Blurry Borders: Violent Conflict Threatens Zambia

By Walter, William | Harvard International Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Blurry Borders: Violent Conflict Threatens Zambia


Walter, William, Harvard International Review


The Great Lakes region of central Africa, one of the worlds most war-torn areas, faces ongoing violence incited by a turbulent political history of nearly 50 years. The worst episode of this conflict was the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when Hutu tribal members exterminated almost one million members of the Tutsi minority. Such overt belligerence has now subsided, but neighboring states remain alert for new outbreaks of violence. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa is among those leaders most concerned with the continuation of conflict, as hostilities threaten to erupt on his own soil.

Conflict in the Great Lakes region is prone to transcend and spread rapidly beyond borders. Zambia shares its northern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and fears its insulation from violence will wear thin as conflict erupts in DRC as well as in Burundi. As a result, Mwanawasa was particularly interested in the outcome of September 2003 talks between the Burundi President and the leader of the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD). The negotiations attempted but failed to create a power-sharing agreement between the Hutu FDD and the Transitional Government of Burundi, much like the pact that started the Burundi massacres a decade ago. This setback augurs dire straits for peacekeeping in the region, as does Zambia's proximity to the DRC.

Adding to the difficulties of peacemaking is the inconsistency between political allegiance to sovereign states and traditional allegiance to tribal identities. The impotence of the border as a deterrent to the expansion of violence is becoming increasingly evident. Refugees fleeing persecution, and the soldiers pursuing them, pass all too easily through the borders between Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC. Zambia's borders are now in jeopardy as Hutu expatriates flee the DRC. Even the current presence of Hutus in Zambia is problematic for Mwanawasa. With distrust running high, Hutus are reluctant to comply with Rwandan orders to return. This resistance could become the impetus for Rwandan President Paul Kagame to mobilize Tutsi forces in Zambia.

Mwanawasa is struggling to accommodate a growing population of Hums fleeing Kagame's regime. Kagame's authority remains tenuous; although he gained international support for purportedly ending brutal genocide, his domestic clout is limited due to opposition from the Hutu majority. His regime, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), is accused of supporting foreign military campaigns mandating the extermination of "Hutu potentials," or those educated to form political opposition.

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Blurry Borders: Violent Conflict Threatens Zambia
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