Challenges and Opportunities for Regional Peacebuilding in the African Great Lakes

On Thursday 12 February, The Hague Institute for Global Justice, in partnership with the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), hosted a public event on the challenges and opportunities for regional peacebuilding in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

The panel discussion began with a keynote from Corina van der Laan (Head of Stability & Rule of Law Division, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs), followed by presentations from Dr Patrick Kanyangara (Coordinator Great Lakes Project, African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes), Moffat Kamau (Programe Manager, Nairobi Peace Initiative – Africa and GPPAC Regional Representative for Eastern and Central Africa) and Tessa Alleblas (Researcher, The Conflict Prevention Program, The Hague Institute). Nikola Dimitrov (Distinguished Fellow, The Hague Institute) provided the welcoming remarks, with Marte Hellema (GPPAC’s Public Outreach Program) moderating the Q&A discussion.

The presentations and the audience discussion focused on the threat of electoral violence in the Great Lakes region and the preventive role that regional organizations can play. The post-electoral violence in Kenya in 2007/08, the recent clashes and demonstrations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the elections scheduled in Burundi for 2015 and for Uganda in 2016 underline the past, present and future risks. As a region of post-conflict and mid-conflict states, there is the potential for a spillover effect in the region, especially for DRC, as it shares a border with nine neighboring countries.

While regional organizations such as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the Southern African Development Community and the African Union provide important frameworks and mechanisms, the speakers and audience emphasized the need for further support and capacity given the threat of political unrest and violent conflict at the regional level. Some stressed the urgency and need to build civil society’s transnational reach and capacity. Others highlighted the underutilized role of the private sector in peacebuilding based on the successful strategies of businesses in helping to prevent violence and their support to civil society before and following the 2013 elections in Kenya.

Throughout the event, panelists and participants underscored civil society’s ability to make governments accountable, to voice citizens’ concerns, and to help deliver services to local populations. There was also consensus that civil society is best equipped to understand and address local grievances and to facilitate the building of trust and reconciliation through dialogue and negotiation. Finding new ways to strengthen collaboration with the private sector was proposed, which would enable civil society to protect its independence from government in the long-term by becoming more financially sustainable. Additional recommendations focused on the increasing importance of incorporating women and youth in peacebuilding efforts.

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