The Business of Ending War

Africa's Peace Offensive

Peace deal Congo
A man listens to news of the July 30 peace deal between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda in Kigali, July 31, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

A peace deal in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an agreement in Sudan, the end of civil war in Angola, the withdrawal of British troops from Sierra Leone. Could it be that a wave of good will has broken out across war-prone Africa?

The answer is “no,” but some of Africa’s wars have run their course, and much international effort has gone into ending others. As part of the new pact between African states and the G-8 countries, Western diplomats have been working with their African and U.N. counterparts to try to secure deals to end African conflicts.

Four years ago, 15 African countries were embroiled in war. Now there are seven. And reconciliation is quickly possible among Africans. In Nigeria after the Biafra war ended in 1970, in Mozambique after the vicious war against civilians in the 1980s, and in South Africa after the 1994 election, ordinary people put away their weapons and set aside bitter memories. No one sought revenge.

Such a peace is now possible in Angola, where the civil war that grew out of the struggle between two anti-colonial movements in the 1960s stopped when rebel leader Jonas Savimbi died in a hail of bullets in February. His dream of ruling Angola kept the war going even after the Cold War ended and his American allies changed sides to back the government, previously supported by the Soviet Union. With his death his UNITA movement—which formally disbanded on Friday—had nowhere to go, though the underlying cause, the exploitation of the rural hinterland by an urban coastal elite, remains.

Sierra Leone’s war, which has similar fundamental causes and lasted 10 years, also has ended with the removal of a rebel leader. Foday Sankoh, like Savimbi a megalomaniac who never attained power, exploited the resentment of the rural poor against the ruling urban elite. When he was imprisoned, the movement was leaderless—partly because he had killed off his rivals. Among those still alive, none is prepared to live as a guerrilla in the bush away from Freetown. The capital, the only prize apart from the diamond mines worth fighting for, has been protected by British troops. The rebels’ main backer, President Charles Taylor of Liberia, who swapped guns for diamonds, is under intense international pressure to stay out of the conflict.

Yet, as in Angola, the social causes of Sierra Leone’s war have not been addressed. When President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was re-elected in May, he gave government jobs only to his own supporters. Corruption continues, and his army voted for opposition parties. That is worrying, since mutinous troops have overthrown governments in the past.

Unlike in Angola and Sierra Leone, the wars in Sudan and Congo are not near resolution despite new agreements. Governments and rebels are being pressed by Western diplomats to sign deals. No party wants to alienate Europe and America, so they will sign almost anything.

Sudan’s war has been running since 1956, with a period of peace between 1972 and 1983. The southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has been fighting the Islamist regime in Khartoum for a “united, democratic, secular Sudan.” In reality, southerners, black Africans who have a different culture and aspirations from their northern Arabized Islamic overlords, are fighting for separation.

In July, the government and the SPLA announced that they had reached agreement on the principles of self-determination and the separation of religion and state for the south. A referendum is proposed for 2008.

These look like concessions by the government, and some, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw among them, proclaimed them a “breakthrough.” They were not. Both these principles were conceded by the government several years ago, but it has shown no sign of implementing them. Straight after the recent signing, Sudan’s planes bombed civilian targets in the south.

Last week’s settlement in [the Democratic Republic of] Congo has even less chance of succeeding, though it may represent a workable deal between Rwanda’s leader, Paul Kagame, and his young counterpart in Kinshasa, Joseph Kabila. The agreement states that Congo’s government will track down and disarm thousands of Rwandan rebels who were involved in genocide in 1994 and send them to the international tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. In return, Rwanda will withdraw its 30,000 troops from Congo within 90 days.

The Rwandan Hutus have provided the Congolese government with its best fighters, and Kabila has been arming and supplying them. Even if he decides to abandon them, a possibly suicidal move, he has not got the capacity to capture the Rwandan rebels.

The deal ignores the lure of Congo’s wealth. All the armies intervening in Congo want an excuse to stay. Their senior officers and powerful ministers have lucrative interests there. A similar deal was signed three years ago in Lusaka with equally precise deadlines. That deal involved the other intervening armies—Zimbabwean, Angolan, and Ugandan. It was not implemented and there is little to suggest it will be.

The conflict may become an African cold war in which the intervening powers preserve a self-interested balance of power. Most African states and rebel movements are too poor and weak to conduct sustained shooting wars. Most damage is indirect: blocked trade routes, abandoned harvests, hunger, and disease.