|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||02/11/95, Volume 1, Number 07|
CENTRAL Africa is again in the forefront of Belgium's foreign policy. After the genocide in Rwanda last year and the swift departure of Belgian peacekeepers after ten were killed by Hutu extremists, Belgium's foreign policy establishment is putting order into its Africa file.
Cooperation Minister Reginald Moreels, a Flemish Christian Democrat and former President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), visited Rwanda in October. A few days later, he made public the new principles of the country's assistance programmes.
Whereas his socialist predecessor, now Foreign Minister Eric Derycke, had pleaded for a reorientation towards the new darling of international assistance, South Africa, Moreels has returned to the traditional 'Belgian triangle' of central Africa (Zaïre, Rwanda and Burundi). He reaffirmed the new trends of democracy-building and conflict prevention and insisted on long-term development based on small-scale and labour-intensive projects in agriculture and industry.
In recent years, Belgium has transferred most of its overseas policy prerogatives to the European Union. The priority in the 'Rue des Quatre Bras', foreign ministry headquarters, is to influence a common European position and once this has been adopted, to implement it. There is, however, one area of the world where Belgian foreign policy is closely monitored - Africa.
“Central Africa in particular,” writes Rik Coolsaet in a newly released book, L'Afrique subsaharienne en transition, “remains a diplomatic area where Belgian positions have, within the international community, an influence which is larger than Belgium's real weight. This influence opens possibilities for Belgian international action, but it requires at the same time a particular responsibility: the choice between 'voluntarisme' and 'suivisme' has more short and long term consequences than in any other diplomatic areas.”
Until the late Seventies, central Africa had been mostly a social Christian fiefdom, a legacy of the Belgian Church's active role in the colonisation of Zaïre in the last century when the Belgian Congo was King Leopold II's private domain. Rwanda, the country of a thousand hills, was even more under Catholic influence and was hailed in these circles as a showcase of successful Belgian development aid.
In the mid-Eighties, however, it was apparent to any impartial observer that 'Belgian central Africa' was in bad shape and that the traditional policy, tolerating pillage and corruption in Zaïre and based on paternalism in Rwanda, was bankrupt. A new generation of Flemish socialists targeted Belgium's African policies, harassing Zaïrian President Mobutu Sese Seko, supporting Tshishekedi's UDPS and exposing Belgium's complacent waltz with African dictators.
The break came when these young socialists, led by like-minded people in progressive Catholic circles, invaded the Foreign and the Defence Ministry headquarters in the late Eighties. They had one catchword: democratisation. From now on, they stated, Belgian assistance would be linked to respect for basic human rights and commitment to multi-party election and good governance.
The wheel was turning and led to a series of quick initiatives: assistance to Zaïre, except humanitarian aid, was suspended, official aid workers were recalled and a process of political opening was imposed on the Habyarimana dictatorship in Rwanda. In her policy shift, Belgium received the strong endorsement of Washington and a lukewarm 'oui' from France, a country long accused of flirting with the idea of displacing Belgian influence in francophone central Africa. In Belgium, this new trend was supported by a majority of deputies, but some sectors were disgruntled: the networks of businessmen who had managed the often shady relations with Zaïre were stunned and within Christian Democratic circles there were ominous noises about the betrayal of 'traditional friends' in Rwanda.
The change was well-meant, but it did not fundamentally alter the power relations and even collided with tragedy. Adroitly playing with the opposition's deep divisions and lowly ambitions, cunningly playing the French card, Mobutu resisted all calls for radical reforms and real democratisation. In Rwanda, the apparent success of Belgium's 'political engineering' which led to the Arusha agreements between the Hutu government and the Tutsi-dominated Patriotic Revolutionary Front was devastated in April 1994 by the murder of President Habyarimana and the genocide which followed.
After months of confusion, the Belgian government published its new 'note' (White Paper) on Africa last February, the first such document since 1983. Key words were democratisation, conflict prevention, regional cooperation and shared responsibility. It also reaffirmed the multilaterisation of Belgium's African policy.
Since 1970, Belgian public bilateral aid has decreased from 74&percent; of total outlays to 37&percent;.
This shift, writes Coolsaet, “results from the awareness that African problems are beyond the reach of Belgium's material means, but also reflects the will to reduce as much as possible the nationalistic approach of other European countries in Africa”.
The cooperation policy guidelines presented in early October by Moreels have not made everybody happy. Right-wing Social Christians, as well as the Zaïre business lobby, insisted on a resumption of public assistance to Kinshasa, while others resented the minister's 'leniency' towards the new regime in Rwanda in vain.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Africa, Belgium|