The year 1990 was as dramatic as the previous one. The work done by Africa Watch in its first year created a considerable demand, both inside and outside Africa, for us to expand our activities to accommodate these developments.
The year was marked by a popular movement for democracy and human rights which spread nearly as rapidly as the movement the previous year in Eastern Europe. As in Eastern Europe, the electronic media played an important part in spreading news and consciousness of human rights issues -- particularly the international radio stations such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio France International and Voice of America. (Africa Watch gave regular interviews to these and other radio stations throughout the year.) The democracy movement spread most rapidly in Francophone West Africa. Benin moved toward a multiparty system with a new reform-minded Prime Minister after years of "Marxism-Leninism." The right-wing Ivory Coast also embraced multipartyism after widespread popular protests, as did Gabon. Even an entrenched one-party dictator such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire felt the need to pay lip service to the multiparty creed. These transitions were fraught with problems. Harassment of opposition parties continued and there were allegations of fraud in the elections in both Gabon and the Ivory Coast in late 1990.
Zambia, like the Ivory Coast, was forced to accede to the demand for multiparty politics after widespread popular demonstrations. The ruling party in Zimbabwe decisively voted against moving to a one-party state after public debate had revealed the extent of popular opposition to such a change. But in Kenya, the government set its face against reform, detaining opposition politicians and human rights activists and shooting unarmed protesters.
The spur to all these events was without doubt the transformation of Eastern Europe in 1989, although the underlying cause was long-standing popular revulsion against repressive policies. Some governments outside Africa tried to make political capital out of these changes, seeing them as a move toward a particular free-market economic ideology. In some cases this was undoubtedly true, but in others, such as the Ivory Coast and Zambia, human rights agitation was bound up with opposition to free-market policies, particularly as they affected food prices. In reality, the only common denominator was a concern for greater political choice and respect for human rights.
A number of other countries continued on a slightly separate path toward political reform which had begun before the Eastern European revolution. Nigeria, for example, is due to move from military rule to a highly restricted civilian democracy in 1992. Political critics and human rights activists continued to suffer harassment and arbitrary detention, which bodes ill for a genuine transformation. Mozambique embraced a multiparty system and adopted a new Constitution including a Bill of Rights which guarantees the most important internationally recognized human rights. At the end of 1990, the Angolan government announced that it was planning a similar move. In both countries the hope was that political reforms might help to end protracted civil wars which have been the major source of human rights abuse.
South Africa also continued to move toward political reform. The events of early 1990 were dramatic: the legalization of the African National Congress and the release of Nelson Mandela. This was followed later in the year by the lifting of the nationwide state of emergency, the context in which serious abuses of human rights had taken place. But further progress was slow, as security forces acquiesced in and even fomented so-called "tribal" or "black-on-black" violence, which claimed hundreds of lives in Natal and later Transvaal.
However, other countries were completely untouched by the reforming spirit. Systematic human rights abuse and bloody civil war continued in the countries of the Horn of Africa: Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. A particularly deadly feature of these conflicts was the cynical manipulation of food supplies by the armed parties, resulting in widespread famine in Ethiopia and Sudan. Somalia's President Mohammed Siad Barre tried unconvincingly to climb on the reformist bandwagon with changes that were purely cosmetic. The international community, like the people of Somalia, remained unimpressed, and open rebellion continued; at the end of the year, the position of the Siad Barre government was precarious.
Across the continent, in Liberia, a rebel insurgency which began in December 1989 grew during 1990, feeding upon popular revulsion against abuses by government troops. Yet rebel abuses simply contributed to a tragic spiral of violence which was unchecked at the end of the year.
Africa Watch's priorities remained focused on the situations in the Horn and southern Africa, generally the sites of the worst abuses, with the necessary addition of Liberia, the oldest US ally in Africa. But other political developments forced us to turn some attention elsewhere. Expansion of staff has allowed us to undertake systematic work on some West African countries, notably Mauritania, Cameroon and Nigeria. Support for local human rights groups and defense of human rights monitors continued to play a crucial part in our work, particularly in a country such as Kenya, where the advocates of human rights courageously refused to be silenced by official intimidation. Africa Watch also tried to draw attention to other lesser-known human rights problems: the 26-year-old dictatorship in Malawi, the denial of due process to pastoralists in a Tanzanian land dispute, the denial of religious freedom in Ghana, and restrictions on academic freedom in Zimbabwe.
Our publications program has expanded to meet these various demands. Thirty-five newsletters were issued in 1990, as well as four full-length reports, on Somalia, Sudan, Liberia and Malawi. A further report on South Africa was due for publication in early 1991. In 1990, Africa Watch also decided to expand its publications program to include reports on certain continent-wide human rights issues. The impetus was the need to stimulate debate on structural issues and to encourage specific constituencies, such as academics, lawyers and health professionals, to promote the cause of human rights. The first report in this series, Academic Freedom and Human Rights Abuses in Africa, will be published in January 1991. The Africa Watch staff contributed numerous articles to newspapers, magazines and journals -- not only on human rights abuses themselves, but also on questions such as how governments should properly investigate human rights violations. Staff members also gave frequent radio and television interviews.
Access to many of the countries of Africa was difficult. During 1990, Africa Watch was able to conduct missions to a number of countries, including Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa, to investigate human rights conditions there. But some governments, such as those in Malawi, Sudan, Kenya and Mauritania, excluded us outright. Others, such as those in Cameroon and Somalia, stalled on requests to visit, with the effect of excluding us. Consequently, we depend more than we would wish upon interviews with refugees, often in neighboring countries. The vast number of such refugees is itself testimony to the continuing extent of abuse in Africa, and the magnitude of the work that remains for Africa Watch and its colleagues in the human rights movement.