22 - 28 July 1999
Issue No. 439
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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United we standBy Gamal Nkrumah
This is no time for smug, self-congratulatory speeches. The history of the Organisation of African Unity is a disappointing tale of missed opportunities. The ideals of the founding fathers barely survive, and too few of the continent's current leaders can muster the political will to revive them, let alone make the dream of African unity come true. In 1999, the OAU still lacks a unified political and military machinery. It is this failure which lies at the root of much of the continent's political instability.
Last week, African leaders assembled in Algiers to talk peace for their war-torn nations, but -- ominously -- there was no blueprint for radical change on the table, only more fine words. Economic issues loomed large, but the deliberations all too obviously lacked gusto. No other collection of middle-aged men is more despised by the international media than these African rulers, whom the press and TV love to dismiss as inept. Wholly lacking in professional charisma -- especially when compared to the towering international stature of the continent's founding fathers -- Africa's new breed of leaders are less Jeffersonian democrats, than soulless technocrats who invariably take their cue from Washington.
A snapshot of the Africa that was present at this last OAU summit of the 20th century presents a pitiable profile, and it is all too easy to blame the organisation itself for much of this débâcle. But how can we seriously expect it to do its job when it is almost completely starved of resources?
The organisation's paralysis throughout the Congolese crisis, until the war had reached an almost terminal stage, has had particularly disastrous consequences. The recent peace deal signed in Zambia is hardly a triumph for conflict prevention or effective deterrence. Nor is it a model anyone would wish to follow. In the words of Namibian President Sam Nujoma, "We cannot have stability and development and guarantee the future of our people without peace." Few would wish to disagree.
As OAU summit meetings go, this was just another one, and as such, as good a venue as any for a number of recently-elected African leaders to make their debuts. Nigeria's newly installed President Olusegun Obasanjo lashed out vigorously at his military predecessors, though his most powerful plea was not for vengeance, nor for democracy, but for the writing off of Africa's debt. Sub-Saharan Africa currently owes $224 billion, a sum equivalent to 80 per cent of the continent's GNP, and forks out more in debt repayments each year than it receives in aid.
So far, 1999 has been a year of turning points. Nigeria's return to civilian rule and the retirement of veteran South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela were perhaps the two most prominent. For Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, the OAU summit was his first trip abroad since assuming the presidency last month.
Perhaps the semantics of the calendar can succeed where the continent's politicians have failed. With only six months to go before the new millennium, protagonists in the Congolese, Sierra Leonean and Sudanese conflicts are finally coming round to the idea of negotiated settlements. Those who participated in peace talks merit praise for their courage. But there is still no sign that anyone has any serious intention to try and come to terms with Africa's long history of civil war and ethnic conflict. The OAU, in particular, has neither the political will, the financial muscle nor the appropriate forces to be able to impose peace on those who do not want it.
Thus the Congo has a peace deal, yet the guns have still not fallen silent. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that the number of people fleeing eastern Congo into Tanzania has risen sharply since the agreement signed in Zambia last week. The Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), the country's most powerful anti-Kabila faction, has split into at least two groups -- the Rwanda-backed RCD headquartered in the eastern city of Goma, and the Ugandan-backed RCD based in Kisangani, the country's third largest city. In a desperate bid to keep the various protagonists apart, Zambian President Frederick Chiluba visited Kisangani recently, to the protests of the Rwanda-backed RCD. "We did not sign the agreement, so we cannot be bound by its contents," threatened Moise Nyarugabo, vice-president of RCD-Goma.
While Nyarugabo spoke, Emile Ilunga, leader of RCD-Goma, was signing the accord on behalf of his movement. Meanwhile, Ernest Wamba Dia Wamba, former leader of the united RCD who now heads the splinter RCD-Kisangani group, claimed that he is the "true voice" of the RCD. The two branches of the movement are now at each others' throats, giving Kabila the opportunity to dismiss both as merely the "puppets of Rwanda and Uganda."
Even as the Congolese armed opposition tore itself apart, neighbouring countries jumped headlong into the fray, Angola, Chad, Namibia and Zimbabwe deciding to back Kabila. "We look to this agreement as the start of the process of ensuring the triumph of the democratic process," said Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. "We are happy to have participated in a war to protect the sovereignty of the Congo," he added.
The peace process in the Congo has stumbled badly, but at least as yet, it has not broken down altogether. Dismantling the Interhamwe Hutu militia is central to any lasting peace in the Great Lakes region, while closer cooperation between states will be vital to securing political stability. The question now is what the OAU can -- or should -- do to rebuild confidence in the idea of an inclusive political settlement for the country.
For it is not clear how central the OAU actually is to forging an Africa without frontiers. Never in the history of the organisation has so much been expected by so many from so few. The hard lesson is that, unless there is real co-operation between the various member states, the prospects for a more successful resolution to future crises will remain absolutely bleak.
In Sierra Leone, meanwhile, a tense ceasefire between Foday Sankoh, leader of the opposition Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Sierra Leonean President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, is holding, but only just. Accusations of torture, extrajudicial executions and systematic mutilations are rife, while international humanitarian agencies and human rights groups are still pressing for the release of civilian abductees, access to detention centres and a halt to the recruitment and training of child soldiers. The atmosphere of palpable tension does not augur well, and may even capsize the ceasefire agreement signed on 18 May in the Togolese capital of Lomé.
The international community, meanwhile, ought to clarify what aid may be forthcoming for both Sierra Leone and Congo, once democratic change takes hold. Urgent help is needed to start repairing basic infrastructure -- such as power and water supplies -- and to rebuild badly-needed hospitals and rural clinics. When this is done, funds will also be needed for education, health, housing and social services, and -- eventually -- for agricultural and industrial development.
UN special representative Francis Okelo has urged RUF leader Sankoh to discipline his men. Okelo has also been reprimanding the government, whose Civil Defence Forces are notorious for recruiting children. The OAU, for its part, is so marginalised on its own turf, that it does not even have a special representative for Sierra Leone.
There are a host of problems that have to be dealt with immediately. Victims of mutilation and those who have had limbs amputated need urgent help, as do those who have suffered the psychological scars of war, as well as many Nigerian nationals and businessmen who were targetted by the RUF. Moreover, a general amnesty is simply unacceptable to the victims and their families, who insist -- quite rightly -- that those who have committed atrocities must be brought to book. Villagers have accused the RUF of committing untold atrocities, including dressing up in ECOMOG uniforms in order to elicit favourable reactions from innocent civilians, only to pounce on their unsuspecting victims, who were then shot, hacked to death with machetes or buried alive. What order there is in the country today, is largely the work of the Nigerian troops who make up the bulk of ECOMOG's 14,000-strong force. The creation of a credible system of justice is long overdue, and the reconstruction of the Sierra Leonean army represents another serious challenge.
Faced with such horrific conflicts, the elusive search for peace was bound to dominate discussions at the OAU summit. Yet, for all the time they spent on such debates, the continent's leaders had very few concrete solutions to offer. The more they prevaricate, the more observers will continue to wonder, not only when Africa will at last unite, but if indeed it will ever unite at all.