Africa's Revival - Over So Soon?

War between Eritrea and Ethiopia dissolved one of Africa's closest partnerships.

When President Clinton visited Africa in March, much was said about Africa's renaissance, a political and economic revival of the continent brought on by a handful of enlightened leaders.

The "Museveni gang," as it was unofficially known, had taken a cue from Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, a former guerrilla fighter who in 1986 inherited a wasteland and turned it into one of Africa's most vibrant economies.

Belonging to the gang were Rwanda's Vice President Paul Kagame, a guerrilla fighter who came to power in 1994, putting an end to the country's ethnic genocide; and Laurent Kabila, another guerrilla leader who toppled Zaire's extravagant dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, in May 1997.

To the north, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea were showered with similar praise. They, too, had led armed struggles against a harsh dictatorship, that of Ethiopia's Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, and had come to power in their respective countries as a result of that struggle.

Aside from a past in military fatigues, what Africa's "new leaders" shared was a Marxist matrix from their university days and, later on, a painless conversion to the fundamentals of capitalism. In exchange, they received multimillion-dollar loans from bastions of free-market thinking like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

With the glaring exception of Mr. Kabila in the newly renamed Congo, they all unshackled their economies, privatized state-owned enterprises, and worked hard to lure foreign investors.

In Ethiopia, Mr. Zenawi's policies had such promise that he obtained $106 million from the United States alone, making his country the second-largest US aid recipient on the continent after President Nelson Mandela's South Africa. Under the Greater Horn of Africa Initiative, the US sent $10 billion into the region this decade, mainly in emergency relief. The policy promoted support for Ethiopia and Eritrea as stable partners in the region.

WITH Ethiopia and Eritrea now lobbing bombs at each along their border, many have suggested it may be time to reassess the situation. "When the war started [in May], someone came to me and said, 'Does this mean this African Renaissance is over?' and all I could say is, 'Yep, I'm afraid it is,' " a Western diplomat in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, says. "Of course this war delivered the final blow to the whole Renaissance thing," adds another diplomat. "People feel terribly betrayed."

Ethiopia and Eritrea, two of Africa's closest allies, went to war over a border dispute May 6, two months after the Clinton visit. Hundreds of people have been killed, and attempts by the US, Rwanda, and the Organization of African Unity to negotiate a peaceful resolution have failed.

Before that, Congo leader Kabila sufficiently offended the US for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to declare in February that everyone's patience was "running thin."

By then, Kabila's government had consolidated a pattern of abuse and arbitrary arrests and obstructed a United Nations investigation into the massacre of some 80,000 Rwandan refugees during his rebel campaign.

In Rwanda, Vice President Kagame has come under increasing criticism from human rights groups. In an attempt to quell a rebel insurgency in the northwest, the Army has been given free rein to "kill indiscriminately," rarely distinguishing between rebels and innocent civilians, says Human Rights Watch-Africa.

That leaves Uganda's Mr. Museveni as the only representative of Africa's new leadership in Central Africa. Museveni has yet to allow political parties other than his own, but in Uganda, dissent is largely tolerated and the country has prospered.

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