Interview with Liberata Mulamula, Senior Adviser to Tanzanian President

In this interview, Ambassador Liberata Mulamula, a senior diplomatic adviser to the president of Tanzania, discusses the state of peace and security in the Great Lakes region and what progress has been achieved so far.

Ambassador Mulamula, the former Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, says the region experienced a time when the guns were silent but now “the major challenge is the continued presence of the armed groups.”

“As long as we pay lip service to building the capacity of these fragile states to have their own strong institutions—be they institutions of government, judiciary, the armed forces—I think we’ll be failing our people,” she adds.

“I’m getting a bit jittery that it might be the best if especially the United Nations does not pay attention to that region,” she says.

Ambassador Mulamula also discusses the effect of ethnicity and regional institutions on the security of the region; the power of the youth bulge; and the pros and cons of the International Criminal Court.

The interview was conducted by Mireille Affa’a-Mindzie, a Research Fellow at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Interview Transcript

Mireille Affa’a-Mindzie (MA): Welcome to IPI’s Global Observatory. Ambassador Mulamula, having served as the Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region for five years, what are your thoughts on the state of peace and security in the region? What progress has been achieved so far? And what remains to be done for sustainable peace in the Great Lakes, for example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Ambassador Liberata Mulamula (LM): First of all, thank you for this opportunity. I’ve really always admired the work that the International Peace Institute is doing, and I’ve been privileged to be associated with your seminars, and to meet the great minds.

I was the first Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. The name is long, but it means a lot. This was an intergovernmental organization that was put in place specifically to deal with the unique problems of that region. It is a region that has a long history of violence. It was a theater of genocide in Rwanda, the civil war in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) which had been termed as a Third World War because it involved many countries.

So I was given the task to ensure that we change the image of the region and that we transform the region from the conflict ridden to the harbor of peace. This came out of the commitment of the leaders who signed what we used to call a regional pact on peace and stability and development in the region. This was 2006. Following the signings, I was appointed to put up this institutional mechanism, to provide a political platform, to be able to allow the countries of the region to talk to each other, to dialogue, but also not to limit it to their government, but to involve all sectors of the society; the women, the youth, the civil society.

By the time I assumed the office, the region was still in trouble. Burundi was still at war with a rebel group. In the eastern DRC again as we are talking, there’s been a lapse. By the time I left, after my five-year period of duty, I left the region much better. I must also say that by the time I left, the guns were silent. The region was relatively peaceful. It was calm.

It was also the time that almost all countries of the region had held their elections. And in our countries the election time is make it or break it. Whether the elections in all these countries were free and fair, at least they were peaceful. I saw an end to the unconstitutional change of government. All countries went through this electoral process, the democratic processes. Of course, as I say, I left when the region was quiet, compared with what was happening in the north of the continent.

I was happy that I left the region at that time in a better state, but of course the challenges remain. The major challenge is the continued presence of the armed groups. In eastern DRC it’s like a home of the rebel groups, the rebel groups that fled from Rwanda. You have LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) littering the region, moving from one country to another.

This morning [at an IPI event] we are speaking about the unfinished agenda, the DDR: the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, and to have the strong national armies in the Congo be able to assume the responsibility to protect its citizens. You have a big army that is made up of the former militia, the armed groups, the so-called national army that went through the transition, but these were not fully integrated. This is why you have the mutineers now. You have the Bosco Ntganda factor.

These are still the challenges. But as long as we pay lip service to building the capacity of these fragile states to have their own strong institutions, be they institutions of government, judiciary, the armed forces, I think we’ll be failing our people, because I thought that we have gone through a very difficult time and that what we really achieved will not be the best. But now I’m getting a bit jittery that it might be the best if especially the United Nations does not pay attention to that region.

MA: You mention North Africa. North Africa and the Middle East have seen dramatic political changes and are going through challenging transitions. Do you expect similar uprisings to occur in sub-Saharan Africa? How can the existing social democracy and governance deficits in many African countries be improved in order to prevent further instability?

LM: Of course the situations are different. The regimes in North Africa, they are quite different from the regimes south of the Sahara, in our region, but there are similarities of the situations. I’m not praying that what happened in those countries, whether you call it Arab Spring or you call them revolutions, that it will happen. I think that we have overcome that.

But where there are similarities and if you go to the causes, the problem of the youth, in fact this is a challenge. When I left I was concerned that nothing much has been done about the youth; the youth unemployment, the youth on the street. And when we talk even of the militia, the armed groups, you find mostly these people, the mobilized, the child soldiers, they mobilize the youth who are just loitering around.

