By G. Pascal Zachary
The governor's office is reached by a dirt road that winds south from the capital through a hillside jungle stretching along the east side of Lake Tanganyika. Major Bathalzar Ntamahungiro, the governor, won't travel the
road at night and ambushes are common in daytime, so he is happy when his visitors arrive at his tree-shrouded headquarters after a 90-minute journey from the capital.
Six months ago, he says, the rebels wreaked havoc on the main road and often killed peasant farmers. Now his soldiers patrol the road, and the peasants in this province are safer, he says, having been removed from their homes and herded into 55 "regroupment" camps. The peasants, guarded by government troops, can leave their temporary mud homes during the day but must return in the evening. Conditions are abysmal. Hundreds of people are crammed onto a small patch of bare hillside. They lack running water, electricity, schools or health clinics. Families live in small, mud-walled huts covered by plastic tarps.
In the camp, surrounded by government soldiers and cut off from their crops and homes, it is harder for them to help the rebels, the governor says. "We are putting all the means we have into destroying the enemy," he adds. "But when you're fighting a guerrilla war, you don't win overnight. You can't predict when the fighting will end."
Ntamahungiro is talking about Burundi's seven-year civil war, but it well describes all of Africa's wars. The continent, after a period of relative optimism, this year seemed poised to overcome - or at least tame - the forces of ethnicity, greed and conflict that characterized the '90s. In an apparent watershed, the U.N. Security Council even devoted the month of February to easing African tensions, with U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke making a well-publicized visit to Central Africa, where he extolled the possibilities for reconciliation, peace-building and development.
But the forces of disorder in Africa once more seem on the rise.
G. Pascal Zachary is a contributing editor of In These Times.