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Zaire and the Great Lakes
ICG Central Africa Project, February 13, 1997

Executive Summary


In January 1997, the International Crisis Group (ICG), an international analysis and advocacy group that seeks to enhance international responses to complex emergencies, undertook a two-week exploratory mission to Zaire and the Great Lakes of Africa. The aim was to determine what, if any, added value ICG could bring to the region.

The Present Situation

Central AfricaRegional Upheaval

The current upheaval in central Africa consists in reality of four overlapping crises that intersect in eastern Zaire: the war in Kivu; the worsening situation in Rwanda; the deadly impasse in Burundi; and the steady collapse of Zaire itself.

Other regional hot-spots are also linked to Zaire: the current crisis in the Central African Republic, the wars in southern Sudan and western Uganda, and the fragile reconciliation processes in Angola and the Congo. Zaire is central to a situation that, if allowed to deteriorate, could lead to an ark of conflict from Sudan to Angola.

To date, the international response has lacked purpose and cohesion. It is believed by an acute African rivalry between France and the US, where mistrust verges on paranoia.


There are three levels of crisis in Zaire: the incomplete transition to democracy, the post-Mobutu transition and the war in the East. The war is both the clear expression of Zairian ailments (corruption, state collapse, military terror) and the security needs of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

Despite the numerous crises, bright spots exist in Zaire: a vibrant civil society, a sense of nationhood and a generalised will to achieve political change though legal process. The international community must harness these positive dynamics to help Zaire arrest its downward slide. Particular attention must be paid to issues such as Mobutu�s succession, military reform, citizenship and the elections.

Rwanda and BurundiRwanda

With the return of more than one million refugees from Zaire and Tanzania, the problems that were once on Rwanda�s borders are now within these borders: Rwanda faces internal civil war. Hutu violence has been met with a hard-line Rwandan army response. This policy will inevitably further isolate the Hutu population.

While important elements within the Rwandan government appear committed to finding viable solutions, they have so far failed to provide a long-term vision for political and economic power-sharing that would overcome ethnic enmity. The country is at a cross-roads: there is a clear danger that Rwanda will go down the same path as Burundi.


In Burundi, the military-led Tutsi government and the Hutu opposition are locked in a deadly cycle of violence and fear. The army�s position has been bolstered by the closure of Hutu insurgent camps in Zaire. But the sanctions imposed by neighbouring countries after the military coup in July 1996 have further isolated the Tutsi community, while removing any stick-and carrot potential the West might have had. In Burundi, the international Community has precious little leverage on either side. While there are rumours of secret contacts between the Government and the rebels, the killing in the countryside continues, and there is little the West can do about it.

Recommendations for Further ICG Involvement

Interlocutors repeatedly brought the following three points to the team�s attention:

  • The international response to the crisis in the region is piecemeal and near-sighted.

  • There is a poor grasp on how the "Zairian factor" impacts on neighbouring crises; the Great Lakes, in particular, are seldom analysed from the Zairian perspective.

  • Insufficient attention is paid to Zaire itself, despite the fact that Zaire is the key to long-term stability in the region.

In the light of these observations, the team makes the following three recommendations:

  1. ICG should choose Zaire as its main entry-point, focusing both on Zaire proper and the crisis in the East.

  2. ICG should build a presence in east Africa and create a unique ability to analyse the Great Lakes from both East and West.

  3. ICG must gear its analysis and advocacy efforts around a number of specific issues that are critical to the various crisis in the region.

    ICG London, February 13 1997

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