Another conflict made the headlines in August, when the IRA declared a "complete cessation of military operations", in effect a ceasefire. The first hint that the Armalite might give way to the ballot box came early in the previous year when the British Prime Minister John Major and his Irish counterpart Albert Reynolds invited Sinn Fein to talks on the condition that the IRA declare a ceasefire. A series of mortar attacks on Heathrow in March and, in particular, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams's high-profile US visit in February looked to have jeopardized any chance of a ceasefire, however.
Even when August's declaration came, the IRA chose not to state whether the cessation was permanent or temporary. "The struggle is not over," Adams warned. "It is in a new phase."
Nevertheless, the sense of a country tentatively entering a new era found an echo in South Africa, which held its first post-apartheid multi-racial national elections in April. Despite attempts by extreme right-wing groups to disrupt the run-up to polling day, millions cast their vote to install Nelson Mandela's ANC in government. The ANC took 60 per cent of the vote compared to the outgoing National Party's 20 per cent, but members of all parties were asked to take posts in a transitional Government of National Unity before a planned general election in 1999.
Further north in Africa, Rwanda was coming to terms with the consequences of post-colonial instability. The death of President Habyarimana in suspicious circumstances led to a genocidal power struggle between the area's indigenous peoples, the Hutus and the Tutsis. By the end of the year 500,000 Rwandans had been slaughtered, largely by rampaging Hutus, according to a United Nations commission.Reuse content