So, as we reported in “How Guns And Bombs Dramatically Redrew The Economic And Political Map Of East Africa”, (http://nakedchiefs.com/2012/06/12/how-guns-and-bombs-dramatically-redrew-the-economic-and-political-map-of-east-africa-and-the-horn/), after 1998, nothing would be the same in East Africa, the Great Lakes Region, or the Horn of Africa.
The decision by Democratic Republic of Congo President Laurent Kabila, seen as a lackey, to expel his supposed “puppet” masters Rwanda and led to the outbreak of the so-called Second Congo War. A united front fell apart. Angola and Zimbabwe moved in as Kabila’s new protectors, and ranged against them were former allies Rwanda and Uganda.
A lot of terrible things happened in the years to follow. Uganda and Rwanda found themselves accused of pillage, plunder of minerals, timber and wild game, and of backing murderous rebels. Their fairly legitimate counter-argument that they went into the DRC to deal with murderous rebels who threatened their countries, was heard, but quickly swept aside in the face of the humanitarian disaster in the vast Central African nation.
According to the Human Security Project, up to three million people died in the DRC war. The International Rescue Committee puts the figure much higher, at 5.4 million.
The important thing is that the “Second Congo War” dealt the last blow to the possibility of a “Confederation of East and Central Africa” that had been envisioned by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
However, even without the “Second Congo War,” when DRC joined the South African Development Community (SADC) at the end of 1997, it was clear that for the time being the diplomatic game in the Congo had slipped out of the hands of regional “powers” like Uganda.
The terrorist bomb attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August 1998, as noted last week, shifted global security attention back to East Africa — and then the Horn, where extremists were being hatched, groomed, and offered the infrastructure to plot terror. “International terrorism” became the big new issue — and Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia assumed new strategic importance in the fight against it.
It was unsaid, but there seemed to be an understanding that the “Christian” nations in the region had to be stabilised so they could be united to confront the “Muslim nations” that were thought to be breeding terror — Sudan and Somalia.
The 1998 attacks helped further swing Western, especially American, opinion in favour of John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) against Khartoum. One of Khartoum’s proxies, Joseph Kony’s Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) moved into the cross-hairs of the international community. “Non-lethal” military aid to Uganda, some of which was re-channelled to the SPLA, increased sharply. Khartoum started to feel the heat.
The Sudanese connection
The US moved in and set up a vast military operation in Djibouti, and kept harassing militants inside Somalia with missiles and drone attacks.
Slowly, the initiative in Uganda’s war against the LRA started to shift in Kampala’s favour, and most of the rebels’ activities were confined inside South Sudan. The Uganda People’s Defence Forces moved several battalions inside South Sudan, where they stayed until about two years ago.
Peace initiatives, which had been explored in previous years, took on a renewed urgency all over the Great Lakes region.
In Kenya, faced with a rising democracy wave and weakened by a collapsed economy that was posting negative growth, president Daniel arap Moi had succumbed and the ban on multiparty politics was lifted in 1992. With the Inter Parliamentary Parties Group (IPPG) agreement of October 1997, it was understood that Moi would step down in 2002 — if he won the December 1997 election. Not ready to quite bow out yet, Moi went for a last bite at the cherry — and won the election.
Moi wanted to find a legacy, because he knew that he was going to bequeath to his successors a Kenya that was a train wreck. He had several hands to play. One of the people he called up was a persuasive general, Lazaro Sumbeiywo, Kenya’s special envoy to the IGAD-led Sudanese peace process (1997-98).
Sumbeiywo started working on shifting the Sudan peace process to Kenya. That was going to be one of Moi’s legacy projects. Next up, he tapped Bethuel Kiplagat to set up the Somalia peace talks — in Nairobi.
Next up was Burundi. There had been initiatives from outside East Africa to end the Burundi civil war. In 1995, the Carter Centre invited South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, among several senior African leaders, to start a peace effort for the Great Lakes region in 1995. A first meeting in Cairo was followed by a second round in Tunis in March 1996.
In subsequent years, this regional approach died down, and Nyerere was assigned the task of attending to the Burundi conflict, which at that time had become one of the most dominant crises of the region. In 1998, a new series of talks aimed at resolving the ethnic conflict opened in Arusha, under the chairmanship of Nyerere. Nyerere scheduled a series of peace conferences to be held between June 1998 and August 1999.
At a summit in January 1999, East African leaders decided to suspend economic sanctions against Burundi, imposed following the coup in 1996, to encourage the peace negotiations. In many ways, Burundi’s journey into the East African Community started at that point, when the region fully took over the job of ending the madness there.
Subsequent negotiations led to an accord, brokered by Nyerere’s successor, Nelson Mandela, in August 2000.
Meanwhile, in the dramatic year of 1998, Seth Sendanshonga, a former minister in the government of national unity formed in 1994 after the Rwanda Patriotic Front ended the genocide and took power, was assassinated in Nairobi by unknown gunmen.
Sendanshonga had fled to exile in Kenya in 1995 after criticising the government. He escaped an assassination attempt in Nairobi in 1996.
His luck ran out in May 1998. Kigali then, and today, denies that it had a hand in Sendanshonga’s death, but some commentators say it was sending a warning message to Nairobi, which had become a regional haven for former Rwandan government officials who were linked to the genocide.
If Kenya were just harbouring suspected genocidaires, perhaps Kigali wouldn’t have been too unsettled. The problem was that Kenya was allegedly supplying bullets, among other things, to anti-Rwanda/RPF factions in the DRC.
Indeed, a 2002 report by Groupe de recherche et d’information sur la paix et la sécurité (GRIP) from Belgium investigating the marking and tracing of small arms and light weapons stated, “Officials from the UN International Commission of Inquiry on arms transfers in Rwanda interviewed by the authors [GRIP] on October 1, 1998 explicitly blamed Kenyan officials with regard to the provision of supplies from the Eldoret ammunition factory to factions in the Rwanda conflict.”
