May 16, 2000
Ray Suarez leads a discussion with U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke on war and famine in Africa -- as well as peacekeeping efforts across the continent.
| RAY SUAREZ: The bad news from Africa has been consistent and daunting.
In West Africa, Sierra Leone's civil war resumed, despite a U.S.-brokered
peace agreement and the deployment of U.N. Peacekeepers. America's Ambassador
to the U.N., Richard Holbrooke, and other members of the U.N. Security
Council began their week-long mission in the heart of the continent, the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Laurent Kabila's government has
lost control of much of its territory, is fighting off rebel armies, and
has had to call in soldiers from across sub-Saharan Africa.
Ambassador Holbrooke moved on to southern Africa, to Zimbabwe, where the government of Robert Mugabe has looked on, while thousands of his supporters have seized the farms of white Zimbabweans and brought political violence to this once-hopeful country. The ambassador's trip also included Rwanda, where political violence continues, and the country is overwhelmed by dislocated populations, ethnic conflict, and the aftermath of the massacres of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis. He ended his tour in the Horn of Africa, where two countries cheered by the world community for their efforts at post-civil war reconstruction, Eritrea and Ethiopia, are fighting each other in a costly, vicious, and bloody border war, even as millions of Ethiopians slide closer to food disaster after years of failing rains. The steady litany of disaster has caught the world's attention. The U.N. and member nations fret over the failure of peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone, and fret about the cost, and the Economist puts it bluntly, calling Africa the hopeless continent. And Ambassador Holbrooke joins us now.
Welcome back to the program, sir.
|United Nations and United States|
RICHARD HOLBROOKE, U.S. Ambassador, United Nations: Great to be back, Ray.
RAY SUAREZ: You were representing the United States on the Security Council, also the chief of mission in this recent trip to Africa. Why now?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: The Security Council has to make some very big decisions in Africa, and the secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has to decide whether to move forward with the next phase of the peacekeeping observer mission in the Congo. So the Security Council asked seven of us to go to the Congo. The other eight members of the Security Council, incidentally, went to Kosovo at the same time. By the time we got to the Congo -- where, incidentally, things were moving forward, slowly, but they were moving forward -- but by the time we got to the Congo, the events in Sierra Leone were casting a very large shadow over all of the peacekeeping efforts. And I think the first thing I want to say about this, because your piece quite accurately summarized our trip, was that what's happening in Sierra Leone is very serious, and it may cast a shadow over the perception of peacekeeping, but it does not have any direct effect on the Congo. It's only the intangible psychological effect. That's real enough, but we shouldn't get the two issues confused. And above all, Ray, Sierra Leone should not be read as a metaphor for the entire continent. I saw the Economist story. I read it last night. Africa's not the hopeless continent, and that was not the Economist's point. They put that cover... They put that picture on the cover as an ironic issue. Africa's not hopeless, but there are some desperate parts of it which need attention.
RAY SUAREZ: But you yourself point out the bad timing of having Sierra Leone blow up just as the Security Council mission is trying to put some things in place in the Congo. Sierra Leone is a much smaller country and a much less complicated situation, and the U.N.'s having a hard time making headway there. How does that auger well for a Congo mission?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Again, Ray, the Sierra Leone situation and the Congo situation are completely different. Let's talk about them one by one. What's happening in Sierra Leone is inexcusable. The so-called RUF, which is really just a bunch of ragtag, machete-wielding murderers, have broken every undertaking that they ever made in the last few years under this agreement in which they were supposed to be integrated into a peaceful reconciliation. That agreement is in tatters. Foday Sankoh, the head of the RUF who has currently disappeared, is a man who has really behaved in a way which I think puts him outside the acceptable limits.
But that is nothing to do with the Congo. The Congo situation made progress. We signed with Kabila The U.N. signed with President Kabila the status of forces agreement. We stopped the fighting that took place in Kisangani between Rwandan and Ugandan forces, and put into place a new package to bring demilitarization to that area. It's slow, it's tough, but the Congo was not the number-one crisis in Africa last week, and I don't think what's happening in Sierra Leone affects it.
|Conflict in the Congo|
RAY SUAREZ: What has to happen first in the Congo? Can the foreign armies that are on the soil of the country stand down and leave in order to create a space for peacekeeping? Can the Kabila government enforce its will in parts of the country where it now needs help from outside?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: The second part of your question is categorically no. The Kabila government cannot enforce its will. They don't have the military or political capability, and under the peace agreement signed in Lusaka last year, the African- negotiated peace agreement, which the U.N. is going to help implement, nobody's expecting Kabila to do that. The Lusaka peace plan is supposed to result in the countries that are now in the Congo pulling their forces back on a phase basis as the U.N. observers come in. But I need to stress this again, because you compared Sierra Leone and the Congo. There is no possibility that external forces will come into the Congo and impose a peaceful solution. They will not pacify it. That is not necessarily the case in Sierra Leone, because Sierra Leone is small and well-defined, and because what's happening there is much more clear-cut, because the number of people in the so-called RUF group, which is really a bunch of murderous, rampaging, machete-wielding young men, because that is a different kind of issue. But in the Congo, no external force is going to come in and pacify it. It's up to the African leaders themselves to show the kind of leadership and will, which they must exercise in order to bring this thing under control. And no one, repeat, no one is thinking of an international peacemaking force in the Congo.
