Peace in Great Lakes Region: Time for a paradigm shift

For any pan-African romantic a narrative of the origins of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), starts with the 1961, assassination of the Congo’s first Prime-Minister, Patrice Lumumba.

For any pan-African romantic a narrative of the origins of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), starts with the 1961, assassination of the Congo’s first Prime-Minister, Patrice Lumumba.

The historical construct in this line of thinking is that any other engagement, that took place thereafter between the Congolese and any other foreign state was one of them being exploited for their ‘vast natural resources’, therefore sustaining the conflict.

A narrative that is devoid of the brutalities and similar exploits citizens beyond the borders of the Congo had to endure, at the hands of the same colonial forces, and the misery forced upon them.

Recent developments towards finding a lasting solution to stability, peace and security in the Great Lakes Region however, call for vigilance in academic analysis, that is based on the ability to be innovative in line with changing trends and times.

The consequence of being stuck in historical analysis is dangerous for academics because they lose relevance, to changing situations and developments on the ground, especially if they fail to think outside the ‘box’.

What have some of these developments been?

A high level delegation of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), recently concluded a visit to some of Africa’s conflict hot spots.

Among those visited were countries in the Great Lakes Region that include the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda.

The UNSC team aimed to assess the security situation in the region of particular concern being the war ravaged eastern DRC, including the dire situations prevailing in Somalia and Sudan.

In his concluding remarks, the head of delegation, John Sawers, expressed optimism on the improved situation in the Great Lakes Region, saying this has been a result of better rapprochement between Rwanda and the DRC.

These two countries have over the past months strenuously strove to deal with the security situation in the eastern DRC, by dealing directly with the ravaging menace in the form of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels.

The FDLR fled Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, settling in the eastern DRC where they have been the greatest threat to regional security.

While some initially viewed the joint operation between Rwandan and Congolese forces with skepticism, they were forced to eat humble pie and acknowledge that history had indeed been made.

A situation that had been viewed in the past as being the most difficult to resolve, was being dealt with head-on successfully.

History was made in this region for several reasons; chief among which is that it was African governments that took it upon themselves to confront the ghosts of the past and lay a framework for engagement in dealing with a common menace head on.

They worked outside the box of the historical ethnic or state rivalry, instead opting for bi-lateral engagement in offering leadership for sustainable peace in the region.

The international community as represented by the high level delegation of the UNSC, has only come in now to assess results and make recommendations on how to further the efforts towards attaining total peace in the region.

In this regard they have recommended the bolstering of peace efforts by the Rwandan and Congolese governments.

It was not a carrot and stick archetype in which the New York ambassadors come in with threats of punitive actions, should certain demands not be met to change the situation in the region.

Notwithstanding, that the UN itself had been so slow amounting to complicity in the conflict, by its slow implementation of resolutions aimed at finding a lasting security situation for the suffering citizens in the region. 

Not to mention that UN troops in the Congo, have operated on a colossal budget, with very little again to show in terms of improving the lot of citizens, under siege from continued, looting, rape and killings, at the hands of the rebels.

It is therefore worth celebrating that beyond technical issues to do with ending the conflict, the UN Ambassadors also got the first hand opportunity to talk to demobilized FDLR soldiers in Rwanda, and heard their testimonies and their plight that much more be done to get those still holed up being exploited in the Congo to be brought back home.

Going further, the UNSC also expressed disappointment at its mandated International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in the transfer of some of the Genocide cases to Rwanda as requested by the government here, bringing to the fore issues of accountability and justice, while exposing those European governments, that are encouraging a culture of impunity, by giving refuge to authors of the Genocide on their territories.

It is significant to note here that the tempo has once again been raised on this issue with it being discussed at UNSC level.

What is instructive here is the paradigm shift in the sense that Africans themselves are refusing to be looked at through primitive stereotypical eyes of being a trigger-happy lot that ironically yearn to end disputes through the barrel of the gun.

The dialogue between Rwanda and DRC has been about both process and results, driven at various levels of both the Foreign Affairs and Defense ministries, with time frames in place, that are respected by both parties.

Take for instance initial misplaced fears that the Rwandan defense forces would not leave the Congo – but they did at the end of the phase of the joint military operation (Umoja Wetu).

There are those who are still stuck in the narrative of the war ravaged, and refugee infested region of the 90’s, who still bury their heads in sand refusing to see that the Great Lakes region as a whole has over the years been engaged in efforts to end conflict.

Efforts that materialized in the establishment of the International Conference on the Great Lakes region, whose pact on Security, Stability and Development among others aims to: “create the conditions for security, stability, and sustainable development between member states.”

A process that binds 11 member states; being driven in conjunction with legislators within the region, civil society groups and a cross section of women who have also initiated their process through the regional Women’s Forum.

The Women’s Forum seeks to bolster peace and security efforts by the governments, by engaging women in conflict resolution processes within the region.

The women representing member states of the ICGLR meeting with their female counterparts in Rwanda recently discussed the modalities for their participation within the structures and programmes of the IGLR.

This is in line with Security Council resolution 1325 among other international protocols and declarations that seek to involve women in conflict resolution and transitional processes thereafter.

The UNSC together with other international think-tanks such as the International Crisis Group (ICG), have put their weight behind the Rwandan and Congolese governments calling for greater support to their rapprochement, and efforts towards stabilizing the region.

Any success towards peace and security in the region, lies not in holding on to tears of the past, but innovative ways of dealing with the colonial ghosts and moving on.

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