Kenya and Rwanda might not be neighbours, but they had got into one another’s faces. But wiser heads in Kigali understood that long-term, national security meant being on good terms with Nairobi. And Nairobi too saw that, small as it might be, Rwanda had the security reach to break eggs in Kenya. A relationship like that Jennifer Lopez’s father describes in the film The Wedding Planner, a loveless arranged marriage that eventually evolves into a deeply intimate one, was about to break out between Rwanda and Kenya.
Two other events were to roil regional waters. On June 1, 1999, Nelson Mandela stepped down as South Africa’s president, after being in power for only a very unAfrican single term. And on October 14, 1999, Nyerere died in a London hospital.
With Mandela out of power, the Southern African region began to be uninteresting to the world. The Mandela-adoring industry continued to grow, but he now became a global, not a regional brand. To makes matters worse, in Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe muddied the waters by ordering violent seizures of white-owned farms. Zimbabwe floundered into inflation of 900,000 per cent and more.
Outside of Mozambique and Namibia, there was no reformist and exciting nation in SADC. Swaziland was hobbled by a corrupt, incompetent, horny monarch, while Angola turned into one of the most repressive and corrupt nations in the world.
In East Africa, the death of Nyerere meant that there was no influential national figure in the region who was a leader in 1977 when the East African Community I collapsed. That collapse was particularly painful for Nyerere.
East African Posts & Telecommunications was headquartered in Nairobi. It provided phone services for the whole of the EAC. Tanzania, unlike Uganda, was particularly exposed, as it didn’t have any critical part of this telecommunications infrastructure. When EAC I collapsed, Tanzania was cut off from the rest of the world — Kenya was not in a generous mood then to ease its pain.
Birth of distrust of Kenyans
Nyerere took many drastic steps to raise the resources to build new facilities like phone services. Among them was a decision to cut salaries of civil servants by 25 per cent to fund new infrastructure.
Families that were middle class in Tanzania, fell on hard times. Some of the current Tanzanian distrust and coldness toward Kenya is informed by such hard knocks that people had to take after the collapse of the Community. There are a few people who were in government in Tanzania then, who are still calling the shots today.
For them, it remains personal. History cannot easily be wished away. It will take a few more years before this distrust totally melts away.
Though Nyerere had stepped down in 1985, his death gave Tanzanian leaders the freedom to engage on the East African integration with less guilt and “fear” of Nyerere, who would have pressed for a more cautious approach. It’s perhaps no accident that the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community was signed in Arusha on November 30, 1999 — six weeks after Nyerere’s death.
Also in 1999, the six African countries involved in the DRC war signed a ceasefire accord in Lusaka. The rebel groups in the DRC too signed an accord. In 2000, the UN Security Council authorised a 5,500-strong UN force to monitor the ceasefire but fighting continued between rebels and government forces, and between Rwandan and Ugandan forces in eastern DRC. But the momentum towards de-escalation in the Congo war nevertheless seemed to have taken an irreversible turn. By end of 2002, Rwanda and Uganda had withdrawn most of their troops from DRC.
In Kenya, two years down the road, the Somalia peace agreement was signed. It would take a couple more years for anything to come out of it on the ground in Somalia, but the Transitional Federal Government, which has undergone several mutations since, had been born.
A year later, in 2005, the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nairobi — and South Sudan started down the road that ended in its becoming an independent state last July.
Rwanda and Uganda needed to banish the ghosts of DRC, and reinvent themselves. Kigali needed to recapture the genocide narrative, in which it is on the right side of the story; and the ruling National Resistance Movement in Uganda, and a President Museveni tarred by the brush of a vote-cheating president-for-life wannabe, both needed to wrap themselves in their old liberation garb.
With East Africa largely peaceful, and everyone included in or about to join the EAC, the region became more outward looking. Rwanda surprised many by becoming the first country to send troops to the perilous Darfur peacekeeping mission. The headlines about the Rwanda army began to change.
This wasn’t lost on Museveni — and Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi. In 2007, Museveni went one further than Kagame in Darfur. He sent Ugandan troops as the first — for a while only — contingent of the African Union peacekeeping force Amisom into Somalia, considered the most dangerous place in Africa. On the second day after the Ugandans arrived, a giant cargo plane bringing them supplies and equipment was shot down by Al Shabaab militants as it landed at Mogadishu airport.
Its massive carcass still stands at the edge of the runway as a memento of the extremely perilous early days of the mission. Nearly a year later, Burundi too put boots on the ground in Mogadishu.
There were still a few twists in the regional geopolitical game. One came at the beginning of 2008 as Kenya descended into violence, following the disputed December 2007 general election. When the madness died down, nearly 1,600 had been murdered, and at least another 500,000 displaced. Long a recipient of refugees, Kenya produced its first large number of refugees when 6,000 people fled for safety to Uganda.
The post-election violence (PEV) had far reaching consequences. It galvanised East Africa, speeding up the inclusion of Burundi and Rwanda as the EAC sought a wider regional safety net. Inside Kenya, it set off a burst of reform to save the nation, leading to the new Constitution, aggressive economic initiatives to expand the cake and mollify a restless nation, and a drive to redefine the country in ways that are less inward in order to offer the national and state elite something broader to expend their energies on — hence the Somalia “incursion,” and the Lamu Port and Lamu Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor.
For many years to come, for all the East African nations, to borrow a phrase from former US president Bill Clinton, it will be the Horn of Africa stupid.
... AND THE SERIES ENDS.
-Thanks to Christine Mungai for additional reporting and research.
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