Great Lakes region taking on challenges – UN

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Despite COVID-19 challenges, countries in Africa’s Great Lakes region are “on the right track” as leaders push forward on political, security and economic co-operation, UN Special Envoy Huang Xia told the Security Council.

Governments and people across the 13 nations show resilience and determination in the face of the global crisis, he said, congratulating those which started vaccinations through the global solidarity initiative, COVAX.

“Vaccination campaigns so far allowed for more than a million doses to be administered in the region”, said Huang urging ambassadors to continue mobilising “to foster more equitable and affordable access to vaccine, including areas affected by armed conflict”.

Nearly two million COVID-19 cases have been reported in the Great Lakes Region since the pandemic started and more than 60 000 people died. Women are disproportionately affected.

Amid this difficult context, leaders continued engagements in line with a 2013 framework on peace, security and co-operation. The UN, the African Union (AU), regional bloc SADC (Southern African Development Community) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), an intergovernmental body, are guarantors of the agreement.

On the political front, Huang spoke of efforts to promote better relations between Rwanda and Uganda and pointed to “encouraging gestures” between Burundi and Rwanda.

The UN envoy underlined his commitment to a lasting solution to the continued problem of armed groups operating in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  A regional group of civilian and military experts should hold its first meeting in the coming weeks.

COVID-19 has exacerbated violence hindering development. He welcomed recent verdicts against the heads of armed groups handed down by DRC national courts and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Elections in some countries were marred by violence with Huang telling the Council this can be resolved.

“The region seems to be committed and on the right track to tackle the security, political and economic challenges before it”, he said.

Ambassadors were updated on the UN strategy for the region, presented to the Security Council in December and covering peace consolidation, conflict prevention and conflict resolution.

The strategy seeks to leverage the activities of UN entities to better assist countries on the path to peace, security and sustainable development.

The UN, together with national authorities, experts and civil society organisations, will draw up a related action plan to identify priorities.

Huang said his office will also focus on additional priority issues.  These range from supporting political dialogue already underway and co-organising a high-level workshop to fight illegal exploitation of natural resources, a root cause of instability.