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Great Lakes region: Ongoing efforts to resolve the crisis

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Picture: ANA Files – The resurgence of the ‘Mouvement du 23 Mars’ (M23) armed group has reawakened deep-seated suspicions, increasing tensions between the DRC and Rwanda, with both countries accusing each other of supporting armed groups and of provoking an armed confrontation, the writer says.

By Huang Xian

Ten years ago, on February 24, 2013, countries of the Great Lakes region signed the Peace, Security and Co-operation (PSC) Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the region.

They committed to end, once and for all, the scourge of recurrent violence and instability that plagued the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with impacts across the region. The Framework laid the foundation, for the first time, for lasting peace in eastern DRC and for a peaceful co-existence between neighbouring countries.

Yet, despite remarkable progress recorded since then, the region was plunged once more into a serious crisis in late 2021, triggered by the resurgence of the “Mouvement du 23 Mars” (M23) armed group. Its resurgence reawakened deep-seated suspicions, increasing tensions between the DRC and Rwanda, with both countries accusing each other of supporting armed groups and of provoking an armed confrontation.

These ongoing peace processes attest to a new dynamic; they signal a quest for finding regional solutions to peace and security challenges in the Great Lakes region.

The impact of this crisis has been nothing short of devastating, not only in political and security terms, but also in terms of its humanitarian consequences. Hundreds of thousands of people have again been uprooted from their homes; countless have become victims of unspeakable atrocities and abuses. Many of the gains made over the past decade are at risk of being eroded.

Given the gravity of the situation, leaders in the Great Lakes region have intensified diplomatic outreach and dialogue initiatives, notably through the Nairobi Process led by the East African Community (EAC) and the Luanda Process mediated by the President of Angola, João Lourenço, in his capacity as chairperson of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).

Under the Nairobi Process, President Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi, as well as the EAC Facilitator, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, are seeking to broker a solution between the Government of the DRC and Congolese armed groups operating in the eastern parts of the country. Meanwhile, the Luanda Process focuses on the pacification of eastern DRC by creating the conditions for political dialogue between the DRC and Rwanda and addressing the renewed threat of the M23, which has been excluded from the Nairobi Process in light of its continued attacks.

Both processes aim to address the ongoing security crisis in the eastern DRC and its regional implications, with a focus on restoring peaceful relations between the DRC and Rwanda. Both are inextricably linked, requiring enhanced coordination to achieve progress towards their shared objectives. The joint ICGLR-EAC Mini-Summit on the situation in the region, held on 17 February in Addis Ababa, was a key step towards strengthening the convergence of the two processes.

These ongoing peace processes attest to a new dynamic; they signal a quest for finding regional solutions to peace and security challenges in the Great Lakes region, which we must support.

As the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, one of my immediate priorities is to help restore good neighbourly relations. I have therefore undertaken a series of good offices missions in the region, advocating for a political solution to the current crisis based on dialogue while urging for maximum restraint and adherence to the decisions made through the Luanda and Nairobi processes.

Together with the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, my Office has provided political, technical and financial support to the Nairobi Process and encouraged enhanced co-ordination with the Luanda Process. I have also spoken out against the increasing use of hate speech and incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence in eastern DRC, specifically against the Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese communities.

In numerous exchanges with leaders of the region, I have called on countries in the region to respect the legitimate concerns and interests of neighbouring countries, in particular regarding security matters, and to neither tolerate nor provide assistance or support of any kind to armed groups. These are two of the commitments countries of the region agreed to when signing the PSC Framework. Abiding by these commitments remains as critical now as it did ten years ago.

A related key issue is how to engage the M23 and foreign armed groups, such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the Forces démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and the Résistance pour un État de droit au Burundi (RED Tabara), whose continued attacks further contribute to the deteriorating security situation. The exclusion of these groups from the Nairobi Process has impacted on the engagement of those Congolese armed groups who participate in the consultations with the DRC Government.

To complement the ongoing military efforts of the EAC Regional Force, my Office and I have therefore supported the use of non-military measures, including the disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation and reintegration of ex-combatants and the disruption of supply networks of foreign armed groups. Facilitated by my Office, these efforts are spearheaded by the Contact and Co-ordination Group (CCG) and its technical arm, the Operational Cell, which bring together five countries from the region – Burundi, the DRC, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda. The mandate of the CCG and the Operational Cell is anchored in the recognition that there cannot be a solely military solution – a holistic approach is needed to durably address the security challenges in the region.

It is therefore high time for the international community to step up its support and to work hand-in-hand with the Great Lakes region, in the spirit of the PSC Framework.

Equally vital is the need for concerted international support. While the Governments of the region bear responsibility to consolidate peace in their countries and across their borders, the international community has a duty to assist them at all levels, as it has done and is doing in other parts of the world.

Indeed, resolving the current crisis requires wide and sustained support to the ongoing regional initiatives, not only from the countries of the region and regional organisations themselves but also from international partners and friends. It is therefore high time for the international community to step up its support and to work hand-in-hand with the Great Lakes region, in the spirit of the PSC Framework.

Huang Xia is the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.