“For the first time in years, Eastern Congo’s 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.” Mary Robinson, Great Lakes envoy, reflects on the progress and challenges facing in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the signing of a peace agreement a year ago.
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 (DRC), ending the bloody cycles of conflicts in that country. The latest of these was the M23 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 for 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 which have known mostly conflict for several decades is no easy matter. There is an ever-present danger of slipping back into the maelstrom, as 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 24 February 2013 at the signing of The Peace Security and Cooperation (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 was defeated and the DRC government and the rebels concluded a peace process. A Regional Oversight Mechanism for the framework was also established, backed by a Technical Support Committee, comprising of 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 (January 2014) 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 last 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. This ownership is commendable.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni made tireless efforts to facilitate the Kampala dialogue between the DRC government and the M23 rebels, and DRC President Joseph Kabila exhibited statesmanship in acknowledging that despite the military defeat of M23, any lasting settlement needed a comprehensive solution and pledged to work towards that goal.
Furthermore, the first ever joint summit between the ICGLR and the Southern Africa Development Commission (SADC) gave the very positive signal that southern African countries, such as Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with historic ties to the DRC intended to follow the PSC Framework and exploit the synergy of both regional blocs to achieve lasting peace in the region. In the past this has not always been the case, so is another cause for hope that we are indeed opening a new chapter in the search for peace in the Great Lakes 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.
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 along the lines of the Kampala process. A thorough disarmament and demobilisation process must be put in place and former M23 combatants in Uganda and Rwanda need to be repatriated for real trust to be built and progress achieved.
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 last January in 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 would be limited if the vast potential and value of women and youth are not adequately factored into the search for durable solutions and in the implementation of the framework. I was delighted to take part in the launch of the ‘Women’s Platform for the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework’ in Addis Ababa on 28 January 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.
The goal of peace and security in the Great Lakes, almost a dream a year ago, is now firmly within our grasp. The indications are quite positive. Future generations will not forgive us, if we let this opportunity slip.
This article first appeared on the UN Department of Political Affairs’ website.