SOUTHERN AFRICAN NEWS FEATURES
BORDER SECURITY THE ISSUE IN CENTRAL AFRICA AT THE END OF THE 20TH CENTURYby Phyllis Johnson
This is the final article in a four-part series on conflict in central Africa.
Most parties directly involved in the conflict in central Africa would like to enter the 21st century at peace rather than at war, but they have differing visions of what that peace will look like.
According to diplomatic sources in east Africa, the most radical position is that held by the Rwandan government of Gen Paul Kagame, which is determined to keep the forces of the former Rwandan army, the Interahamwe, far from its borders; and to extend its borders well into the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Rwanda is a tiny (26,338 sq km) land-hungry country with one of the highest population densities in the world, at 325 people/sq km. There is a long history of conflict and genocide between the majority Hutu of Bantu origin and the minority, often ruling, Hamitic Tutsi population. For the primarily Tutsi government which may represent 15% of the population, democratic elections and majority rule are not an option.
"It might be that Mr Kagame has more in mind than simply replacing Mr Kabila," suggested a recent article by Mark R. Mitchell in the Wall Street Journal. "Rwandan officials have frequently suggested holding a second Berlin Conference, the 1885 assemblage at which Africa's colonial powers drew the continent's map."
The implication is that Rwanda wants to solve its ethnic and land resource problems by restoring the pre-colonial Tutsi kingdom that included a large chunk of eastern Congo.
US President Bill Clinton may have "complicated the situation" when he visited Rwanda during his Africa tour last year, the Wall Street Journal said. "As you point out," Clinton told Kagame publicly, "Rwanda was a single nation before the European powers met in Berlin to carve up Africa."
Clinton's encouraging "America is with you" - a reference to post-war reconstruction - may have been perceived as a green light to redraw the map of central Africa, the WSJ said.
However, the US State Department says it does not support changing Rwanda's borders, and the US ambassador in Kinshasa, William Swing, an experienced diplomat who has served at delicate moments in both South Africa and Nigeria, publicly condemned what he called Rwanda's "aggression".
In the Rwandan scenario, that country with its boundaries extended to include as much of eastern Congo as it can retain through military expansion and a tough negotiated settlement, would rapidly join the East African Community of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.
It had been Uganda's view, according to the sources in Kampala, that after the removal of Mobutu Sese Seko and the installation of Laurent Desiré Kabila in Kinshasa, the greater East African Community would extend across Central Africa, into a Community of East and Central Africa. However, Kabila changed that scenario by joining the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni expresses more willingness to negotiate, both in public and privately. This may be a factor of the pressure he is under at home from armed opposition confronting the government over its refusal to hold multi-party elections, and recent pressure from international financial institutions alarmed at the extent of corruption in certain sectors, particularly the military.
However, some Ugandans in the diaspora give a cautionary reminder of Museveni's methodology leading to his own seizure of power in 1986, when he kept the then government of Uganda locked in negotiations for over three years, while his military forces continued to advance until they took over the capital.
That ended the negotiations, but not the military activity, as the Rwandans who had fought with him prepared to wage a similar guerrilla war in their homeland to take power, which they did, with Museveni's support.
Recent differences between Rwanda and Uganda over how to conduct the war and when to negotiate may be reflected in the recent division in the rebel forces they support in DRC, which are now operating as two separate military groups. Jean-Pierre Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) has firm support from Uganda, while the Congolese Assembly for Democracy (RCD) includes Vincent de Paul Lunda Bululu and other ethnic Banyamulenge from eastern DRC who support Rwanda's claims to the territory.
Although this may also reflect a carrot-and-stick approach to impending negotiations, with Rwanda applying pressure while Uganda presents a negotiating position, well-informed sources say Kampala would agree to a settlement that included sealing its western border to external infiltration. The sources also note that this may not reduce internal instability, claiming that most of the armed opposition confronting Museveni now operate from bases within Uganda.
The SADC allied forces of Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe who are supporting Kabila's government also support his insistence on a unified country, and on the inviolability of national boundaries. Zimbabwe and most other SADC members see in the DRC a large potential market for goods and services from the region, as well as the potential for development of its mineral resources.
Policy advisers in the SADC security and intelligence network also see DRC as the key to stability in the southern half of Africa, and argue that the current military confrontation should reach a decisive conclusion that will reduce the threat of continued instability and allow access for development.
Angola has its own internal reasons for strongly supporting the sanctity of national boundaries, and that is the threat to its own sovereignty posed by Jonas Savimbi, who, with forces heavily rearmed and retrained, has torn the country apart at its centre.
Diplomatic sources say that Savimbi, supported by a limited number of well-trained Rwandan forces, may be preparing to announce a division of the country, as he did at Independence almost 24 years ago, when he declared his own short-lived government in Huambo.
Zambia and Namibia could also be confronted by the map revisionists, with the restive Lozi kingdom in western Zambia never having been quite settled in its relations with central government in Lusaka. Ethnically related inhabitants of the Namibia's Caprivi strip have been agitating for a partition, and several hundred fled into Botswana last year seeking asylum and refugee status. (SARDC)