Former president of Botswana comments
on "Africa Month"
By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The man chosen by the United Nations to help facilitate a lasting peace in the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), former president of Botswana Sir Ketumile Masire, says U.S.-U.N. cooperation is "vital" to the successful resolution of fighting there and elsewhere in Africa.
"In fact," added Masire, "without this cooperation, the exercise in naming me facilitator to the Congo crisis would be futile. We have cases in the past, like Rwanda, where there was not such cooperation and it ended in a situation where close to a million people were slaughtered."
Masire, who made his comments during a telephone interview with a State Department Washington File reporter January 28, said he believed the naming of January as "Africa Month" by the U.S. permanent representative to the U.N., Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, "goes a long way in firming up the type of cooperation" peacemakers need to do their job in Africa.
Masire said his first task as Congo facilitator will be to "get all the key players in the problem to sit down" for a general discussion. "This means the armed forces, political leaders, and members of civil society." Their aim, he said, will be to "try to hash out an arrangement" along constitutional and institutional lines that they believe "can make the Congo a viable state."
Asked if this had not already been accomplished in the Lusaka Cease-fire Agreement, Masire explained that it had in part. But the agreement achieved "should be followed by a dialogue by the Congolese, and there must be someone to sit in adjudication. That process has taken longer than was originally intended. But at long last ... we are going to start what was supposed to have been done some months ago."
Masire said, "We must first contact all parties involved and agree on a [discussion] venue and the number of people who will be involved and the ground rules." The former president said he would be in Kinshasa soon to start work.
Masire, who stepped aside as Botswana's president in 1998, said he had "a feeling of satisfaction" in voluntarily relinquishing his duties to the nation's vice president. The constitutional succession in Botswana was recognized by many as a model of democratization. "I think it would have been wrong for me to have gone beyond the time I served,"he said.
Asked to comment on the future of multiparty democracy and constitutionalism on the continent, Masire said, "Actually, in the past year or so there has been a very encouraging trend in Africa. ... While there are exceptions here and there, on the whole I think political affairs have been progressing in the right direction."
For example, he noted that "at its recent meeting in Algiers, the OAU [Organization of African Unity] took the decision that no president who has taken power by force of arms will be allowed to participate at OAU Summits. So I think, while it has taken a long time to reach this stage, we should all be pleased" that African leaders are riding the democracy wave.
In recognition of his contributions to democracy in Africa, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs recently gave Masire its Distinguished International Visitor's Award. According to a State Department press release, the award was bestowed "for the former president's inspired leadership of his country from 1980 to 1998 and his untiring efforts to promote mutual understanding between Botswana and the United States."
At a brief ceremony in New York in late January, Masire accepted the award, noting: "I recall my 1975 visit to the United States with nostalgia. I had very interesting interactions with a variety of individuals at both the federal and state government levels. For me, that was a useful exposure to a slightly different form of administration from the one I was used to. The visit provided valuable insights to my knowledge of state administration."
(Note: A Web site on the U.N. Month of Africa can be accessed at the following URL: http://www.usia.gov/regional/af/unmonth/ )
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)