AFRICA WATCH OVERVIEW
Human Rights Developments
In Africa, the year 1991 proved momentous. Several despotic governments lost power, others were belatedly forced to concede the principle of democratic accountability, and two major long-running civil wars came to an end. The "winds of change" that had become noticeable in 1990 were blowing more strongly still. However, human rights violations continued in all parts of the continent, in some places reaching unprecedented levels. Africa Watch faced increased demands for its work, and was continually faced with new challenges.
Without doubt, the most important and hopeful development in 1991 was the rapid spread of demands for democratization. Following the end of the Cold War, dictators who had previously relied on the unquestioning support of the United States, the Soviet Union or France suddenly found themselves as clients in search of a patron. As the value of these dictators as pawns in a global chess game diminished, the former patrons were unwilling to continue underwriting authoritarian, warlike and abusive governments. The withdrawal of international support forced these dictators to confront internal pressures for change. Many Africans who had courageously struggled for years to secure human rights and civil liberties began to see the prospect of success. Movements for multiparty democracy, civil liberties and human rights blossomed and gained confidence throughout the year.
The most auspicious change in 1991 was the election in Zambia, in which President Kenneth Kaunda, who had ruled the country since independence, was defeated in a fair multiparty election. Kaunda gave his successor a tour of the State House, handed over the keys and left peacefully for his farm, setting an important precedent for the peaceful transfer of power in Africa. The resounding vote served a warning to other authoritarian leaders who were desperately trying to stem the democratic tide.
However, few rulers yielded to the pressure for change with the grace of Kaunda. Some, such as President Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, continue to resist any significant liberalization. In Sudan, the Islamic fundamentalist military government consolidated its power, further undermining the institutions of civil society and strengthening its structures of control. In Togo, the military repeatedly tried to reverse the democratic gains of 1990 and 1991, and in December 1991 stripped the prime minister of his power; to avoid further bloodshed, he was forced to accept an agreement under which he would exercise power jointly with Gnassigbe Eyadema, Togo's former despot. Governments in Cameroon, Kenya and Mauritania yielded only belatedly and grudgingly to the inevitability of democratic accountability. Snap elections have been called to deny the opposition time to organize. In Burkina Faso, the sole candidate in the November presidential election remained the incumbent, Blaise Compaore; on December 10, an opposition leader was killed and another critically injured after having led a campaign to boycott the election.
Many governments tried to manipulate the democratization process to ensure their continuation in power under a democratic veneer. In Nigeria, the military government has promised a transition to civilian rule, but is tightly controlling the process, establishing the only two authorized political parties, repeatedly interfering in the electoral process, and greatly restricting freedom of association. The very institutions of civil society that ought to be organizing themselves to form the foundations of a democracy are thus being undermined. Similar processes are at work in Ghana, where the government of Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings has promised multiparty elections but has continued to maintain control over all aspects of political life as a new constitution is drafted. The political parties that are to contest the election remain banned, while campaigning on behalf of the future government-sponsored party has, in effect, already begun.
The transition in South Africa is one of the most important, and has also been marred by numerous government-sanctioned abuses. The security forces have been instrumental in orchestrating interethnic violence in an effort to undermine the credibility of the African National Congress.
Rebel movements were not immune from the pressure for change. In August, senior commanders of the Sudan People's Liberation Army staged an attempted coup against the movement's authoritarian leader, Colonel John Garang, accusing him of widespread human rights abuses that have been substantiated by independent sources.
Nineteen ninety-one saw the end of two of the continent's longest and bloodiest wars. In May, President Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia fled abroad after the resounding defeat of his army by the combined forces of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, which assumed control of the government a week later. In the case of the Eritreans, a thirty-year war for independence was finally concluded by military victory. In Angola, a sixteen-year civil war was concluded in June with a peace agreement between the formerly Marxist and Soviet-backed government and the U.S.- and South African-backed rebel forces of Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). By the end of the year, the process of maintaining the peace and forging a transition to democracy was still on course.
Other wars proved more intractable. In Mozambique, despite the government's rapid moves toward political liberalization, peace remained elusive, with the rebels of the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) showing great reluctance to pursue civilian politics in the place of their military struggle.
Undoubtedly the worst case of human rights abuse following the overthrow of a dictatorship has been Somalia, where it has proved impossible to establish a stable government. In mid-November, a conflict between two factions of the United Somali Congress degenerated into all-out war on the streets of Mogadishu, causing unprecedented scenes of carnage and loss of civilian life. The north unilaterally seceded to become the nation of Somaliland.
