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The Great Lakes

NGOs’ quest for lasting peace

As the East African presidents were recently holding a symposium in Kampala aimed at forging unity in the Great Lakes region, a network of grassroots non-governmental organisations (NGOs) appealed to the regional governments to recognise the role played by civil society in the quest for lasting peace.
3 April 2002 - Clement Njoroge

Under the auspices of Peace Tree Network, more than fifty peace activists from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia met in Nairobi from April 10-12 to talk about how to best bring peace to the troubled Great Lakes region. They expressed feelings of frustration and grave concern over the lack of progress in the efforts to end conflicts there. "NGOs, because they are closer to the people and they understand what is happening at the ground, are more effective in creating a culture of lasting peace and unity," said Theoneste Murangira, a member of the executive committee of Collectif des Ligues es Associations de Defense des Droits de l' Homme (CLADHO) based in Burundi.

Murangira attributed the ongoing conflicts to the fact that "several countries, African and Western, are involved in any [given] conflict in Africa. So many initiatives have been taken to find solutions to the multifaceted problems in these conflicts, both the internal and external dimensions, yet little progress has been made to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict." As a consequence, Murangira says: "more often than not, the parties to the conflicts have honoured their commitment to the cease-fire agreements, only to breach them."

And during the Kampala symposium, attended by over 250 participants from April 8 to 11, Ugandan MP Mr Aggrey Awori was reported to have criticised President Yoweli Museveni's sincerity in the search for peace in the DRC, saying that the Uganda president was paying lip service to peace efforts in the region but continued to keep his troops in the DRC. Participants urged Museveni to withdraw his troops from the DRC to demonstrate to the world that his government was not fuelling conflict in that country.

The Congolese conflict, now dubbed Africa's "World War One" because of the many foreign armies involved, pits rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda against the government of President Joseph Kabila, which is backed by the national armies of Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

The Kampala symposium strongly recommended that the region commit itself to promoting the rule of law, tolerance, and democracy, as well as rapid economic and social development in order to revitalise the forces of conflict and insecurity. In this regard, the Peace Tree Network sees a great potential in the civil society's role to create a culture of peace. "The NGOs working in the field especially in conflict areas are more informed about the local problems. They know that conflict resolution and peace building must start at the community level. It requires some capacity building which should not just mean providing the technical skills but also providing moral guidance to avoid situation that would lead to conflicts starting from the village level," Murangira said.

The symposium in Kampla also recognised the fact that a democratic culture should be mature and consolidated. Conference papers said that, "concentrated efforts should be taken to promote civil education for peace and security with special attention to the youth." In agreement with this point, Peace Tree Network Co-ordinator Michael Ochieng, also the co-ordinator of Africa Peace Point (APP) based in Nairobi, said the network aims at "strengthening individual organisations in community education and advocacy initiatives, particularly efforts focusing on the youth since they are more vulnerable to political manipulations that are aimed at igniting conflicts."

Ochieng explained that the network is an initiative that brings together organisations working to promote peace and unity within the Great Lakes region. The network, formed one year ago as a distillation point for information and joint efforts in activities being carried out in the peace and development arena, currently has 20 member organisations. Its role, he says "is to bring together regional peace organisation and facilitate the process of information exchange among the organisations."

The Kampala summit was organised by the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Foundation and the Ugandan government. Former Tanzanian President Nyerere was the mediator of the Bururndi peace talks before his death three years ago. The Peace Tree Network meeting was organised by a coalition of Nairobi-based NGOs and affiliated donor agencies interested in the formation of a regional network of NGOs working for peace.

The two parallel meetings coincided with Nyerere’s 80th birthday and the removal of Idi Amin from power in 1979 in which Nyerere played a pivotal role.

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