Thursday, 13 November 2008

Congo, Rwanda, Burundi: Finding Accommodation for Ethnic Differences in a Region Wracked by Conflict

The newspapers and news broadcasts are full these days of pictures of sad-faced women and terrified children fleeing violence in the ironically-named Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The continuing blood fued between Hutus and Tutsi in the Great Lake Region of Africa has boiled over again. At stake is—besides the lives of hundreds of thousands if not millions—a wealth of minerals in the eastern Congo.

Two other countries are divided on Hutu-Tutsi lines: Rwanda and Burundi. The former seems to be a major player in the Congo violence, while the latter has been slowly inching toward an accommodation of power between the groups. Indeed, over the last year it has seemed that peace and a workable power-sharing agreement was at hand. But over the weekend the hold-out rebel group refused to drop "Palipehutu" from its name, which means “for the Hutu alone.” What happens next remains to be seen since mediation attempts involving delegates from other African countries, notably Uganda and South Africa, are due to end December 31. Over the weekend delegates urged both sides to put into place the settlement agreed to more than a year ago, which would involve rebels surrendering their arms.

Let us hope this will happen, and that Burundi's relative success in power-sharing will become an example for Rwanda and the DRC. The key to the future, it seems, is what the government of Rwanda does now. Just a year ago, Jan van Eck wrote in South Africa's Sunday Times: “Until Rwanda extends full political rights to its Hutus, their fight will continue to play out in its western neighbour, ... and destabilise the region… If 13 years after the (1994) genocide Rwandans still cannot be trusted to not use ethnicity to repeat the genocide, the country is surely in serious trouble. Invading the DRC to root out these Hutus is neither justified nor a solution.”

We shall be watching, holding our breath in hopes that this lovely, potentially-productive region can find peace.

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