Rwanda, with its lush green hills and fertile valleys, boasts one of central Africa's most majestic countrysides--a stark contrast to the daily life of its people, who are struggling to recover from the worst genocide since World War II. This is the land where at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in 1994 and where 1.7 million refugees remain in camps just across the borders in Zaire and Tanzania. In neighboring Burundi, ongoing violence between the same two ethnic groups since 1993 fuels a "creeping genocide."
For nearly a year, The Carter Center has been bringing together heads of state in the Great Lakes region of Africa to try to find joint solutions to their countries' interrelated political and social problems. In March, the presidents of Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire met in Tunis to revisit pledges made at a summit organized by The Carter Center in Cairo last fall. Their goal is to promote regional stability, stimulate large-scale repatriation of refugees to Rwanda, and curb escalating violence in Burundi. Despite substantive commitments by the leaders and a comprehensive plan of action, refugees are returning to Rwanda only in small numbers, violence has escalated in Burundi, and cross-border tensions have increased between Zaire and Rwanda.
"It's not possible to solve the complex problems of this region in just a few months. But I think that progress is being made," said President Carter during a worldwide telecast on CNNI in May. "By bringing these leaders together, perhaps we have prevented even greater problems, and I hope, we are creating the basis for future progress in this neglected region."
In May, President Carter, former Mali President Amadou Toumani Tour‚, and Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seko held separate meetings in Geneva with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata. They discussed cross-border raids and the large populations of refugees camped along the border with Rwanda. In addition, they discussed a proposal to move camps at least 95 miles within Zaire to alleviate tensions. President Mobutu also agreed to consider joint means of monitoring military activity along Zaire's borders with Rwanda and Burundi, possibly involving international monitors.
"The Carter Center will stay engaged in the Great Lakes region until the wider international community steps forward to provide this neglected region with the help it needs to recover from the past and finally find the peace, justice, reconciliation, and stability that is possible," said President Carter.
Great Lakes Nations Make Some Progress in Easing TensionsSome positive steps have been taken since two summits were organized by The Carter Center to help resolve the Great Lakes crisis in Africa: