Briefing on the Situation in the Great Lakes Region

Great Lakes

Date | 21 June, 2021

Tomorrow (21 June) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is set to convene its 1005th session to receive a briefing on the situation in the Great Lakes Region.

Following the opening remark from the PSC Chairperson of the month, Burundi’s Permanent Representative to the AU, Joel Nkurbagaya, the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye, will make a statement. It is expected that the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the Commission for the Great Lakes Region and Burundi, Basile Ikouebe, will brief the Council. Representative of the Democratic Republic of Congo and H.E. Hanna Tetteh, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) are also expected to deliver statements. The representative of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) as well as the representative of the East African Community (EAC) will also make statements.

This session is convened, among others, in line with the PSC’s request for the AU Commission to provide quarterly briefings to the Council on the situation in the Great Lakes Region during its last dedicated session on the region (974th meeting held on 22 January 2021). In this respect, tomorrow’s session will present the Council with the opportunity to take stock of the latest developments in the region since its last session, as well as review progress in the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Region (PSC Framework).

The AU along with other co-guarantors1 convened virtual meeting on 3 March to assess state of implementation of the Framework. The meeting welcomed the trend that ‘dialogue and cooperation’ have become ‘a central modus operandi’ in resolving challenges of the region. The meeting also noted remaining challenges including the persistent activities of negative forces, the unabated illegal exploitation of natural resources, strained relations between ‘certain countries’ in the region, the existence of large number of refugees and displaced persons, and the continued violation of human rights. In tomorrow’s session, the PSC is likely to echo the overall assessment of the co-guarantors.

Apart from the PSC Framework, the briefing is also expected to capture latest political, security and humanitarian developments in the region. In the political front, the region continued to witness an improved bilateral and multilateral diplomatic relations. President Felix Tshisekedi of DRC has continued cementing his ties with countries in the Great Lakes region, the latest being with Kenya in April. Following the state visit by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta to Kinshasa on 20 April, the two countries inked deals to deepen ties in the areas of business and security. Similarly, Rwanda and Burundi are on a path for improved neighbourly relationship as the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries attested. Relation between Rwanda and Uganda has not seen major improvement since the Council’s last session on the region. At a multilateral level, the ICGLR was able to convene two Mini- Summits of Heads of State and Government between January and April this year to address the political and security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR).

In the security front, negative forces and non-state actors remain active in eastern DRC and CAR. Sources claim that at least 122 armed groups operate in the mineral-rich eastern DRC, of which the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is assumed to be the deadliest. Eastern DRC continues to experience armed groups attacks and intercommunal violence, specifically in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, leading the government to declare a ‘state of siege’ in early May for a period of one month. Over the last three months, the Kivu Security Tracker (KST) reported some 362 incidents, resulting in 936 deaths.

On 22 February, an attack on a UN convoy in North Kivu killed three people including Italy’s Ambassador to DRC. On 31 May, gun and machete assaults against civilians in displacement camps in the Ituri province killed more than 50 people, one of the deadliest in recent years allegedly perpetrated by the ADF.

The uptick of violence in eastern DRC despite the presence of UN forces (MONUSCO) has angered population, brewing anti-MONUSCO sentiment. In April, violent protest erupted in Beni, North Kivu, over the perceived failure of MONUSCO to prevent the wave of attacks on civilians. This came amid the plan for a ‘progressive’ and ‘phased’ drawdown of the mission. It is to be recalled that UN Security Council Resolution 2556(2020), which extended the mandate of the mission until 20 December 2021, endorsed the plan of withdrawal from the Kasai province this month and progressively from Tanganyika in 2022, but consolidating its footprint in the conflict-ridden provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu.

Cross-border security incidents showed a significant reduction. There are encouraging signs of increased regional security and military cooperation among countries of the region. These include the signing of security and defence cooperation agreements between DRC and Kenya and DRC-Rwanda. Uganda and DRC also discussed their interest for joint military operations against armed groups in eastern DRC. Similarly, Rwanda and Burundi met in March to address cross-border security incidents.

