The political crises in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to pose security challenges in the region. The executive secretary of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Zachary Muburi-Muita tells Fred Oluoch how the matter is being tackled.
The political agreement in the DR Congo remains fluid after President Joseph Kabila failed to sign it. What is the ICGLR doing to help the country weather the political storm?
The ICGLR was created in 2006 to stabilise the DRC. The ICGLR is part of the International Support Group for the DRC political dialogue. ICGLR believes that the political deal will hold and we will keep encouraging the stakeholders to respect it.
We have been engaging the parties and urging them to talk to each other rather than at each other in order to reach an agreement on how to move forward. We are happy that there is a transitional government led by a prime minister from the opposition, which we hope will bring all other stakeholders on board. But the decision lies with the Congo people — whether they will agree on an all-inclusive government.
We will keep mobilising the international community for any necessary support to implement the deal. We are going to do this by neutralising negative forces in the eastern DRC — the Allied Democratic Forces, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and local militias — and repatriating to the DRC, the remaining ex-combatants of M23 now in cantonments in Rwanda and Uganda.
The other agenda is stopping illegal exploitation of minerals in the DRC. We are working with Monusco — the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC — to repatriate to South Sudan, the SPLA-IO rebels camped in DRC.
We are, however, concerned that a fresh wave of non-observance of term limits in the Great Lakes region is contributing to political instability there. This means citizens are denied the opportunity to elect alternative leadership, which would enable the people to share power and resources.
But while term extensions remain a challenge, our main job is to ensure that these countries observe human rights, civil liberties and justice. But as a whole, the stability of the entire region continues to be affected by the unfair distribution of political power and economic resources, not just extension of term limits.
What other challenges has ICGLR identified in the region?
The Central African Republic is another major concern. Although the election has taken place, it did not bring about the envisaged political settlement. The country remains the main base for the LRA, which continues to torment the population in countries such as South Sudan and the DRC.
The international community has held conferences in Brussels to try to bring about stability, but CAR still remains a challenge. I will strive towards strengthening the CAR security forces through training.
How is the Intra-Burundi dialogue progressing?
The facilitator Benjamin Mkapa is getting the necessary support from the East African Community, but one can only help those who want to be helped. His recent call for the opposition to recognise President Pierre Nkurunziza because he is halfway through his term has not gone down well with the opposition. Also, the prospects that President Nkurunziza will contest again in 2020 seems to be unacceptable to the opposition.
Mr Mkapa could do with more help and the EAC and ICGLR must be more emphatic about pushing the two sides towards reaching an agreement, and also evaluate Mkapa’s strategies whether they are working. We at ICGLR did not want to open many fronts so we have left the process largely in the hands of EAC, but we are working together.
The Burundi government maintains that the political crisis is over and what it needs is regional support to fully stabilise the country.
Burundi still remains a security challenge to the region. If a finger is ailing, then the whole body is ailing. The thousands of Burundi refugees in Tanzania and Rwanda affect regional security and economic integration. I agree that countries in the region must support Burundi to come up with an inclusive political structure, but the people of Burundi must demonstrate that they need regional help and open up to it. Our role is to provide diplomatic support, bringing different stakeholders together.
The ICGLR is celebrating its 10th anniversary in March; what has it achieved so far?
When we started, DRC was in turmoil and the war there had engulfed five countries from the region and beyond. Rwanda and Uganda were not talking to DRC but now we can see constructive engagement.
The political engagement across the region has seen security improve, while joint infrastructure projects are taking root. Also taking root is regional economic integration as we continue to work closely with EAC, Igad and SADC to bring about investments in the region that have succeeded in reducing the number of youth vulnerable to negative forces.
Our 2017 priorities include consolidating the security of the member states, implementation of the political deal in the DRC, concluding the Intra-Burundi Dialogue, pushing for security sector reforms in the CAR and developing a regional counterterrorism strategy.