The security crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo threatens to frustrate favourable developments in the wider Great Lakes region, the Security Council heard today, as members welcomed that country’s recent admission into the East African Community and stressed the need to combat the illicit trade of natural resources that continues to fuel conflict.
Xia Huang, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes region, first briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of the peace, security and cooperation framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the wider region (document S/2022/276).
While he noted that the situation in the Great Lakes region has seen encouraging trends in dialogue, cooperation and integration, he pointed out that this positive trend has been upset by security and humanitarian crises in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The 23 March Movement (M23) has resumed military activities, and the Allied Democratic Forces and other local armed groups continue committing atrocities against civilians. “All of this tells us that peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains fragile,” he said.
Despite this fragility, however, he emphasized that major accomplishments achieved in the region to date can still be consolidated to move towards lasting peace. For this to happen, regional cooperation in security matters must be strengthened, direct dialogue between leaders must occur regularly and continued international support in the region must continue. He went on to say that, for his part, he will prioritize several initiatives in the coming months, including efforts to combat the exploitation and illicit trade of natural resources and to promote the economic empowerment of women as a strategy for peacebuilding in light of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s recent admission into the East African Community.
João Samuel Caholo, Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, then briefed the Council via videolink, but connection issues frustrated delivery of his statement. His written statement will be circulated to Council members.
Dinesh Mahtani, an independent expert on the Great Lakes region, next told the Council that insecurity and conflict in the region is increasingly linked to dynamics in other parts of the continent. Mozambican insurgents and radical youth from Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania have trained in the Allied Democratic Forces’ camps, and these East Africans are among the young men whom Islamic State may be looking to support with continued financing. He pointed out that these individuals are likely to be a threat to security in their home countries, should they ever return.
While a proposed joint force to address insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is now on the table, he said, it poses significant risks as many of armed groups that the regional Governments propose to attack have at times been proxies for the same. Despite the warming of ties between two of the country’s neighbours in the Great Lakes, trust between them remains tenuous. While the use of force should eventually be an important part in any exercise to neutralize armed groups, all interested parties must first work together to implement the Congolese strategy to demobilize armed groups and rebuild trust between its neighbours.
In the ensuing debate, Council members stressed the importance of regional cooperation to address concerning security threats in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many emphasized that purely military strategies will be unsuccessful, spotlighting the need to address the root causes of conflict in the region through non-military means. On this point, members called for the combating of the illicit trade in natural resources that funds armed groups. Many members also welcomed improved diplomatic relations between regional States, along with the recent admission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo into the East African Community.
The representative of Kenya, also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, spotlighted that formal admission, stressing that economic development is key to minimizing the risks of conflict and that structured regional political cooperation is essential to overcoming common security threats. Noting that poverty is a root cause of the conflict in the Great Lakes region, he called for the illegal exploitation and export of natural resources therein to be addressed to translate them from a curse to a blessing.
China’s representative, urging that the views of the three African members of the Council be valued, noted the interdependent and interconnected nature of regional security. He stressed the need to jointly tackle security challenges — the establishment of a regional force will help in this regard — and to promote legal trade while cracking down on the illegal exploitation of natural resources. Sanctions must not be misused, he added.
The representative of Norway, joining other Council members in expressing concern over the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that a common denominator behind these negative developments is rivalry related to natural resources. Calling on States to address the root causes of conflict, she stressed that military measures must be accompanied by concerted political dialogue, peacebuilding efforts and projects to promote economic and social development.
Brazil’s delegate pointed out that armed groups’ activities often result in sexual violence, lack of access to humanitarian aid, recruitment of children into armed conflict and the illicit exploitation of natural resources. As such, these activities can jeopardize ongoing efforts to reach sustained peace. To protect achievements made so far, he stressed the need to expedite the implementation of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, and ensure that former combatants, women and youth have access to economic opportunities.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo similarly underscored that military cooperation must be accompanied by non-military measures. He called on the United Nations and the international community to support efforts undertaken by leaders in the Great Lakes region to promote participation in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes and to combat the illegal exploitation of natural resources. “Peace must return to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he stressed, to end the untold suffering and allow its abundant resources to contribute to national and regional prosperity.
Source: UN Security Council