A former seven-term member of Congress and presidential special envoy during the Clinton administration, Howard Wolpe led the U.S. delegation to the Arusha and Lusaka peace talks to end the civil wars in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This report distills the author’s experience as a presidential special envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region from 1996 to 2001, and as the director of a Burundi leadership training initiative from 2003 to 2009.

April 2008 PeaceWatch

Summary

  • The Tutsi-Hutu conflict, both in Rwanda and Burundi, is unique in being the only intercommunal violence among Africans that has led to genocide.
  • The conventional wisdom that ethnic conflict in Africa is the product of cultural diversity and ancient tribal antagonisms is wrong on both counts.
  • The Burundi conflict is best understood as a result of the manipulation of ethnic identities by the political class in the struggle for postcolonial control of the state.
  • The conflict in Burundi is significant in part because of the massive refugee flows, insurgencies, violence, and regional instability it fostered, and in part because of the innovative approach to peacebuilding in postwar Burundi.
  • The Burundi peace process, which lasted more or less from 1993 to 2005, is as convoluted as the conflict.
  • Four phases of Burundi’s peacemaking can be distinguished: the initial U.N. intercession, Julius Nyerere as facilitator, Nelson Mandela as facilitator, and the transitional government.
  • A number of critical lessons for establishing peace in the wake of violence can be drawn from the Burundi experience.
  • Process matters.
  • One of the most important facilitator skills is the ability to listen.
  • All parties, especially those with destabilizing potential, must be at the negotiating table.
  • Timely and coordinated donor support are imperative.
  • Negotiations will, without question, be affected by the military circumstances of a conflict.
  • The risks of embassy clientitis and donor or facilitator fatigue should not be taken lightly.
  • Regional support for the peace process is indispensable but has its downsides.
  • Effective facilitation depends on coordinated diplomatic intervention.
  • Building long-term collaborative capacity among the former belligerents is critical to a sustainable peace.
  • Democracy has numerous viable forms, and distinguishing between core universal principles and the institutional diversity of those forms is critical.

About the Report

This report distills the author’s experience as a presidential special envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region from 1996 to 2001, and as the director of a Burundi leadership training initiative from 2003 to 2009. The report was written by the author in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his alone and do not represent the positions of any organization. Any errors or factual inaccuracies are solely his responsibility.

The author would like to thank, in particular, Ambassador James Yellin, Fabien Nsengimana, Eugene Nindorera, Elizabeth McClintock, Alain Lempereur, Steve McDonald, Don Matteo Zuppi, Aldo Ajello, Carolyn McAskie, Youssef Mahmoud, Mamadou Bah, Nureldin Satti, Peter Uvin, and Rene Lemarchand for the numerous contributions they made along the way. Many others, too many to be identified by name, also offered important insights for which the author is extremely grateful.

About the Author

A former seven-term member of Congress and presidential special envoy during the Clinton administration, Howard Wolpe led the U.S. delegation to the Arusha and Lusaka peace talks to end the civil wars in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More recently he returned to the State Department as special advisor to the secretary for Africa’s Great Lakes region. Currently retired, he now serves as a consultant and is working on a book on the Burundi peace process.

Explore Further

Related Publications

Burundi at the Brink

Burundi at the Brink

Friday, June 5, 2015

By: Ian Proctor

Burundi is back at the brink. Less than a decade after the end of its civil war, a political conflict over the president’s attempt to stay in office for a disputed third term risks escalating into wider violence, policy specialists say. Police are fighting protesters who say that President Pierre Nkurunziza is violating the country’s post-civil war constitution by seeking a third term. They dispute a court ruling that authorized Nkurunziza’s re-election bid.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Democracy & Governance

Burundi Unrest Evokes Hurdles for U.S. in Preventing Threats

Burundi Unrest Evokes Hurdles for U.S. in Preventing Threats

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The attempted coup in the tiny African country of Burundi, after weeks of unrest that has killed more than 20 people, provided immediate examples of quandaries for peacebuilding during a discussion at USIP this week: how U.S. diplomacy can emphasize prevention to counter threats, and how best to support young people to deter dangerous forms of extremism.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Violent Extremism; Global Policy

Feingold Urges DRC Reforms, Great Lakes Regional Cooperation in Remarks at USIP

Feingold Urges DRC Reforms, Great Lakes Regional Cooperation in Remarks at USIP

Friday, February 21, 2014

By: USIP Staff

Africa's Great Lakes region is ripe for progress in resolving its deadly conflicts, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but it will take deeper regional cooperation and the DRC's full implementation of internal reforms that it has already agreed to, Russell D. Feingold, the U.S. special envoy for the Great Lakes and the DRC, said at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) on February 20.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications