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The Social Science Research Council (SSRC), Search for Common Ground and the Faculty of Law, University of Goma, held a virtual conference on “Africa Great Lakes (2030) Sustaining Peace, on March 23-24, 2021. The conference was held over two days and organized around two themes. On the first day presentations and discussions were focused on “Consolidating and Sustaining Peace,” while presentations and discussions on the second day focused on, “Building Economies of Peace and Prosperity.”
The opening session on the first day of the conference featured brief welcome remarks by Cyril Obi, Program Director of the SSRC’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) programs. This was followed by presentations by Ms. Floride Ahitungiye, of Search for Common Ground’s office in Burundi on “Looking Behind, Looking Ahead.” Ms. Ahitungiye’s presentation underscored the importance of dialogue and engaging youth and women in community-based peacebuilding and reconciliation processes in Burundi, Rwanda. She observed that women peacebuilding processes in the DRC often limited the role of women pointing to the cases of post-conflict development in North Kivu and the 2013 Congolese Dialogues in South Africa and Ethiopia, noting that gender should be about human rights in a country where women outnumber men. Prof. Pigeon Mahuka of the Faculty of Law, University of Goma, spoke to “A partnership agenda in the Great Lakes” which offered an overview of the partnerships in the region and the need to overcome them. In his presentation titled, “Gendered approach to peacebuilding in the GLR” Tresor Mukunyo Muhindo, of the University of Pretoria, examined to the effects of neoliberal peacebuilding measures on women, noting the ways in which patriarchal structures had marginalized and excluded women. He argued that seeking to fit women into a political process designed for men was inherently problematic and noted that progress would not be made if women continued to be overlooked in political and peacebuilding processes. This was followed by a presentation by Alice Kasika, a master’s student at the University of Goma, whose presentation on “Traumatic Identities Facing Peacebuilding: Cultural Resilience and Community Destiny,” noted the symptoms of the trauma experienced by young people in conflict-affected communities and equally called for attention to resilience as a key element in building the capacity of war-affected communities to recover from trauma and shock. In addition, she called for the leveraging of resilience among citizens as a way of promoting peace in the DRC. Various commentators including Nicolas Gatambi, Vemba Disolade, Karin Nautilyn, Gaye Rosenblaum, Michael Shipler and Olufunke Okome weighed in on the discussions that followed. These explored the issues raised by the presenters and focused on challenges including gender inequality and patriarchy, political leadership, reconciliation, limits of UN Peacebuilding approaches, the ineffectiveness of the states in the region and their lack of capacity for and commitment to inclusive governance and regional cooperation. Other issues that came up included the need for gender equality, sustained community engagement, and accelerating ongoing efforts towards harmonizing policies aimed at advancing and sustaining national and regional peace.
On the second day, Professor Balingene Kahombo of the Faculty of Law, University of Goma’s presentation on, “Governance of Natural Resources and Peace,” provided an overview of natural resources, conflict and peace in the DRC. He noted how regulations were either incomplete or poorly implemented and exploited by criminal actors or corrupt public officials. Professor Balingene concluded by advocating for an appropriate legal framework for a better governance of natural resources. In her presentation on, “Entrepreneurship and a Peace Economy for the Region’s Youth,” Nadia Nintunze, Chief of Party, Tuyage Program of Search for Common Ground in Burundi, noted the nexus between peacebuilding and economic development. She shared her experience as a practitioner working on interventions aimed at promoting entrepreneurship among the country’s youth, by discussing efforts aimed towards providing jobs and opening business opportunities for young people and underscored the need for business and development practitioners to promote access to justice, particularly fair access to resources as a strategy for peacebuilding. This was followed by a commentary by Michael Kavanagh of Bloomberg, whose spoke to the linkages between natural resource wealth in Eastern DRC and violent conflict, including the regional ramifications of the smuggling of minerals from DRC to neighboring countries. Of note was the impact of the discovery of oil on the shared ecosystems of regions, particularly Lake Victoria, including the impact of artisanal mining on the fragile ecosystem of the GLR countries. He ended his intervention by pointing to the urgent need to provide jobs and livelihoods to the youth, and importance of adopting a regional and holistic approach to peacebuilding without overlooking environmental issues. Other commentators were Christina Villegas of PACT, Naupess Kibiswa, and John Katunga who spoke to mining and climate change and the centrality of youth, reconciliation, bridging the gaps between state institutions and citizens by the political leadership to the peace dividend in the GLR. Evariste Mpunga’s presentation on “Eastern DRC Facing Cyclical Conflict and Conflagration: Challenges and Outlook,” addressed the cycle of violent conflict in the country and urged all stakeholders, including the government, civil society organizations and international organizations to address emerging challenges including institutional weaknesses, ethnicity and leadership. Following the presentations, participants addressed issues ranging from the governance of natural resources to the need for reconciliation and social cohesion, addressing the deficit in the internal legitimacy of states and democratic processes, particularly those linked to the bridging of the gap between states and citizens in the states, as a key force for mobilizing the people for regional integration and peace in the African Great Lakes Region.