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AFRICA WATCH : Preventive Diplomacy

The White House should send a special envoy such as veteran diplomat Donald F. McHenry to Nigeria, Rwanda and Burundi.

In Nigeria, McHenry, a professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, might persuade the stubborn generals to free unconditionally Moshood Abiola, the leader who should be president based on last year’s annulled election. The illegal military government had offered to release him from jail, but only if he promised never to engage in politics again. Abiola refused. So did his supporters--millions of oil workers, students and other Nigerians who demand democracy. If this bitter quarrel turns to war, the populous West African nation could suffer as many as 1 million fatalities, double the body count in Rwanda’s civil war.

After Nigeria, McHenry should go to Rwanda and Burundi, where he could encourage reconciliation between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority that dominates the governments and armies of both of the Central African nations.

There is now some hope in Rwanda. Representatives of the new, Tutsi-dominated government are reportedly holding talks with members of the defeated Hutu army.

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Neighboring Burundi is an ever-increasing worry. Tutsi youths, angered at the massacres of Tutsis who lived in Rwanda, seek revenge, and the Tutsi government is cracking down. The presence of a seasoned diplomat like Ambassador McHenry might help keep Burundi from exploding like Rwanda.


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