RAY SUAREZ: So how do you create peace there? What has to happen first, and then what has to happen subsequently in order to create a space where you can have a peacekeeping mission with some hope of success?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: There are three key elements, Ray. First, the external forces have to pull back, and the observers sent in by the U.N. go in and verify the pullbacks. Now, again, I need to stress, if they don't wish to pull back, no external force on earth will be able to make them. This is not like Bosnia or Kosovo or East Timor. It's quite different. Secondly, a political dialogue of reconciliation, which is under way, needs to move forward. It is led by the former president of Botswana, Ketumile Masire. And third, the U.N. forces and others must deal with the murderous killers in the Eastern Congo who are left over from the Rwanda genocide.
RAY SUAREZ: Many of the other points on your trip involved countries that were involved in one way or another in the Congo crisis-- Zimbabwe, Zambia, Rwanda, Uganda. Was there a sense that you got from the leaders in these countries that they were ready to bring a quick end to this?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: The interesting thing, Ray, was that for various reasons, every single leader we met with, no matter what their internal differences, was literally begging the outside world, the U.N., to come in and put some peacekeeping observers on the ground in order to stabilize the situation.
|A regional plan needed?|
RAY SUAREZ: And obviously there are different motivations for each of these countries, but certainly Rwanda and Uganda are fighting with each other at the same time as they've got forces deployed in the field in the Congo. Is what's needed a comprehensive plan for the whole eastern part of the Congo?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Actually, Rwanda and Uganda had two days of fighting. We arrived as soon as that started, and we stopped it on May 8. The fighting stopped after we visited both presidents. We made an announcement of an agreement they both agreed to. We forged it through telephone calls and shuttle diplomacy. The fighting stopped. The U.N. observers went in to Kisangani. We are now talking very actively to several countries, particularly South Africa, about sending in a battalion to demilitarize Kisangani. So what you just said a minute ago is just not right. They are not fighting now. They fought for two days, and the Security Council did successfully stop it.
RAY SUAREZ: Let's take a look at Ethiopia and Eritrea. Any hopeful news from there?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: You know, Ray, of all the wars that we have witnessed in recent years - and we've seen a lot of small regional wars - this is arguably the most senseless, the most tragic. As you said in your introduction, 16 million Ethiopians are facing a famine. The two countries have a real difference of opinion over the border, and they have had two years of intermittent fighting. The launching of a third round of military activity by Ethiopia in the midst of the famine besetting a quarter of its own people is really heartbreaking and tragic. The food is piling up at the docks at Djibouti. It's not being let in through the Eritrean ports. These differences could have and should have been settled through the negotiating process that the organization of African Unity, the OAU, had set into motion. It is truly... All wars are terrible, but some wars are unavoidable. This was a senseless, avoidable war. But in the end, after the breakdown of the OAU talks in Algiers, which took place before our Security Council mission got involved, they were hell-bent on going forward with this war. And they are now having an extraordinary and totally meaningless military conflict.
|Optimism for the future|
RAY SUAREZ: You were pretty adamant earlier that the Economist, perhaps ironic, perhaps otherwise, was wrong. This is not a hopeless continent. Can you point to any bright spots that those of us watching in the United States might look to that provide a model of the way things could and should go there?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I simply think the idea that you write off an entire continent from Morocco to Cape Town with countries like Morocco and Tunisia, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa and dozens of others, struggling to make progress, stabilizing themselves, showing real economic growth, trying to deal with the problems of AIDS, that you write off an entire continent is completely incomprehensible to me.
But let me be more clear about this, because I encounter this constantly. Those people in the West who wish to draw a large Berlin-type wall around an entire continent are going to learn the hard way that the problems they're trying to seal off exist already on the other side of the wall. And the only way to deal with these problems is to tackle them frontally. This is not easy. Africa is daunting. The most serious problem of all is the one that you and I discussed last time I was on your program, and that was the problem of AIDS in Africa, against which the United States and others have launched a massive effort to attack it. But to say that Africa has the most daunting problems today of any continent is a statement I think many of us would agree with, although the subcontinent and other parts of the world are big problems too. But to say that Africa's hopeless has a subliminal message I find very disturbing, and an irresponsibility to it which will carry with it the seeds of a much greater problem later.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Ambassador, good to have you with us.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Thank you, Ray. It's good to be back.