TOPICS > Nation

Continuing Turmoil in Uganda

March 5, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


LINDSEY HILSUM, ITN: Abandoned, the desolate remains of the camp in the impenetrable forest. This is where the Interhamwe, the Hutu rebels who came from Rwanda and hid in the forests of Congo, attacked.

CHRIS ORYEMA, Game Warden, Burundi National Park: These people were not in any form of uniforms. They were putting on any other — you know, normal clothes, but they are in rags. Most of them were in rags, and they had tied their head — their head with a small ribbon, red. I think that’s likely for identification.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The camp is now well guarded by Ugandan troops. A battalion has gone into the Congo pursuing the rebels. They say 15 of the group who attacked the camp were killed yesterday by Rwandan troops who were working alongside the Ugandans in the Congo. They say they had no warning of Interahamwe activity in the area before, but now they’ll pursue them deep into the forest.

LT. COLONEL BENON BIRARO, Ugandan Army: We have the forces in place. We have the — the general direction. We are pursuing them, and we are coordinating with other forces ahead. So that’s what we can do as of now.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The attackers left messages on the back of photographs, one of a gorilla, one of a King Fisher. This one says in French “Here is the punishment for Anglo-Saxons who sold us in order to protect the minority and oppress the majority.” What they’re talking about is Tutsis and Hutus. They’re saying that the British and the Americans favored the Tutsi minority and oppressed the Hutu majority and that’s the reason for these killings. So deep in the forest of the Congo, the Interahamwe, who tried to wipe out the Tutsis of Rwanda in the genocide of 1994, continue their deadly campaign, ever more desperate and difficult to apprehend. More of the survivors left to go home. They said they needed to return to normality. The American tour guide, Mark Ross, whose negotiating skills helped save lives, said despite the experience, he’ll be taking groups back to Burundi.

MARK ROSS, Tour Guide: The vast majority of East Africa and Southern Africa is fantastic and wonderful wildlife and wonderful people. No, I’m not giving up the business at all. It was a really sad, freaky, I think, unpredictable occurrence.

LINDSEY HILSUM: But as the dead are prepared for their last journey home, the Ugandan and neighboring governments know that more such attacks are likely as conflicts multiply across Central Africa.

PHIL PONCE: We’re now joined by Chester Crocker, a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University; he was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President Reagan; and George Ayittey, Professor of Economics at American University; he’s also president of the Free Africa Foundation, which promotes political freed in Africa. Gentlemen, welcome.

PHIL PONCE: Professor Ayittey, in report we just saw we heard a group described called the Interhamwe, the alleged attackers. Tell us more about this group. Who are they?

GEORGE AYITTEY, American University: Well, these were the Hutus who held power in Rwanda and refused to share political power with the Tutsis and decided to massacre them, which led to the 1994 genocide. And when the Tutsis eventually murdered and the Hutu Interhamwe sort of fled across the border to the Congo. And that’s where they have been launching sporadic cross-border raids against the Tutsis in Rwanda.

PHIL PONCE: And when one looks at a map of the region, one sees that the three countries, I mean, they’re right next to each other, Rwanda, the Congo and Uganda.


PHIL PONCE: Professor Crocker, why is it that Hutus from Rwanda who are now living in or have a base of operations in the Congo would go to Uganda and kill English-speaking tourists?

CHESTER CROCKER, Georgetown University: It’s a very complex history, but in a nutshell, the people who killed these tourists, as Professor Ayittey has just said, were the ones responsible for the genocide of 1994, they were thrown out of Rwanda by the Tutsis, and they were pushed into the Congo. They feel that the Tutsis, in effect, are allied internationally with English-speaking countries, including ourselves and the British. They feel themselves closer for historical reasons because they were, when they were in office, allied with the French. They see themselves in sort of a French-English contest in some sense, but basically this has to do with power and with ethnic rivalry. I will add one point. The Interhamwe do not represent all Hutus; they represent the extremist Hutus who only see a future that is exclusive without the Tutsis. Of course, there are extremists on both sides.

PHIL PONCE: So, Professor Ayittey, you agree that this was an attempt by these attackers to get back at countries like Great Britain and the United States who they perceive as still being allied with their rivals, the Tutsis both in Uganda and in Rwanda?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, they are trying to do this to draw international attention to their plight. And I think there’s no justification whatsoever for them to perpetrate this sort of senseless and brutal murders against innocent tourists because this is going to deal a devastating blow to the tourism industry on which the Central African countries rely a lot on for their sustenance. There was no reason whatsoever for this. I mean, if they have grievances against the U.S. and Britain, there are better channels by which they can pursue this, but not by murdering innocent tourists in the region.

PHIL PONCE: And, Professor Ayittey, what are their grievances, what are their gripes?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, they feel that the U.S. and Britain are backing the regimes in Rwanda where they were expelled from in 1994 and also the Government of Uganda. First of all, let me caution that in this particular region, there are not many really good guys that we can support, but at the same time, we need to put the incident in perspective and recognize that these Hutus extremists, were those who were responsible for the slaughter of almost 500,000 Tutsis and they feel that the U.S. –

PHIL PONCE: And many moderate Hutus?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Yes, and they feel that the U.S. is supporting Uganda and Uganda and Rwanda, and they wanted to send a message to Americans, and that’s why they killed tourists. And that should not have been the case.

