The two special reports; “Cloak And Dagger Politics And How The New East Africa Was Born From The Fires Of The Old” (http://nakedchiefs.com/2012/06/04/cloak-and-dagger-politics-and-war-how-the-new-east-africa-was-born-from-the-fires-of-the-old) AND “Torn Between East And The Horn; The Tale Of Kenya As A Two-Axis Nation And The Changing Strategic Realties Along Africa’s Indian Ocean Belt” (http://nakedchiefs.com/2012/06/04/torn-between-east-and-the-horn-the-tale-of-kenya-a-two-axis-nation-and-the-changing-strategic-realities-along-africas-indian-ocean-belt) last week examined the political and economic forces that are putting pressure on the East African Community to expand toward the Horn of Africa.
In addition, they explored how Kenya was being pulled in many directions — towards East and Central Africa by trade, and toward the Horn of Africa by its growing extensive economic arrangements with Ethiopia and South Sudan, and the strategic complexities of its military role in Somalia.
This magnetic attraction to the Horn was a long time in coming. Until Rwanda became involved in peacekeeping in the Darfur region of Sudan; Uganda dramatically upped support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in South Sudan; Kenya began to midwife the Sudan and Somalia peace processes; and Uganda became the first — and for several months the only — African nation to send its troops to Somalia as part of the African Union’s peacekeeping mission Amisom, traditional East Africa was too focused on problems closer to home. And those problems were, in many ways, the defining issues of Africa in the 1990s.
Following the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990, and the end of apartheid, South Africa went into its first democratic elections in 1994. The world was falling over itself wooing the new “Rainbow Nation,” and the adulation of Mandela seemed to know no bounds.
Most of the rest of Africa was all but neglected. In East Africa, countries like Uganda and Tanzania, which had taken in the African National Congress’s rebel army, the Umkhonto we Isizwe, in 1988/89, would have to wait their turn in queue to be acknowledged.
Feeling a little locked of out the of party, the East African countries focused inward on reviving the East African Community.
Uganda, seeking to claim the throne of the region’s policeman and Big Boy, was still enduring criticism that it was its army — not the Rwandan refugees in it who had defected to start the Rwanda Patriotic Army — that was fighting to oust the Juvenal Habyarimana government in Kigali then.
On April 9, 1994, the slaughter that was to become the Rwanda genocide started after a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundi’s president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down over Kigali, killing both leaders.
For the next 100 days, the killing went on largely unabated. Nearly one million people were killed. The UN spurned calls to beef up its small peacekeeping mission in the country. The world did not pay attention because the story of the century was happening in South Africa — South Africa was in elections and Mandela was about to become president. “We did not pay attention, South Africa was the happening story,” says Nigerian journalist Dele Olojede, who was to win a Pulitzer prize for his reporting on post-genocide Rwanda for the American newspaper Newsday — in 2005.
The Canadian general, Romeo Dallaire, who was leading the UN force in Rwanda at the time, was so traumatised by the experience that on returning home he lost his mind, left his family and took to living on the streets and public parks like a bum. When he pulled himself together, he wrote Shake Hands With The Devil, and did a video by the same name, on those harrowing 100 days of slaughter in Rwanda. The video makes for very uncomfortable viewing.
When the world was done with Mandela and South Africa, its gaze lingered for a while on genocide-convulsed Rwanda. Many people understood that both the continent’s politics, and the regional security architecture, was going to be defined by the Rwanda genocide.
Exactly how, no one was sure.
Inside Zaire (which used to be Congo before the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko renamed it), the forces that had withdrawn from Rwanda — carrying everything with them including a money printing press — set up camp.
They replicated a mini Rwanda state, and soon there were references to a “state within a state in Zaire.” There was a stalemate in this potentially explosive state of affairs because the man who was playing the regional chess game, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, was busy at home with the first election since he took power at the head of a victorious rebel army in 1986
The presidential election was held on May 9, 1996 and Museveni won it handily.
During his campaigns, Museveni, who to this day is given to speaking in grandiose terms, had it in his manifesto that his government would work toward an “East and Central African Confederation.” He envisaged the East African part of this “confederation” being formed of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda — and the Central African wing by Rwanda, Burundi, and the two Congos. Even 21 years back when the EAC-I collapsed, anyone suggesting any kind of community or confederation including the Central African countries, would have been taken for a lunatic and checked into an asylum. In 1996, the realities had changed so much, the idea could make itself way into a president’s manifesto.
In Rwanda, the incursions into the north of the country by genocidaire forces from Zaire continued. Late in 1996, units of the Congolese army crossed into Rwanda, ransacked the border areas, looted, raped and withdrew after some days. Rwanda was still a shell of a genocide-ravaged country, and the Zaireans probably calculated that they would get away it. It was to be the biggest mistake of the regime of the venal and corrupt Mobutu Sese Seko in Kinshasa.
Mobutu was one of the things progressive Africa agreed on. He was seen as a Western stooge, an embarrassment to the continent, and the last leader on the continent who openly canoodled with an equally hated man, the heavily bearded Jonas Savimbi. Savimbi was leader of one of the most-despised rebel movements, the apartheid South Africa-backed National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Portuguese: União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, hence Unita).
