Global Policy Forum

Pieces of Peace in Africa

Washington Post
July 11, 1999

Suddenly and coincidentally, two of Africa's most intractable and devastating wars, between government and rebels in Sierra Leone and among six countries fighting in and around Congo, formerly Zaire, show signs of submitting to diplomacy. The grandfather of African wars, in Sudan, continues, and so does the struggle between formerly friendly Ethiopia and Eritrea in Africa's Horn. But if the progress promised in Sierra Leone and Congo can be consolidated and extended, a cruel common image of Africa as a place given over to seemingly endless fratricide and waste of its energies and resources can begin to be changed.

The peace agreement newly signed for the Congo requires respect for a cease-fire and for subsequent political negotiations among countries with, until now, a terrible disrespect for each other. The agreement will also require the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity to set up an appropriate peacekeeping operation; the role of the United States and Europe will be to help provide the wherewithal. The onset of reconstruction, as conditions permit, will need the expanding participation of private and public investors alike.

In Sierra Leone a peace agreement has been signed on lines -- power-sharing and amnesty -- that other civil-warring nations have also followed. The unusual ferocity displayed by rebel forces, however, makes application of this formula to Sierra Leone particularly problematical. An elected government is being forced to accommodate a rebel force known principally for mass amputation of the limbs and facial features of thousands of innocent civilians.

In Sierra Leone's plight lie some obligatory cautions for others. The first is to note the costs of the common international approach to these slow-bleeding wars in unstrategic places, which is to count ultimately on mutual fatigue to bring both sides to a semblance of sense. This amounts to waiting until a country has turned itself into a basket case.

In respect to Sierra Leone, many foreigners will hesitate to second-guess the decision of local authorities to deal with the rebels. But acceptance need not be complete. In this instance, the U.N. secretariat and the United States, among others, have condemned war crimes and denied support for offering amnesty to the perpetrators. Some special international security protection is due citizens who must now face in the street men who committed monstrous crimes against them and their families.

Peaceful circumstances in which they can concentrate on recovery and development are of overwhelming importance for Africans. This is what is gratifying about the pieces of peace now emerging. These results come from the assistance given particular countries by the Organization of African Unity. Its diplomats and peacekeepers have help from others, including the United States, but are performing crucial services of their own.

More Information on Sierra Leone

More Information on the Democratic Republic of Congo


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