PHIL PONCE: Professor Crocker, in this region of Africa, which is called the Great Lakes region there, Lake Victoria and some others, are the Hutus in the majority? And how do they perceive their — the equation between how many of them there are and how much political power they have in the region?

CHESTER CROCKER: Well, yes, the Hutus are a majority of about 85 percent inside of Rwanda and a similar percentage inside Burundi, but the governments of both places are largely in the hands of Tutsis today, although there’s some token representation of Hutus in those governments. But, again, I think we have to break down — the Hutus don’t all speak with one voice necessarily. The problem is when you get extremists with guns in office and they tend to be the more polarizing elements in the country, right now you have an effort on the part of Laurent Kabila, the president of the Congo, next-door country, to recruit the Hutus as his allies in his battle with the rebels in the Congo. So these conflicts are spilling across borders from one to the other. And under the principle of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, there are all kinds of cross alignments. The basic issue though for us is I think is do we recognize the meaning of all this, which is that it’s time maybe to get involved in trying to solve some of these conflicts. Otherwise, they’re going to continue to rage like this.

PHIL PONCE: So are you suggesting that there’s a more direct role that the United States might be playing in this?

CHESTER CROCKER: I think we’ve been a little passive on this one ever since 1994. We pulled the plug on a UN operation that was based in Rwanda at the time. We voted against its continuation. The genocide followed that. We did a very limited effort in 1996 to put food into refugee camps in Eastern Congo, but nothing to separate the bad guys from the innocent civilians. We’ve been kind of letting the wind blow and not doing much to shape the direction of the wind.

PHIL PONCE: Professor Ayittey, at this point, what has the United States been doing actively to support Uganda and Rwanda that would have alienated and angered the Hutus?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, after the genocide, the United States have tried to help the new government in Rwanda to rebuild and repair the infrastructure, which was just devastated, and also to help the — to help the two ethnic groups heal the social fabric, which was just shredded during the genocide. You might also represent that President Clinton last year touched down briefly in Rwanda and – and –

PHIL PONCE: And also in Uganda.

GEORGE AYITTEY: And also in Uganda. And in Kigali – he sort of apologized that the U.S. didn’t act soon enough to stop the slaughter of the Tutsis. Perhaps, you know, there is this perception that the U.S. militarily backs the government in Rwanda, and I think this is what the Hutu extremists tend to think. But I don’t think so. I think the U.S. is generally extending the general arm of generosity and also help. Let’s not forget that there are many Western countries which are in Rwanda trying to help the Rwandese people.

PHIL PONCE: And, Professor Crocker, in Uganda — Uganda is attempting to start a new chapter. In the past Uganda was associated with dictators like Idi Amin, but the current president of Uganda, free-market person, he’s trying to sort of minimize the abuses of power, so Uganda is in good graces with the United States.

CHESTER CROCKER: We have a good relationship with Uganda. Uganda’s leadership is among the more enlightened in Africa. It does have some serious problems, both economic and military across boarders. Ugandans are very active inside of the Congo trying to make the right side win in the Congolese civil war, I should point out, so they have a big role to play in this region. But we have to wish them well. By regional standards, they’re doing okay.

PHIL PONCE: And earlier, Professor Ayittey alluded to the harm that might come to tourism. Tourism in Uganda was the fastest-growing sector and this gorilla park was a key component of that, yes?

CHESTER CROCKER: That’s correct. And the Tutsi rebels who came into power in 1994 and took over the Government were based in Uganda for many years. So this is sort of a pay-back message from the Interhamwe to the Ugandan leadership. To me the right answer for that payback message ought to be to go get these guys and indicate to them who’s in charge of the region. But that’s got to be done in a way that leads ultimately to a peace process and not just to a constant power struggle.

PHIL PONCE: And what do you envision a peace process entailing? Who would have to be accommodated and how?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, first of all, let me say that the Hutu rebels have simply overstayed their welcome in Congo and that they are not refugees and they should be expelled to go back right to their countries. And also, I would favor an African solution to this and have always preached this, and that is we have an organization of African unity and also, remember that last — about two years ago, Warren Christopher went to Africa to try and establish the African crisis response initiative and to create a force which would intervene in situations like Burundi and Rwanda to stop the slaughter of people. And I think now is the time to activate this particular force and initiative.

PHIL PONCE: Professor Crocker, very quickly, do you see any prospect of that happening.

CHESTER CROCKER: The problem I see that Africans today are divided and the fact that they’re on different sides of the Congolese civil war. So some catalyst is needed to get to the goal that Professor Ayittey is talking about. And that catalyst, I think, could be outside help. But, yes, indeed, it should be an Africa-led process.

PHIL PONCE: Well, Gentlemen, thank you both very much.