As elsewhere in the world, the demise of one-party or military governments has witnessed an upsurge in interethnic violence. In Mali, the insurrection among the ethnic Tuareg in the north intensified following the March overthrow of the military regime of Mussa Traore. The civil war that broke out in Djibouti in October was directly linked to competition for power between the ethnic Afar and Issa. There have been many incidents of interethnic conflict in Ethiopia under the transitional government. Throughout the continent, authoritarian rulers continued to raise the specter of "tribalism" to justify their hold on power.
The Right to Monitor
In 1991, the increased demands for democratization in Africa saw the establishment of new human rights groups in many countries. In others, several new organizations describing themselves as human rights organizations were created, although it was evident that these groups also had their own political agendas.
More important than the creation of formal groups was the growing number of Africans _ ordinary citizens, clergy, journalists, lawyers and professionals _ who took the initiative to document and publicize abuses. In several countries, human rights activists, particularly outspoken lawyers and journalists, played a key role in the movements struggling to ensure a transition away from authoritarian regimes. For example, in Togo, human rights lawyers were prominent in the national conference that stripped the former despot, Gnassingbe Eyadema, of his power. The conference appointed a human rights lawyer as the interim prime minister. In Kenya, Rwanda and Cameroon, a number of journalists and editors were arrested and detained, their papers banned, their homes and offices searched, their passports confiscated, and their right to travel abroad barred.
Following the overthrow of abusive regimes or the announcement of moves toward a more democratic system, new groups were established in, among other countries, Rwanda, Cameroon and Ethiopia. While some of the new groups have been able to criticize the government without suffering reprisals, three human rights groups in Cameroon reportedly were dissolved by the government. In Rwanda, where five new human rights organizations were created in 1991, three activists were recently involved in suspicious automobile "accidents." In addition, the president of the Rwandan Association for the Defense of Human Rights, a prosecutor, was demoted and transferred to a remote spot.
Established human rights monitors in a number of countries were subjected to intimidation. In Nigeria, the Civil Liberties Organization, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, and the Constitutional Rights Project faced new threats from the government. In Sudan, the government embarked on a policy of creating "new" pro-government groups to replace the dissolved Sudanese Human Rights Organization and the Sudan Bar Association. In South Africa, despite the lifting in June 1990 of the nationwide state of emergency which had made it impossible to monitor abuses, the Internal Security Act still provides for the banning of organizations. In the homeland of Bophuthatswana, Black Sash, the Transvaal Rural Action, and the Bafokeng Women's League continued to be banned. Since October 17, the Mafikeng Anti Repression Forum has been banned from visiting prisons and hospitals in Bophuthatswana.
It remained impossible to establish effective groups in most of the countries that are still in the midst of internal conflict, such as Angola, Mozambique, Liberia and Somalia.
While the growing confidence of activists is one of the most encouraging signs in Africa, the new groups with rare exceptions remain fragile. Most cannot afford full-time staff, lack material support and, since they are new, do not have the international profile that can protect their members or the institution itself from official attack.
The end of the Cold War, which made many African despots, including Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia, important strategic allies for the United States should have made it possible for Washington to shed its former unsavory alliances and support the democracy movements sweeping the continent. In some important cases, such as Kenya, the Bush Administration adopted a strong human rights policy and pursued it vigorously. Unfortunately, in other important cases, the United States failed to champion human rights and democracy in Africa and continued support for regimes with poor human records. Observers in Congress frequently assign the blame for a less-than-vigorous human rights posture to the National Security Council, as opposed to the State Department's Africa Bureau.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen has departed from the short-sighted and disastrous policies of the Reagan Administration, and made important strides in supporting human rights in many African countries. Secretary Cohen has recruited foreign service officers for his bureau who are interested and involved in human rights and has helped to arrange a number of positive appointments of U.S. ambassadors to African countries. The secretary himself welcomes the input of human rights organizations. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration's human rights policy in Africa has been flawed by an inability to shake off certain Cold War commitments and a distressing inertia in the face of massive human rights problems that have swept countries formerly allied with the United States.
Some of the worst human rights disasters on the continent were the legacy of past U.S. policies that were largely inherited by the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, the United States failed to act when its former allies were swept from power and several countries on the continent disintegrated into chaos and massive abuses. In the case of Zaire, for example, the Administration continued to see a role for the widely discredited and wholly corrupt Mobutu government in a hoped-for "transition to democracy," notwithstanding abundant evidence that Mobutu is the chief obstacle to such a transition. When the United States's favorite West African leader, Liberia's Samuel Doe, was assassinated in September 1990 and the country deteriorated into a bloody civil war with several thousand civilian casualties, the United States stayed on the sidelines, leaving West African governments of the Economic Community of West African States to occupy the country and restore order. Similarly, when long-time U.S. ally Siad Barre was ousted from Somalia in January 1991, the country was plunged into a series of bloody civil wars. The fighting in the capital Mogadishu in November and December was so fierce that international humanitarian agencies warned of an unprecedented human disaster. Washington provided generous humanitarian aid but, at the time of this writing, appeared to be waiting for other governments to call publicly for a concerted international response that might rescue the country's suffering civilian population. The Office of Disaster Relief Assistance has taken the lead in pushing the Administration to adopt a more vigorous response to the disaster there.
