The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is championing a proposal that will see the regional bloc engage DR Congo in direct talks aimed at putting together a plan to eliminate shared security threats.
The first of a series of meetings in search for sustainable peace and security in the region will take place in August.
The premise for such a larger framework is informed by the fact that because most security concerns affecting the bloc are shared by its western neighbour, said Leonard Onyonyi, a peace and security expert.
Onyonyi presented the status of peace and security in the region at the opening of a two-day conference on East African societies and regional security, organised by EALA and the African Leadership Centre (ALC) in Arusha, Tanzania.
“Our security is linked. Four out of five EAC states share a boundary with the DRC. This matter was taken note of by the sectoral council on interstate security and subsequently, because DRC is not part of the EAC, the council directed us to get in touch with the International Conference on the Great Lakes [ICGLR] so that we can organize a joint meeting between the EAC, as a bloc, and the DRC to discuss some of our common security interests,” Onyonyi said.
“This should take place in August this year so that we start a process of engaging the DRC. We start with the lighter issues and then we go to the heavier ones as confidence develops; because when we talk of current issues, we talk of poaching, drugs, motor vehicle theft from the region and driven into DRC; and there is a question of refugees versus criminals who operate within the proximity of the boundaries.”
Security threats include refugee influx, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, drug and human trafficking and terrorism.
The EAC’s response mechanism has included establishment of a sectoral councils on defence, interstate security and a peace and security protocol, among others. Only Rwanda and Uganda have ratified the bloc’s peace and security protocol while the other three are still fast tracking the process.
The idea to involve the DRC in the search for regional stability was first recommended by EALA’s standing committee on regional affairs and conflict resolution meeting in Bujumbura in 2008.
EALA MP Abdul Karim Harelimana [Rwanda] told The New Times that the DRC has been volatile since before independence and continues to be in the same situation.
“Whenever they get problems, especially internal ones, you find that refugees are displaced and spill over into our countries. There is need for the EAC, as a bloc, to meet DRC and discuss issues, including peace and security – it is very important, otherwise, we can be safe here as a bloc but we could get problems from the DRC,” he said.
Harelimana added that the bloc should also engage Somalia, because it borders at least one partner state, Kenya, and South Sudan which borders Uganda and Kenya.
“We need to discuss with them issues of peace and security, and then later, trade and development,” Harelimana said.
“We could also consider the Central African Republic - it may be somehow very far from us but you can see that EAC [peacekeeping] forces are there. Rwanda is there, Burundi is there. And I think Uganda too is preparing to go there”.
The Arusha conference is deliberating on strategies to transform regional societies and contain insecurity in the region. Participants are analyzing emerging security threats and challenges to ensure sustainable peace and co-existence to the region with intent on better being able to predict and prevent conflict.