Africa’s Great Lakes region has been home to some of most violent and prolonged conflicts on the continent, causing immense suffering and blocking meaningful socio-economic progress. The search for a lasting end to conflict in the region remains elusive despite several initiatives by local and international players.
Edited by Mwesigwa Baregu and published by Foutain Publishers, Understanding Obstacles to Peace: Actors, Interests and Strategies in Africa’s Great Lakes Region is one such initiative. The book is the product of a collaboration between the International Development Research Center (IDRC) working with other partners in the Great Lakes region and a number of home based academicians. It attempts to research and give context to these conflicts – as a way of making a contribution to the peace initiative.
The book looks at countries in the Great Lakes region; Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi — that have suffered extended spells of violence and rebellion. It investigates the actors in the conflicts, their motives, and suggests strategies for reform. It is considerable contribution to the peace debate in the region; the discussions are borne out of both research and balanced analysis, and the conclusions have been greatly contexualised making them relevant to what essentially are largely home-bred crises.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been undergoing complex armed conflicts since 1996, starting with the downfall of the Mobutu regime, and the different rebellions backed by neighboring countries. Northern Kenya has equally gone through bad spells of violence especially in the pastoral districts of Moyale and Northern Wajir. Violence has been on the rise in Burundi: 1972 and 1993 saw the most devastating orchestrations of violence, especially against the Hutu. The story is not any different for Uganda’s north and Southern Sudan.
The researchers point out that most of these conflicts are rooted in very domestic causes. Some are ethnic like in Burundi; others are based on natural resource exploitation such as oil and gold in Sudan and DRC, while some have a lot to do with problems with nation building such as Uganda. But also, there exists the hitherto invisible hand of a foreign power and with interests, more especially a love to share the local resources, oil or gold, especially the United States and China.
The researchers point out that for so long, in many of these conflicts, the causes have been misconceived, culminating into prolonged failure of peace initiatives. For example, the war in northern Uganda was variously portrayed as an Acholi conflict, a northern conflict or a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict. At another instance, the LRA was an organisation of religious fanatics or lunatics without political agenda; a tool of the fundamentalist Islamist regime in Sudan. This had presented it as a local or native affair, one that is not rooted in the national or domestic politics of Uganda. And this absence of honesty to acknowledge the reality has contributed to the failure of numerous peace initiatives aimed at resolving it.
Understanding Obstacles to Peace is packaged with a number of solutions, and although many of them are country specific, some do cut across. Improving and strengthening the economy, enabling it to create and provide jobs for the people could be a good stepping stone for the entire region. Maintaining the rule of law is absolutely essential as is the integration of former rebel groups into society. But most importantly, international actors have been viewed as obstructions to the peace and so excluding them out of the peace equation could be more helpful.