Beyond the security efforts, a plan of action for a comprehensive approach in tackling the threats of armed groups has been developed as part of the operationalization of the Contact and Coordination Group (CCG) during a workshop held from 3 to 6 May in Goma, DRC. Supported by the DRC National Oversight Mechanism and the guarantors of the PSC Framework including the AU, the workshop underscoring the imperatives of ‘comprehensive approach’ and ‘complementarity between military efforts and non-military measures’, agreed on an Action Plan for the next two years that would be implemented in line with commitments under PSC Framework, respect of human rights and international humanitarian law, among others. They were also able to identify four areas of engagement in the fight against negative forces including to facilitate voluntary disarmament and repatriation process, cut supply sources of the armed groups, address the root causes, and improve the DDR programs.

A related issue likely to be raised at tomorrow’s briefing is the need to address illegal exploitation of natural resources, specifically gold and coltan. It has been argued that though minerals are important sources of revenue for governments of the region, the illegal trade and exploitation has been one of the underlying causes of conflict in the region as various actors are illicitly involved in this lucrative business. One possible avenue to address such problem is enhancing natural resource governance through the establishment of effective legal and institutional mechanisms regulating the ownership, extraction, distribution and control of natural resources.

Tomorrow’s session may also highlight latest developments particularly in terms of the effort to address political polarization in the DRC. While a new parliamentary majority has been constituted and a 56-member new coalition government under Prime Minister Jean-Mechel Sama Lukonde Kyenge has been established in April, the viability of the new majority and DRC’s long term political stability largely hinges on the extent to which coalition members of the new majority are able to come around a common political agenda.

The security situation in CAR remains volatile despite the relative lull in violence in recent months. The political situation shows fragility as manifested from last week’s resignation of Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada along with his entire cabinet. The resignation came following intense week of political wrangling between the government and France, leading to the suspension of financial aid and military cooperation. A welcome development at the level of UN is the adoption of Security Council resolution 2556 in March 2021, which decided to increase the authorized size of its mission (MINUSCA).

Tomorrow’s briefing is also expected to highlight the dire humanitarian situation in the region, especially in the DRC and CAR. In DRC, on top of the 5 million internally displaced persons, the eruption of the mount Nyiragongo volcano in Goma, North Kivu, on 22 May unleashed a new wave of displacement with nearly 416, 000 people uprooted from their homes and 31 people killed. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that around 19.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in 2021. On a positive note, the 12th Ebola outbreak in DRC, which started in North Kivu in February, was declared officially over early May. The situation in CAR also remains bleak as well, with glaring humanitarian needs. According to OCHA, 50 % of its population (2.8 million out of its 4.9 million population) rely on humanitarian assistance, while 25 % is displaced either internally or in neighbouring countries.

The situation in Burundi however shows improvement as thousands of refugees have continued to return to their home voluntarily, owing to the improved situations in the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated in late April that on average, 2,000 people are being assisted to voluntarily return each week from Rwanda, DRC, and Tanzania. While this is an encouraging step, dignified return and reintegration to their communities as well as addressing the needs of returnees is of particular significance.

The expected outcome of the session is a communique. On the PSC Framework, the Council is expected to express its commitment for its full implementation. In relation to the political and security developments in the region, the PSC is likely to echo the overall assessment of the co-guarantors on the occasion of the 8th anniversary of the PSC Framework where they commended the increased security and economic cooperation while noting the challenges including the persistence of the activities of negative forces, continued illegal exploitation of natural resources, strained relations between ‘certain countries’ of the region, as well as the worsening humanitarian conditions. The Council may particularly note the robust diplomatic engagement by DRC with its neighbouring countries and its contribution in strengthening regional cooperation by deepening economic and security ties. The Council is however likely to condemn the upsurge of violence in eastern DRC due to increased activities of armed groups and intercommunal conflicts. The Council is expected to stress on the imperative of addressing drivers of conflicts including extreme poverty and illegal exploitation of natural resources. The Council may also welcome the operationalization of the CCG with the aim to oversee the non-military measures and the adoption of action plan that identifies areas of engagement. On the humanitarian front, the PSC is expected to express its concern over the grave humanitarian crisis caused by a combination of manmade and natural elements. In that regard, the Council may call on member states, relevant RECs and international partners to redouble their efforts in addressing not only the immediate humanitarian crisis but also the underlying causes of the crisis. Finally, given the intensity and complexity of developments in this region, the Council may reiterate its decision reached at its 974th session to undertake field mission to the region.