So if we [do] not take this problem seriously, we might also find ourselves in maybe a similar situation. I remember during the last summit, before I left the organization when I was ending my mandate in Kampala in December, the youth, I always used to give them an opportunity to address the summit themselves, to speak themselves. They challenged their leaders, the heads of state, that we hear you talking all these nice sounding statements, but where do we fit in this? How do the youth participate in this, in determining the future and the destiny of our countries? What are you doing about the employment of the youth, the unemployment?

So then they challenged the leaders and the leaders decided that [at] the next summit it will just be about the youth and employment. So if they do really seriously address this, of course it always starts at the national level, there’s much you can do at the regional level, but if it’s not translated in actual jobs, in actual participation of the youth, in determining their destiny, the future of their countries, then I’m afraid we have a time bomb. So this is where I fear most.

I know in terms of constitutions, we have very good constitutions. We have as I said, we have had democratic elections and like maybe what was happening in the North who are in the monarchies. But then is that all? There is a lot to be done in terms of upholding the principles, the rule of law, the good governance, and all those values, good values. So I wouldn’t want to see a repeat of the [Arab] Spring because ours might not be a spring; it might be a winter. So let’s avoid that.

MA: You are from Tanzania, and Tanzania is recognized as a stable and peaceful democracy. What lessons could your country share with its neighbors in the region that are still lagging behind in terms of democracy and good governance? How do you view the contribution of Tanzania to African politics in general and to diplomacy and conflict resolution more specifically?

LM: What we see in Tanzania of today, it didn’t just happen. Of course, one, we have to thank our forefathers, the leaders, we had Mwalimu Nyerere, if you remember Mwalimu Nyerere, our first president. He invested so much in the unity of the country. He invested so much in the peace of our country, but he [also] invested so much in the liberation of Africa. We sacrificed a lot so as to ensure that Africa, our neighboring countries are free. We invested in the liberation movement. So, for us it is a country that has diversities. It is a country that has more than 120 tribes who cannot communicate. But because of the good policies of Mwalimu, he took it that we cannot continue as different entities. We have to be unified. And he did this by introducing, for example, one language, the Kiswahili language.

But he was also a president and it also took over from him who respected so much about the rule of law, about the equality of its citizens. There was nobody who was left out, either in terms of education, or in the governance, or in whatever privileges. So there was an all-inclusive kind of government. And this is what has made Tanzania to be what it is because the policies of other countries are policies of exclusion, of marginalization, or playing the card of ethnicity. [In Tanzania] it was never played. And this is what Tanzania has been trying to impart to others.

You know Tanzania has been involved in many peacemaking, in many peace negotiations. We facilitated a lot of conflict resolutions, of peace agreements. So we have with it, in our modest way, we have something we could share with others. In fact, when I was also given this opportunity to start up this Secretariat of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, it was not that Tanzania put me as a candidate. It was other countries. They would say, why do we look around? We have a Tanzanian lady here who can bring what we are seeking to the region, the good practices. So this is what Tanzania’s been trying to share with others. Sometimes we are overstretched. We get involved in so many conflicts, from Madagascar to [the] Comoros to Somalia to you-name-it.

Even two days ago my president was receiving President Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire in Tanzania, and President Ouattara, the first thing he said [was] – you know Tanzanians are very modest – “I want to start by thanking you, Mr. President. You were part of the panel that [was] ready to define a final solution in Cote d’Ivoire.” And then my president was saying, “oh, merci beaucoup.” So you can see that this is what Tanzania is all about. But what I’m saying is it didn’t just happen. We invested; our leaders invested. Our people really, if you come to Tanzania maybe by our nature, we are not aggressive, but then I think that is what has come of identity, of Tanzania – peaceful people.

MA: You mention President Ouattara from Cote d’Ivoire. And we see that West Africa is dealing with its challenges resulting from unconstitutional changes of government, but also growing transnational organized crime. How could regional peace and security be strengthened to overcome threats that can no longer be handled by individual countries? And what more is needed to build strong continental and sub-regional peace and security architectures?

LM: I think for Africa, when people talk of Africa they talk of Africa as one, but we are just small, small countries, some of the countries that you cannot even qualify to be a country. So where our answer lies [is] in integration, integrating some of the fragile countries, but integrating our small economies. In integrating solutions, what I see for example in the Great Lakes Region, we have some who are big; Congo in size is very big, but it is also very fragile. It cannot stand alone. Burundi. So these are the countries where they cannot survive on their own. So the answer I think is in integration. If we can succeed, it will have all these countries integrated.

