Security Council must seize ‘golden opportunity’ for stability in Great Lakes region: UN envoy

The international community must step up efforts to end instability around Africa’s Great Lakes so that millions there can benefit from its riches, the UN Special Envoy for the region told the Security Council on Thursday.

“The Great Lakes region is, more than ever before in recent history, resolutely committed to pursuing stability for itself”, Huang Xia said in his first briefing to the 15 ambassadors since being appointed in January.

Mr. Huang listed recent developments, including strengthened diplomatic engagement following the election of a new President in the Democratic Republic (DRC) last December, the signing of an agreement aimed at easing tensions between Rwanda and Uganda, and regional cooperation to counter armed groups in the eastern DRC.

“There is a golden opportunity here before us to address the deep-rooted causes of the instability”, he said.

“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 better tap the riches and wealth of their region.”

Regional challenges persist

Positive developments aside, the Great Lakes region continues to face numerous challenges.

Mr. 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 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 Ignace Gata Mavita stated.

Echoing Mr. Huang, 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 have been provided,” he said. “This is far from good enough.”

Elsewhere, the ambassador of Côte d’Ivoire looked to upcoming elections in Burundi. Désiré Wulfran G. Ipo encouraged stakeholders “to engage in a process of political dialogue and to pool their efforts in order to ensure that the elections to be held in 2020 will be inclusive, credible and peaceful.”

Development, integration and jobs for youth

The UN Special Envoy called for action to strengthen development programmes and accelerate integration among the nations of the vast Great Lakes region.

The international community should also 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.

Mr. 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.