1 The other guarantors of the PSC Framework are: the United Nations (UN), the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC)

Briefing on the Situation in Great Lakes Region

Great Lakes

Date | 22 January, 2021

Tomorrow (22 January), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to hold its 974th session to receive a briefing on the situation in the Great Lakes region. Following opening remarks by the PSC Chair of the month, Baye Moctar Diop, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Senegal, Smail Chergui, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security is expected to deliver introductory statement. The Special Representative of the Chairperson of the Commission for the Great Lakes Region, Basile Ikouebe is also scheduled to make a presentation. Statements are also expected from representatives of the East African Community (EAC), International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU).

The last time the PSC convened a dedicated session on the Great Lakes region was on 10 January 2020. This session is, therefore, expected to afford PSC the opportunity to assess recent political and security developments in the region, most notably- the upsurge of armed conflicts and the national election in Central African Republic (CAR) held in December; and the persistent attacks in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the collapse of the coalition of political groups and the resulting political crisis in the DRC.
The political and security crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains to be a concern to the overall Great Lakes Region. Early in the year and over the past week, intense clashes between the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the National Army of DRC, as well as ethnically targeted attacks by rebel forces have claimed the lives of multiple civilians, particularly in the eastern provinces of the country. Police brutality, sexual violence and kidnapping for ransom (KFR) continue unabated. The PSC is expected to consider and reflect on these concerning trends.

In DRC, the year 2020 ended with escalated political tension between the ruling coalition of President Félix Tshisekedi and Common Front for Congo (FCC) parliamentarians who stand in support of former President Joseph Khabila. Tensions sparked following President Tshisekedi’s decision to dissolve the parliamentary setting and FCC’s rejection of the decision as illegal. While the formation of a coalition government in 2019 somewhat allowed for power sharing between the newly elected President Tshisekedi and supporters of former President Khabila who won majority of seats in Parliament, the two sides still continue to have differences over major issues relating to constitutional court appointments; security arrangements; and electoral process. Council may also comment on these developments and call on relevant actors to deescalate tensions and work towards peacefully resolving differences.

It is also to be recalled that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) extended the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) for a one-year period until 20 December 2021, in its resolution adopted on 18 December 2020 (UNSC Res2556 (2020)).

The PSC may welcome this resolution, which maintains MONUSCO’s troop ceiling similar as previous year’s despite the mention of a phased drawdown under UNSC Res2502 (2019). In light of the recent political instability and continuing security challenges in DRC, UNSC’s decision to hold back on drawdown of troops was in line to the deteriorating security situation.

In addition to the political and security crisis, Council may also discuss the impacts of public health pandemic in the region, particularly DRC. The 11th Ebola outbreak in the DRC has been cause of concern in the overall region. As of early January 2021, reports have indicated 130 confirmed cases and 55 deaths in Équateur Province. Compounded by the rising cases of COVID-19 and fears of a second wave of the outbreak, possible deterioration of the humanitarian situation is likely to ensue, both in the DRC and the region at large.

Intensifying violence leading up to and following election in Central African Republic (CAR) on 27 December 2020 has also been among the most recent factors contributing to instability in the Great Lakes region. Opposition presidential candidates have contested the election, which was held in volatile circumstances. Despite such claims, the Constitutional Court has declared the re-election of President Touadéra on 18 January, granting him additional 5 years in office.

The violence, which unfolded following the election, has also led to mass displacement of civilians who continue to flee the situation. Over the past week alone, nearly 60,000 individuals have fled the country, most heading towards the DRC. In addition to those leaving CAR, nearly as many people are internally displaced – reportedly around 58,000 persons. In addition to the violence which erupted following 27 December’s election, these displacements are also attributable to the nationwide offensive attack perpetrated by the newly formed coalition of armed groups – the so-called ‘Patriots for Change’ – during the month leading up to the election. In addition to displacing a total estimate of over 100,000 people, these attacks have also prevented thousands of citizens from voting. Having regard to these developments and the understandable fear of return to a full-blown war in the country, the PSC may call on all relevant parties to immediately cease violence and refrain from considering military options.

Tomorrow’s session will also be an opportunity for the PSC to follow up on its 936th session decision, which authorized the deployment of the AU Military Observers Mission to the Central African Republic (MOUACA) for the period from 1 September 2020 to 31 October 2022. The PSC is yet to receive a briefing on the operationalization of MOUACA.

