It is often said a week is a long time in politics. If so, a year must be a lifetime. It is a year since 11 African countries signed a framework agreement to bring peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo, ending the bloody cycle of conflicts in that country.
The latest of these was the M-23 rebellion, which had plunged the DRC back into chaos and threatened to ignite a new, wider conflict in the region.
For the first time in years, eastern Congo’s people, especially women and children, have the tantalising prospect of being able to live and work without the ever present fear of conflict, sexual violence and rape. From the beginning, I called the agreement a Framework of Hope. To fulfil that hope, it has to bring about changes in their security and their lives.
So much has happened in the past 12 months that the prospect of lasting peace in one of the world’s most fragile areas is no longer the pipe dream of idealists, but a reality almost within our grasp.
I say “almost” because bringing peace and stability to areas of the world that have known mostly conflict for several decades is no easy matter. There is an ever-present danger of slipping back into the maelstrom, as the recent tragic events in South Sudan and the Central African Republic have demonstrated.
The progress made since those 11 countries — Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Angola, Uganda, South Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania and Congo-Brazzaville — signed the accord, is undeniable.
That progress has built on the specific commitments, critical for peace in the region, not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs and not to tolerate or support armed groups.
As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on February 24, 2013, at the signing of the Peace, Security and Co-operation (PSC) Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, it was only the first step. To realise its ambitions would require sustained commitment of all interested parties.
In the 12 months since the PSC Framework was signed, we have seen evidence of that commitment from the countries of the region and the wider continent.
The M23 rebel movement have been defeated and the DRC government and the rebels have concluded a peace process. A Regional Oversight Mechanism for the framework has been established, backed by a Technical Support Committee, comprising principal representatives of heads of states and governments of the region.
Given the poor record of previous agreements in the region, the signatories understood that it was necessary to draw up regional benchmarks and a detailed plan of action for implementation of the specific commitments.
The plan of action was adopted at the last Summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa last month, when Kenya and the Republic of Sudan also agreed to join the Framework process. This was preceded by the adoption of complementary international benchmarks by donor partners to support the objectives of the Framework.
This partnership is necessary to translate the accord into concrete measures on the ground.
In the past year, we have seen a gradual building of trust and consensus in the region and witnessed a stronger resolve by the leaders in the region to find solutions to the problems confronting the DRC and the region through the instrument of the PSC Framework, which builds on existing regional instruments such as the 2006 pact on security, stability and development in the region.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has made tireless efforts to facilitate the Kampala dialogue between the DRC government and the M23 rebels, and DRC President Joseph Kabila has exhibited statesmanship in acknowledging that despite the military defeat of M-23, any lasting settlement needs a comprehensive solution.
Furthermore, the first ever joint summit between the ICGLR and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) gave the very positive signal that Southern African countries with historic ties to the DRC, such as Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe, intended to follow the PSC Framework and exploit the synergy of both regional blocs to achieve lasting peace in the region.
Another positive sign that the countries of the region are taking ownership of the peace process has been the determination of the new chair of the ICGLR, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, to promote the objectives of the framework through dialogue between Rwanda, Uganda, DRC, Angola and South Africa on “negative forces” or illegal armed groups and broader security issues.
I emphasised on a visit to Angola last week that as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, I am ready to work with President Dos Santos in any way I can to advance this agenda.
A team of international envoys to the DRC and the region, including the African Union Special Representative, is also working in a very collaborative spirit to support these efforts.
Still, there is no room for complacency. Much remains to be done.
First, we must ensure the implementation of last December’s Nairobi Declarations by the DRC government and M23, which formally ended the rebellion. A thorough disarmament and demobilisation process must be put in place and former M23 combatants in Uganda and Rwanda repatriated for real trust to be built.
The social and economic aspects of the PSC Framework need to be fast-tracked as well. Peace cannot take root without tangible evidence on the ground that jobs and businesses are able to flourish.
It was important that in January on the margins of the African Union summit, the representatives of governments in the Regional Oversight Mechanism not only endorsed the action plan but also approved the convening of a private sector investment forum for the region to be held later this year.
Progress will be limited if the vast potential and value of women and youth are not adequately factored into the search for durable solutions. I was delighted to take part in the launch of the Women’s Platform for the Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework in Addis Ababa on January 28 in conjunction with the Global Fund for Women and other bodies promoting women’s rights and fighting sexual abuse in the region.
The Women’s Platform responds to the growing awareness that gender equality and women’s empowerment are integral issues for peace, security, governance and sustainable development in the region.
Through this initiative, women’s groups will be able to play active roles in the implementation of the PSC Framework. I am also delighted to note the recent launch by the ICGLR of the Regional Training Centre in Kampala, Uganda to train security personnel in the region on sexual and gender-based violence.
As we move into the second year of the PSCF, it is time to harness the productive energy of civil society organisations and grassroots initiatives to ensure accountability in the implementation of the Framework for lasting peace and a better future for all.
Mary Robinson is the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region