Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region Huang Xia has urged the international community to step up efforts to end instability around the region so that millions there can benefit from its riches.
The Great Lakes region comprises Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. They are surrounded by Lake Victoria, the third-largest freshwater lake in the world by area, Lake Tanganyika, the world’s second-largest freshwater lake by volume and depth, and Lake Malawi, the world’s eighth-largest freshwater lake by area.
However, the countries have all been torn apart by poverty political instability, and conflict, among others. But Huang told the UN security council last night that the region is more than ever before in recent history, resolutely committed to pursuing stability for itself.
Speaking through an intepreter, the envoy listed recent developments, including the signing of an agreement aimed at easing tensions between Rwanda and Uganda, regional cooperation to counter armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC and strengthened diplomatic engagement following the election of a new President in the DRC last December.
“There is a golden opportunity here before us to address the deep-rooted causes of the instability. We must seize that golden opportunity and build upon it to strengthen regional cooperation in order to allow the people of this particular part of the world to tap the riches and wealth of their region,” He added.
The UN Special Envoy called for action to strengthen development Programmes and accelerate integration among the nations of the vast Great Lakes region. This was Huang’s first briefing to the 15 ambassadors since being appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region in January.
He said that the international community needs to support programmes that complement military responses against armed groups, such as disarmament, repatriation and reintegration processes, as well as cross-border employment projects targeting young people.
Huang emphasized that promoting the role of women, youth and civil society is another priority, and his office is lobbying for more women’s participation in decision-making bodies as well as peace processes.
“By playing on the correlation between peace and security on the one hand, and development and better-distributed prosperity and wealth on the other, the region will be able to set itself on the path of change and move away from a reactive approach to conflict to be able to engage in a proactive approach of peace, security and development,” he said.
Positive developments aside, the Great Lakes region continues to face numerous challenges. Huang said local and foreign armed groups operating in the eastern DRC profit from illicit mining and trade in natural resources. Their activities also spur forced displacement of civilians.
All of this is taking place amidst an Ebola outbreak in the area, which has killed more than 2,000 people since August 2018. The Congolese ambassador Ignace Gata Mavita informed the Council that DRC President Félix Tshisekedi is “working tirelessly” to find a solution to end insecurity in the east.
“He has launched military operations which are underway, including in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, to neutralize the spoiler capacity of negative forces which continue to hinder peace and security in this part of the country”, Ambassador Mavita stated.
During the same session, French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière underscored the importance of fighting impunity and respecting human rights. He further urged more support for “the humanitarian and public health crisis” brought on not only by conflict and Ebola but also by malaria and cholera epidemics, all of which are affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the region.
“Only 30 per cent of the funds needed for the humanitarian response for the DRC has been provided,” he said. “This is far from good enough,” He said.