their racial hatred to other Congolese groups. (This report describes the regional connections between the Kivus, Rwanda and Burundi). Twice Rwanda and Burundi invaded Zaire/Congo in order to protect ethnic Tutsi.

There have been only brief intermissions in violence in eastern Congo since the ceasefire. Violence continued at the lower levels, below what the states considered the legitimate subjects for diplomacy. Nevertheless, they have been carried out by armed militia groups, some composed of demobilized soldiers. Stephan van Praet of Human Rights Watch says that the peace talks don't address the issue of justice at low levels, thus perpetuating the" cycle of impunity."

Diplomats from the two small Great Lakes nations have lost all their faith in the ongoing negotiations with Kinshasa.
"The process has broken down and we need to repair this break down," Azarius Ruberwa, the head of RCD and one of Congo's four vice presidents, told United Nations radio.

"We need to stop, re-read the (peace) agreement and the conclusions of the negotiations because it is incomprehensible that, during a peace process, genocide of Congolese people takes place abroad," he said.
Furthermore, politicians from both Rwanda and Burundi have suggested that they are thinking of another war:
"I have not ruled out an offensive against the DRC aimed at making them respect our country's borders," General Germain Niyoyankana told reporters.
Laurent Nkunda, a renegade Congolese commander, has also made threats:
"I am not attacking now ... I will be here in Goma mourning for a few days. By then hopefully the people of good faith will have taken the appropriate decisions ... This won't happen again."
The previous fighting was significant because it expanded to include states beyond those on the Great Lakes, most notably Angola and Zimbabwe, as the different states started to fight for mineral interests in the Kivus.


On the lighter side, the last few episodes of Amazing Race 5 (taking place in Egypt and Tanzinia) have been touching. Most competitors scream at natives to do things for them--as if volume can overcome the language gap. Trying to win the show, they become ugly Americans--more than they might naturally be.

The married couple Chip and Kim (who grew up in South Central LA) have been moved being in Africa. They look around and think about the roots that they have in Africa. But more surprisingly, they actually stopped just to enjoy a moment of hospitality in a Tanzinian village.

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David Lion Salmanson - 8/19/2004

Plus now everybody hates them. Look for Chip and Kim to win, they just have the right attitude plus the look physically and mentally healthiest right now.

Nathanael D. Robinson - 8/19/2004

I liked the "Cousins" at first, but they always did little things that annoyed me. I was impressed that they tried to speak to the Egyptians in Arabic.

I am amused that Colin's team (whom I call "the High Strung") fell so far behind after gaining twelve hours transfering planes in Paris. They are smart, but too competetive.

David Lion Salmanson - 8/19/2004

Chip and Kim are currently best positioned to win the race. Especially after Colin's disasterous leadership in the airport. Also interesting the cousins' use of Arabic fluent Arabic, a shame they tried to save that extra half hour.

Nathanael D. Robinson - 8/19/2004


My impression is that a low-grade civil war has been going on in eastern Congo for the last several years--somewhat similar to Germany post-WWI and France after liberation. Much of the killing is probably "settling of scores" in the grossest sense--eliminating groups who helped one side or another.

However, violence has become a means of life on its own. First, small arms are easily available: an individual who owns a rifle can join a militia quite easily, and once that militia is disbanded, he can find another to join. Second, young men are indoctrinated into this type of fighting as a way of life. Militias abduct boys and train them to fight. Sadly, they become accustomed to pillage and rape. Finally, racial politics have become too pervasive. Mobutu allowed the genocidaires stir up hatred. He wanted to cause infighting in order to defeat groups in eastern Congo who were pushing for federalism and local government (blame problems on Banyamulenge rather than the central government).

A report from International Crisis Group (which has the best reports on African affairs) suggests that the various rebels and militias in eastern Congo are acting as “spoilers”, trying to undermine peace talks. Diplomacy is wresting power from them; a new conflict would give them the opportunity to fight for their own interests.

Oscar Chamberlain - 8/18/2004

Interesting, and deeply sad, article.

Can you help me understand what is driving the fighting at this point. I know there is a thirst for the resources of the region, and I know there are tribal divisions. But tribal divisions alone did not trigger the 1994 genocide; at least Hutus were killed as well by the "genocidaires." And much of the killing now does not seem to be directed at minerals or other natural resources.

Is this one of those things, like WWI, where the rational has been left so far behind, that there is not even a bad reason left?