Wolpe says the tragedy of Rwanda is that Hutus and Tutsis once lived together without genocidal violence, a history that much of the media doesn't emphasize. Hutus and Tutsis distinguished themselves in what was a quasi-society: Tutsis were herdsmen and Hutus were cultivators. Yet Tutsis and Hutus intermarried, shared the same religion and culture, and spoke the same language. The colonial experience under the Belgians, who ruled the country after the First World War, radically altered this relationship. The Tutsi minority population was perceived by colonials as the superior group. The Belgians issued identity cards, which labeled all Rwandans either Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa, enforcing ethnic distinctions. In this situation, traditional relationships became attenuated, and the distinction between Hutus and Tutsis acquired new meaning. Under conditions of extreme poverty, a dense population, and severe land shortages, competition for control of the state became fierce, said Wolpe, because access to the state meant access to the reins of the economy. "It was only in the late 1950s that you began to see this terrible cycle of communal violence of genocidal proportions," he said. "You had politicians--competing in a new era of democratization--who began to manipulate the new ethnic labels for their own self-serving purpose."

The genocide in Rwanda, which claimed the lives of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and the role of international aid organizations during and after it have become the source of recent antagonism between Central African leaders and the United Nations, said Wolpe. Democratic Republic of Congo president Kabila's resentment of the U.N. investigation of human rights abuses in his country stems, at least in part, from the failure of the international community and the United Nations to stop the genocide and its subsequent failure to separate the genocidal killers from the refugees in the Hutu refugee camps.

This massacre triggered a massive refugee crisis in eastern Congo, where Hutu extremists backed by Mobutu Sese Seko, former president of Zaire (now the Congo), used the refugee camps supported and supplied by the U.N. as a base to organize attacks on Rwandans (mostly Tutsis) who had seized power of the country. "Effectively, the international community through the U.N. ended up feeding and sustaining military bases throughout the Congo that were used to carry on the war against the Tutsis in Rwanda," said Wolpe. The abuse became so flagrant that a number of aid agencies, including the International Rescue Committee, Doctors Without Borders, and World Vision, felt morally compromised and pulled out of the region.

Wolpe felt so strongly for the need to shed light on the reasons for the hostilities and distrust of a number of Central African leaders, including Kabila, toward the United Nations that he encouraged Bill Richardson, America's ambassador to the U.N., to rebuild international trust by addressing the issue last summer. Richardson gave the speech at a refugee camp in Rwanda, but none of the media picked it up.

Wolpe's effort to give context to the current events in the Congo does not preclude his concern about reports of serious human rights violations committed by forces loyal to Kabila. He makes no concessions for any person or group. Rather, he is all too aware that no parties involved are innocent.

As a special envoy, he spends little time at his office on the second floor of the State Department and instead can be found in Rome, Brussels, or Africa, working on the Democratic Republic of the Congo's political transition under Kabila or the Burundi peace process. Much of Wolpe's work as a negotiator for a peace process involves coordinating and organizing with other facilitators. Ques-tions about how meetings between leaders should be brokered or how an impasse might be broken take on heightened importance when the parties involved are paranoid and suspicious of each other, said Wolpe.




Wolpe speaks with Ugandan president Museveni.






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