The political situation in Burundi has shown considerable improvement over the past year. At its 4 December 2020 meeting, it is to be recalled that the UNSC has struck off Burundi from its political agenda having regard to the peaceful nature of the 2020 elections. The PSC may reflect on this development and its contribution to the overall peace and security situation in the Great Lakes region.
The circumstances under which the Ugandan general elections of 14 January 2021 took place may also be of interest to Council. Reports have indicated that the elections were conducted amid violence and allegations of fraud. While the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni has been declared to win re-election, the PSC may advice all relevant parties to take necessary measures as to ensure contestations of the result do not lead to post-election crisis in the country. The EAC may also brief Council on its findings in relation to the election process in Uganda.

While these political and security challenges persist, Council may also take note of some of the positive developments in the region. In particular, the notable decrease in violence in South Sudan and the efforts to repatriate South Sudanese refugees has been a great achievement witnessed in 2020, in addition to the successful formation of the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU). Moreover, despite recent political tensions, DRC has remained relatively stable for most of 2020 in addition to showing significant improvement in its relationship with regional and international actors. The commitment shown by Member States to resolve their differences through diplomatic means and regional mechanisms can also be regarded as one of the positive developments seen. For example, the diplomatic resolution of the border dispute between DRC and Zambia as well as the commitment shown by Rwanda and Uganda to normalise their relationship through the good offices of Angola and DRC are encouraging.

In addition to these country specific situations, the PSC may also follow up on the progress obtained in the implementation of the 2013 Peace and Security Cooperation Framework (PSCF) for the DRC and the region. The ICGLR in particular may brief Council on progress and challenges in the implementation of the PSCF, as one of the guarantors of the Framework. In addition, the PSC may receive a briefing by the UNOAU on the new strategy on ‘Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region’ produced by Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region, Huang Xia, on 12 October 2020. The new strategy which sets out UN action for the coming decade, has a specific focus on preventive diplomacy, security, cooperation, development, and promotion of human rights and is structured around three pillars: Peace, Security and Justice; Sustainable Development and Shared Prosperity, and Resilience to Former and New Challenges.
The expected outcome of the session is unknown at the time of production of this insight. The PSC may however include in its outcome document a call for countries of the region as well as relevant Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to increase their cooperation and coordination towards achieving sustainable peace and stability in the region. In light of the concerning security trends in countries in the region the Council may also reiterate its call for Member States to deescalate tensions and to immediately bring an end to violence against civilians. The PSC may also express its concern of the exacerbating effects of COVID19 in an already fragile region. It may further urge Member States to enhance their efforts towards implementing the PSCF to ensure stability in the region.

Briefing on the Security Situation in the Great Lakes Region

Great Lakes

Date | 10 January, 2020

Tomorrow (10 January) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will convene its 902nd session to receive a briefing on the security situation in the Great Lakes region. Smail Chergui Commissioner of Peace and Security and Basile Ikouebe the AU Special representatives for the Great Lakes Region may brief the Council. Representatives Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) may also participate to make statement in the partially open segment of the session.

One of the key issues that will be considered in tomorrow’s session is the implementation of the Peace and Security Cooperation Framework (PSCF) signed on 24 February 2013 by DRC, Angola, Republic of Congo, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Central African Republic, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Zambia. Moreover, the AUC, United Nations (UN), (SADC) and (ICGLR) also signed the agreement as witnesses/guarantors.

At its 488th session the PSC has requested the AU Commission Chairperson to take the necessary steps to enhance the capacity of the AU Office for the Great Lakes Region, in order to enable the AU to further contribute to the implementation process of the PSC Framework and to support more effectively the efforts of the countries of the region. Accordingly, the Council made a decision to broaden the mandate of the Office, to also monitor the overall situation in the region and to support the implementation process of the various aspects of the PSC Framework.

Towards accelerating the implementation of the agreement, the PSC also decided to undertake a visit in the region and tasked the AUC Chair to submit quarterly reports on the development in the Great Lakes Region and on follow-up of the implementation of relevant decisions. Although this regular briefing has not taken place, tomorrow’s session may provide an opportunity to assess the status of the agreement and the political and security developments in the region.

It is to be recalled that on 27 February 2018 a high-level meeting was held marking the fifth anniversary of the signing of the PSCF, which among others reflected on the progress made and the challenges encountered. The outcome of the meeting identified the various security threats including political and electoral crisis and the activities of armed groups operating in the countries of the region by paying particular attention to South Sudan, CAR, DRC and Burundi. The meeting particularly highlighted the importance of neutralizing the negative forces in eastern DRC and complete the repatriation of foreign disarmed fighters.

