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.
- 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.