Promoting Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions in the Great Lakes

The new sustainable development goals adopted by the United Nations call for the international community to come together to promote the rule of law; support equal access to justice for all; reduce corruption; and develop effective, accountable, and transparent institutions at all levels. The current political realities in the Great Lakes region are shaping up to become an early test of these commitments. Many may not realize the Great Lakes region is experiencing the second largest refugee crisis in the world, as well as seismic political changes.

Over the coming months, the region's political shifts threaten to trigger mass violence and instability or produce historic democratic transitions that unleash long-awaited prosperity and development. Leaders in the region, supported by the international community will ultimately determine which future is realized.  

The sheer human stakes of these transitions greatly influenced my decision to accept Secretary Kerry’s offer to serve as Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Since my appointment in July, I have spent much of my time traveling through the Great Lakes region to meet with our embassies, foreign leaders, civil society, refugees, the displaced and many others. I have also met with numerous allies in Europe and regional leaders in Africa, including Uganda, Tanzania, Angola, Kenya, and others to find and coordinate shared solutions to advance peace and prosperity in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Rwanda.   

From my time in this position, three issues emerge as paramount and demanding of regional and international action: growing instability in Burundi, the upcoming presidential elections in the DRC and in the region, and the ongoing presence of armed groups in eastern DRC such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which threaten security both in DRC and the region and prey upon the population.   

Burundi is in real danger of devolving into mass violence, and already faces extreme political and economic fragility. Following President Nkurunziza’s decision to cling to power in violation of Burundi’s historic peace agreement and to hold rushed elections, the people of Burundi now face deep instability and a humanitarian crisis.  Since April nearly 200,000 Burundians have fled the country, and hundreds more flee daily. On my recent trip to Tanzania, I met with Burundian refugees and heard harrowing stories of families being attacked by armed militias and women and girls being raped as they fled the country. Tit for tat assassinations and the arming of militias contribute to an environment of fear and impunity; and Burundi’s economy is in free fall -- erasing more than a decade of economic progress hard fought after Burundi’s long and brutal civil war.  

Across the border, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) faces a decisive moment in November 2016, when its presidential elections are scheduled.  For the first time in its history, the DRC could experience a peaceful, democratic transition of power. President Joseph Kabila, whose term ends in December 2016, is barred from serving a consecutive third term by the DRC’s constitution.  However, the necessary electoral preparation has not occurred to ensure that national elections are held on time. The next two to three months will be critical to jump-starting the electoral process and salvaging national elections for next year. Furthermore, upcoming scheduled elections in Rwanda, the Republic of Congo and Angola will serve as important tests of the region’s commitment to democracy and institution-building. 

Finally, a number of armed groups, including the FDLR and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) continue to harm civilians in DRC, and sow instability in the region. Stronger efforts at demobilization, disarmament, and community reintegration of these armed groups, including the M23, a DRC rebel group which laid down its arms in 2013, are required. The Armed Forces of the DRC and the international peacekeeping force MONUSCO must escalate their military pressure, while the financial resources of these groups, including illegal mining, should be tackled.   

In the weeks and month ahead I will continue to work with my counterparts in the U.S. government and allies -- governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations-- to find a path forward on these critical issues.  We hope collective effort will move us toward the democracy, prosperity, and development this region so richly deserves.  

About the Author: Tom Perriello serves as the U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

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October 1, 2015
Patrick W.
Maryland, USA
October 2, 2015
Stop the trafficking of slave labors that do the illegal mining, and countries who look the other way when buying minerals from Africa, and you will solve some of your problems. Also try putting Corrupt Officials in jail where they belong ! ;)
A MONUSCO peacekeeper stands on patrol as a resident gathers wood in the Beni regionof eastern DRC, near the Ugandan border [UN Photo]
Posted by Tom Perriello
October 1, 2015


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