Financial incentives part of African initiatives reviving hope

Peace makes progress

Posted: Monday, July 29, 2002

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Peace efforts in Africa suddenly seem to be making progress, with major breakthroughs toward ending fighting in Congo, Sudan and Burundi in less than week.

While Africa's truces historically have far outnumbered lasting peace agreements, important progress in those three major hot spots provides some grounds for optimism on the war-weary continent.

The reasons for movement are varied, but all the plans have in common offers of financial rewards for peace, increased U.S. diplomatic attention and renewed commitments by African leaders eager to improve their reputations and economies.

Early this month, Africa's heads of state transformed the weak Organization for African Unity into the African Union, which is intended to move aggressively to address the problems of the world's poorest continent.

During the Group of 8 summit in May, African leaders also committed to the New Partnership for African Development. The premise is simple: Africans promise to sort out the continent's problems to international standards and Western governments give them cash and encourage corporate investment.

Francois Grignon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, believes the African Union, currently led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, desperately wants to show it can do more than the toothless OAU.

''The African Union has put high on its agenda the issues of peace and conflict resolution,'' he said. ''Mbeki needs a success story to be the uncontested African leader ... and to fit in the shoes of Nelson Mandela,'' his predecessor as South Africa's president.

An estimated 2.5 million people have died from fighting, disease and hunger during Congo's 4-year-old war, which has drawn in six other African nations. Under an accord mediated by South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, Rwanda has agreed to withdraw its troops if Congo rounds up, disarms and repatriates ethnic Hutu militiamen blamed for the 1994 slaughter of a half-million people in Rwanda.

Peace between Congo and Rwanda would go a long way toward bringing an end to fighting.

Ending the Congo war would show that African Union leaders are ''already putting their money where their mouths are,'' said Henry Boshoff, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Johannesburg, South Africa.

To encourage the effort, international donors have promised Congolese President Joseph Kabila financial benefits for peace. The World Bank made a $450 million loan dependent on a peace agreement, with promises of more money when peace takes hold.

Washington helped finance the talks and sent Mark Bellamy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, to push Congo and Rwanda toward an agreement.

Kabila told The Associated Press he would travel to South Africa to sign a new accord Tuesday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

''We can't get rid of them and they can't get rid of us. We are condemned to live as neighbors,'' Kabila said.

The U.S. administration has played a high-profile role in the Sudanese peace talks, with President Bush appointing former U.S. Sen. John Danforth his special envoy. Danforth helped negotiate an important truce last year and cajoled both government and rebels into getting serious about peace talks.

Danforth's mission was to help U.S. companies gain access to the extensive oil fields in the rebellious south, deal with the Christian right's desire to end what they see as the persecution of Christians by the Islamic government and convince the government to sever ties with terrorists, U.S. officials say.

This month's peace talks were mediated by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, acting with the backing of the African Union. Scheduled to retire later this year and eager to burnish his image, Moi made clear he wanted an agreement in Sudan before he stepped down.

A breakthrough was reached a week ago, when government and rebel officials announced they had agreed on the right of self-determination and religious freedom for the southern Sudanese. Both sides said that with those issues resolved, they expected to wrap up quickly a full peace accord next month, including how to share the country's oil wealth.

On Saturday, Sudan President Omar el-Bashir and John Garang, leader of the Kenyan-based Sudan People's Liberation Army, met for two hours and endorsed a framework for talks to end the 19-year-civil war, Africa's longest conflict, that has killed about 2 million people.

South Africa's Zuma also has played an important role in helping Mandela mediate talks on ending Burundi's 8-year-old civil war, which has killed more than 200,000 people.

South African and Ugandan officials announced at midweek they planned to soon bring the Burundian rebels into direct talks with the government for the first time.

U.S. diplomats have played a major supporting role in the Burundi talks for four years, providing cash and expertise. The United States and the European Union also have proposed injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into Burundi if fighting stops.

Jan Van Eck, a South African political consultant who has helped in the Burundi talks, said the movement in peace efforts and the launch of the African Union was a coincidence, but it would ''help to create confidence that there is a new spirit in Africa to resolve conflicts.''

Jackie Cilliers, director of the Institute for Security Studies, sees the new peace initiatives as part of a greater trend toward African self-reliance.

''Increasingly we have Africans taking the lead and attempting to solve Africa's problems,'' he said.

Associated Press reporter Jeremiah Marquez in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

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