Elsewhere on the continent, Secretary Cohen played a critical role in helping to assist Ethiopia in a transition from Mengistu's sixteen-year rule when he was ousted after a decades-long civil war by the forces of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front. Ambassador Cohen's engagement in discussions at the war's end helped to persuade Mengistu to leave Addis Ababa and played a role in preventing the massive bloodshed that would have ensued in a battle for the city. The Africa Bureau's activism in the case of Ethiopia is a good model for what is needed in the crisis in Somalia _ a crisis which the United States has much responsibility for creating, given its long-time support for the Siad Barre regime.
As demands for democratization intensified throughout Africa and many regimes were forced to make concessions, the United States all too often trumpeted the desperate, incremental moves of various authoritarian regimes as profound and dramatic change. Many governments passed laws facilitating the establishment of opposition parties and redrafted constitutions, while at the same time cracking down on individual activists and their institutions. Some governments, in Nigeria and Ghana for example, announced a transition to civilian rule, while simultaneously destroying the civic institutions that are the basis of any eventual democracy. The Administration's public statements and its aid policies in such cases should be more closely tailored to reality than to hoped-for improvements.
In South Africa, which has always received more attention than any other country in Africa, the Administration continued to encourage President F.W. de Klerk's efforts to abolish apartheid legislation. However, in its eagerness to reward de Klerk for his important moves, including by lifting sanctions, the Administration has overlooked a number of important issues that should have influenced its assessment of government policy. First, it failed to investigate the consistent reports from credible organizations linking the security forces to the continuing violence among supporters of the African National Congress and Inkatha. Second, it continued to ignore the dismal human rights situation in the homelands and made no effort to make improvements there an integral issue in the talks toward a democratic South Africa.
To its credit, the United States played a highly positive role in a number of countries. In Mauritania, where the Moor-dominated government continued to abuse the rights of its black citizens, the Administration criticized discriminatory practices against black Mauritanians. In Kenya, an activist ambassador, backed by the State Department, was consistently supportive of Kenyans fighting for an end to one-party rule. He frequently expressed publicly his concern about arbitrary government actions, and maintained warm relations with the Kenyan human rights community. In an important move at year's end, the United States took the lead in persuading Kenya's other international donors to make progress in democratization and human rights a precondition for foreign aid.
The Work of Africa Watch
Africa Watch continued to concentrate on a wide spectrum of issues. As well as continuing our established work on the Horn of Africa and southern Africa, we have begun more extensive work on western Africa. An important element has been working with local human rights groups; in April, we published an edited version of the Nigerian Civil Liberties Organization's report on prison conditions in that country to ensure wider dissemination.
The protection of civil society _ central to the success or failure of transitions to democracy _ has been a major emphasis. A thematic report, Academic Freedom and Human Rights Abuse, was published in April, and attacks on civil society were the main element in a report on the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria. Similar work has been done on Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique. A more substantial thematic report on human rights and transitions to democracy is planned for 1992. We have also begun work on a detailed report that will examine the obstacles to a fair system of justice in at least sixteen African countries. The report on academic freedom will be updated and expanded on an annual basis; its success was an important lesson on the need to undertake work that would draw new constituencies into the field of human rights. As a result, a report is currently underway on writers and human rights abuses in Africa, to be published in 1992.
As in the past, monitoring abuses in the course of war has been a central theme of Africa Watch's work. In September, we published a report, Evil Days: Thirty Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia, the first extensive documentation of the gross abuses committed by successive Ethiopian governments. Publication of the report was followed with a visit to Addis Ababa to meet the new government and discuss how those responsible for gross abuses should be brought to trial. Abuses committed during war have been documented in newsletters on Angola, Liberia and the Nuba Mountains area of Sudan, and a forthcoming report on Mozambique. A study of land mines in northern Somalia has also been undertaken for publication in 1992, as well as a report on abuses by both sides to the conflict in Rwanda, where a war broke out in October 1990.
Africa Watch's most ambitious report on a single country was Kenya: Taking Liberties, which documented a wide range of human rights concerns in that country, including interference in the judiciary, arbitrary detention and torture, discrimination against ethnic Somalis, and government-sponsored violence in rural areas.
Africa Watch's work was in increasing demand on the continent itself, though many governments remained reserved or hostile. Although Mauritania broke its long-standing refusal to meet Africa Watch and has invited a mission for January 1992, Cameroon has not responded to requests by Africa Watch representatives to conduct formal missions and Kenya continued to deny a visa to the executive director of Africa Watch.