Although some of the security and political challenges persist, positive developments were also witnessed. The peaceful transfer of power in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, President Tshisekedi’s encouraging outreach to his peers and a renewed commitment to regional cooperation and integration, notably by Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have raised hopes for enhanced regional cooperation.

Other encouraging, albeit fragile developments include the signing of the peace agreement in CAR and the agreement reached among South Sudanese parties to implement the key pre-transitional tasks relating to security arrangements and number of states.

The sustainability and implementation of the peace process in CAR may be one of the issues, which the PSC may consider in tomorrow’s briefing. Particularly the PSC may look into the violations of the provisions of the 6 February agreement singed by the government and 14 armed groups which compromises the gains made so far and may discuss on ways to enhance the political commitment of signatories and to deter the risk of lapse to another cycle of conflict.

Similarly, on South Sudan, the PSC may be briefed on the process leading up to the formation of the transitional government. It may be recalled that after the extension of the pre-transitional period for additional 100 days after the set deadline on November 12, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar have committed to work for resolving the major issues concerning security arrangements and number of states.

Burundi was not on the agenda of the PSC in 2019. President Pierre Nkurunziza has announced that he will not run for a fourth term in the elections slated for this year. The session may discuss a number of political developments. These most notably include the election in 2020, issues related to participation, the role of the AU human rights monitors and military observers and respect for human rights in the country.

DRC remains a critical actor in the region and for the success of the PSCF’s objectives. There are a number of issues, which the PSC is expected to consider on the situation in DRC and the implication it has on the wider region. The activity of the armed groups in the eastern part of the country remains a threat, which also heavily affects neighbouring countries and border security. The groups that operate in this region and continue to pose security challenges include the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Résistance pour un État de droit au Burundi. Particularly the violence related to access to natural resources by various groups continues to complicate the security situation in the country. In this regard the PSC may also recall the session it held on 13 December 2019, which addressed the Bamako Declaration on Access to Natural Resources and Conflicts between Communities.

Another key development is the outbreak of the Ebola virus in the most insecure part of the country. The instability and deliberate targeting of the health workers and facilities in the area has severely affected the lifesaving emergency operations. The PSC itself at its 862nd session has authorized the immediate deployment of an AU Mission Against Ebola in DRC (MAEC) to the DRC to support the effort of combating the epidemic. Tomorrow’s session may also follow up on this decision and the steps taken in deploying the mission.

Another issue that may feature is the health of inter-state relations in the region, which is one of the major factors for the peace and security challenges facing the region. It is to be recalled that in August 2019, the PSC was briefed by Angola on the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Rwanda and Uganda, in Luanda. In addition to the bilateral cooperation in the region, the PSC may also discuss on the cross-border illegal activities that affect multiple countries and that continue to hamper regional cooperation and the effective implementation of the framework agreement.

In addition to assessing the developments, it may also be of interest to the PSC to receive update on the outcome of the meetings held by various implementation mechanisms of the framework. Primarily the Regional Oversight Mechanism, the highest oversight body under the Framework agreement which meets annually at heads of state and government level to review progress in the implementation of the agreement. The PSC may also receive a briefing on the outcomes of the ministerial meeting of the Guarantors of the framework, which held its sixth session in February 2019. The meeting assessed the security and developments in the region particularly issues related to neutralization of negative forces, strengthening cooperation among countries in the region and the political developments unfolding in the various countries.

On 3 October 2019 the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region Huang Xia briefed the UN Security Council on the latest report on the implementation of the PSCF, which also provided security, political and humanitarian updates. The report of the Special Envoy called for dialogue and cooperation in order to curtail the threat posed by foreign armed groups and the illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources. The report also underlined the need for further efforts towards exercising of basic political freedoms and human rights in the region.

The expected outcome of the session is unknown during the production of this ‘Insight on the PSC’. However, in the outcome document, the PSC may welcome the positive developments that took place in the region and urge member states to enhance their efforts towards implementing the PSCF to ensure stability in the region. The PSC may also underline the importance of political commitment and the strengthening democratic institutions for the effectiveness and sustainability of peace agreements and other political endeavours. The PSC may underline the importance of cooperation among the countries in the region as well as coordination between the multiple RECs, which are present in the region including SADC, ICGLR and East African Community.