- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2002

African leaders met in Washington last week, seeking to bridge a gap of fear between civilian and military officials in a quest for political stability back home.
Often generals and diplomats distrust each other, Rwandan Foreign Minister Joseph Mutaboba told at a leadership seminar sponsored by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a Washington-based think tank.
Mr. Mutaboba said the meeting, which brought more than 100 senior officials from 47 African nations to Washington last week, was an effort to "bridge the gap of fears between civilian and military leaders."
The officials discussed the security and political challenges facing their nations. The Africa Center held similar Senior Leader Seminars in the Senegalese capital Dakar in 1999 and in Libreville, Gabon, last year.
"Each country has its own solutions, but the challenges [they] face are universal," said the center's director, Nancy J. Walker.
The participation of high-level African leaders including five top-level ministers, four chiefs of defense, 24 generals and 14 ambassadors at the seminar was unprecedented, Ms. Walker said.
She said the seminar's "protected environment" and non-attribution policy facilitated candid discussions among participants from different backgrounds.
The seminar provided role-playing exercises, in which participants were split into groups, with each making up the government of a fictitious African nation, she said. "A general may be assigned as an opposition parliamentary leader or … as a defense minister," she said.
Once assigned a role, each group had to act as one in order to overcome scenarios of wars, epidemics and refugee crises.
Mr. Mutaboba said that in the role-playing exercises, leaders could no longer "speak of [their own] ethnicities" because they had to "unite as citizens" of one country.
Mr. Mutaboba said his meetings with generals from the region would prove valuable because he was able to learn "what they were thinking."
In fact, the connections made at the Senior Leader Seminars have proven useful to many of the participants.
An East African leader, for instance, was able to pass through a West African country despite military tensions because he had met a leader of that country at one of the seminars, a participant said.
In the year 2000 alone, Africa witnessed 17 military conflicts, constituting the most in the world. The U.S. Committee for Refugees estimated last year that 3.3 million Africans are refugees and at least 9.8 million are displaced.
Asked if all delegates agreed on how to solve these problems, Mr. Mutaboba said that there remain "disagreements, but that they at least agree that they disagree."


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