As 1996 ended, Rwanda struck back; but first, it focused on dismantling the Rwanda mini-state in eastern Zaire. It was not a pretty sight. There were deaths galore in the clashes between the RPA and the former Rwanda government and genocidaire forces. Millions of Rwandese took the only option on offer; they packed their belongings and headed back home in the longest queues of war victims ever seen on the continent.
The Rwanda push into Zaire started a campaign that ended in the overthrow of Mobutu in September 1997. Mobutu had many enemies who were all too eager to get even. Uganda jumped into the anti-Mobutu fray, as did the MPLA regime in Angola, which saw the war against Mobutu as the key to defeating Unita. Zimbabwe, with an eye on Zaire’s minerals, and wanting to flex its muscles so that it would be respected in a Southern African region where a newly free South Africa was eclipsing it, also joined the war on the side of the Rwanda-backed rebels who had been cobbled together to present a “native” anti-Mobutu front. Ethiopia too sent guns.
The short and stocky veteran Zairean rebel leader, Laurent Kabila, a man famed for his carousing and happy ways, became president in Kinshasa with Mobutu’s fall. Shortly thereafter, in typical Congolese fashion, his government renamed the country Congo, reverting to the old name but adding in “Democratic Republic of.”
There was a triumphant wind blowing from Southern, through Central and East Africa and the Horn. A new generation of leaders seemed to have emerged, and Africans dared to hope that things were finally changing.
Issaias Afewerki in Eritrea, Laurent Kabila in Democratic Republic of Congo, Paul Kagame in Rwanda, Joachim Chissano in Mozambique, Museveni in Uganda and Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia promised a new style of leadership that focused on building economies and democratic nations instead of shoring up their power by force and ensuring that they and their friends got rich. When US President Bill Clinton visited Africa in March 1998, he was to tout this generation of leaders as “Africa’s great hope.”
It was enough to lull the vigilant into complacency. Just as the eyes of the world were too focused on South Africa to pay attention to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the attention on Rwanda and the war in the DRC, diverted eyes away from Sudan and Somalia.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan ended in a demoralising defeat for Moscow in 1989, many young Muslim radicals from the Middle East and Africa who had gone to Afghanistan to help fight the “godless empire” started to scatter and to find new causes. One of them, Osama bin Laden, packed his bags and eventually ended up in Khartoum, where he established a new base for Mujahideen operations. He bought a house on Al-Mashtal Street in the affluent Al-Riyadh quarter and a retreat at Soba on the Blue Nile.
Other militants moved into lawless Somalia and started to plot mischief.
What could go wrong? After all, during his March visit, Clinton had gone to Rwanda and apologised for having done nothing to stop the genocide. The Rwandese sniffed and showed their displeasure in measured tones, but the whole affair was rather well-mannered. A bright future seemed on the horizon for the region.
However, five months after Clinton visited, on July 14, 1998, relations between President Kabila and his Rwandan allies had deteriorated so much, he dismissed his Rwandan chief of staff James Kaberebe and replaced him with a Congolese (Kaberebe is today a general and Minister of Defence in Rwanda).
A fortnight later, Kabila ordered all Rwandan and Ugandan military officers to leave the country. Immediately Rwandan officers started their departure, but a few days later attacks by both the Congolese army and armed mobs on Rwandans and everyone they thought was a “Tutsi” broke out in Kinshasa. Cornered, Rwandan army units started fighting their way to escape in the only direction they could – towards Angola.
Uganda withdrew from Kinshasa, but moved its troops into a “security zone” in eastern DRC just inside the two countries’ common border.
Kabila called in the Angolans and Zimbabweans to replace the Rwandans and Ugandans. The so-called “Second Congo War” — later referred to by some as “Africa’s World War” — was about to break out.
Before it did, things would first go boom in East Africa.
On August 7, 1998, terrorist bombs went off at the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. When the smoke cleared, 258 people were dead from the two blasts, and more than 5,000 were injured.
The US blamed terrorists hiding out in Somalia, and Osama bin Laden in Sudan. Clinton ordered punishment, and 13 days later, on August 20, US warships in the Red Sea launched missiles that hit the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, which the United States alleged was helping Osama bin Laden build chemical weapons.
Events in Central Africa remained on the radar, but the international and regional powers who play in this side of the world, and their intelligence resources and big guns once again turned north — to Sudan and Somalia. The security hawks started talking again of “frontline states.” Unlike the late 1970s and early 1980s “frontline states” — Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia — formed to oppose white minority rule in Southern Africa, the new informal group — Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda — was formed to resist the “spread of Islamic fundamentalism” from Sudan and Somalia.
It was a telling statement of how the times had changed. Regional integration became as much a matter of economics, as of security. The money was about to follow the armies.
-Continues next week
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•Also published in The East African weekly: http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/How+guns+and+bombs+redrew+the+economic+map+of+East+Africa/-/2558/1423896/-/aa8yhr/-/index.html