A wave of insecurity and political unrest hit the Great Lakes region early in 2016: South Sudan had plunged into yet another war, Burundi was cracking down on dissidents following a botched coup, while the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic were also in turmoil.
The wars in these countries forced an influx of refugees into Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Uganda hosts more than one million refugees from South Sudan and another 300,000 from DR Congo.
The region’s leaders are now looking to end the conflict.
In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza, who was widely expected to seek two more terms, announced he will not seek re-election in 2020; while South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar have agreed to a ceasefire and a power-sharing deal.
In DR Congo, President Joseph Kabila has agreed to elections in December and he won’t be a presidential candidate.
These peace deals have largely been brokered by African heads of state. During the ninth high-level meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism (ROM) of the Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework agreement for DR Congo, hosted last week in Kampala, regional leaders from the Great Lakes vowed to achieve the African Union goal of silencing all guns on the continent by 2020 — at least within the region.
The meeting was chaired by the incoming ROM chairman, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, and attended by Presidents Kiir, Edgar Lungu of Zambia, Burundi Vice-President Gaston Sindimwo, Congo Republic’s Prime Minister Clément Mouamba and representatives from Sudan, Kenya and South Africa.
Determined to end the cycle of conflict that has plagued the Great Lakes region, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, DR Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia signed a Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for the region in February 2013. Kenya and Sudan later joined in 2014.
A representative of the AU said that peace in the region would only be achieved through direct contact and engagement with warring factions.
“The Africa we want is peaceful and prosperous, and regional economic blocs will help us achieve this,” the official said.
The leaders want to concentrate on ending armed conflicts in the region; illegal mining and export of minerals especially in DRC; and ending human trafficking and the refugee influx.
The UN special envoy to the Great Lakes region, Said Djinnit, called for political inclusion and participation of the youth and women in the region’s political space.