There was a time when we thought we were on a movement to have a United States of Africa. Of course you remember what happened, but then I think that is still the goal. We have the regional economic communities that are the building blocks. We have the sub-regional organizations. Like the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region came in, not because we wanted to multiply the regional, sub-regional organizations. It came in with a specific agenda for peace and security, to create a conducive environment so that the regional economic communities can be able to achieve their economic agenda. And as you know, without economic development there would be no peace. And vice versa. So for me, I see the future and hope for Africa in full integrated Africa.

MA: Despite the events in Rwanda and Darfur, the politicization of ethnicity remains a serious cause of conflict in Africa. Considering the efforts made by the African Union and the United Nations with principles such as the responsibility to protect and the protection of civilians, would you say Africa is better equipped to prevent genocide from occurring again?

LM: I can say yes and no. Yes, because there’s a commitment after the Rwanda genocide that never, never again. There is that political commitment. But it is no because [of] what we saw in Kenya, post-election violence. It was termed as another genocide. What we are seeing in Darfur. So we cannot sit and be complacent that we have overcome. What we need of course to see, first of all, this ethnic card. The ethnic card has been always used by the politicians for their selfish ends, political ends.

Let’s see ethnicity as an opportunity, but [also] as our strength. Like I said, in Tanzania we have used it as our strength, not as a weakness. But we know the reality is that we are still divided along tribal lines, along ethnic lines. And in Kenya now as they are approaching the elections, you can see still that card being used by the politicians, but I hope they will be able to learn from the past, the lessons of 2008. We hope there will be no repeat.

But I am saying, in short, that we cannot be complacent and say that we can never see genocide as long as we continue to have this political rhetoric, we continue to have these politicians who use ethnicity for their selfish aims, and as long as we don’t have stronger institutions to withstand these individual politicians. If you have strong institutions of governance, you have strong parliaments, you have a strong judiciary, you have a strong judicial system, you have strong leadership like what we see in Rwanda.

Rwanda, sixteen years [after] the genocide, you can’t imagine that there was genocide in Rwanda. They have built it from the ashes. It is because of strong leadership. There is no alternative to strong leadership. You might call it any name – whether it is autocratic or you know what – but we need strong leadership. So as long as we don’t invest in strong institutions, in strong leadership, then, of course, I cannot say we can never see genocide in our continent.

MA: Finally, President Joyce Banda of Malawi has warned Sudanese al Bashir he would be arrested should he attempt to participate in the upcoming AU summit in Lilongwe. With another African woman to be sworn in this month as the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court are you positive about stronger cooperation of African leaders with the ICC?

LM: I don’t know whether to have an African prosecutor that maybe would make a difference in terms of the fundamental issues that have been raised, the fundamental problems we have had with the ICC. In fact, I made a visit to the ICC in January in The Hague, we had a meeting in The Hague. I went specifically with the Kenyans and others to visit the ICC. We were all shocked, first of all, that the budget of the ICC is almost more than 800 million [since its inception], just to prosecute six indictees who are all from Africa. So it bothers everybody. This was meant for Africa? But that is one.

But two, I find the positive part of the ICC, it is kind of a deterrent. A deterrent to see that if you don’t want to see yourself in The Hague, better behave, better respect the rule of law, and deal with the problems within your own countries. Because the fact that we are going to the ICC is because of the non-performance and the failure of our judicial systems. I remember in Kenya they were given a choice to establish their own tribunal, to try their people, but then they could not even agree on a kind of institution. So they found themselves now in the ICC.

So this is why I am saying that the ICC is of course not there to substitute, to replace our own institutions. If at all this 800 million dollars would be invested in our judicial systems, we wouldn’t have to be in the ICC. But as long as our judicial systems are not that strong, are not well structured to deal with these kinds of problems, then the ICC will always be fishing us out.

But I don’t think that with the change of the prosecutor it would be the end of the problems. These ones have to be adequately and fundamentally addressed. I mean wherever, if you go to the ICC or if you are in their feet – it is very difficult to convince anyone that this ICC is not targeting only African leaders. So if that is still the case even with the new African prosecutor, then you see our relationship with the ICC will not be that rosy.

MA: Thank you Ambassador Mulamula, it was a pleasure speaking to you on IPI’s Global Observatory.

LM: Thank you. I want to thank you again for the opportunity and congratulate you the good job you are doing at IPI.