THE second East African Peace and Security Conference taking place in Burundi has pinpointed issues of inadequate democratic space, high-level corruption, historical injustices and human rights abuses as among the key dangers that the region faces.
Peter Edobu, the director of the Peace and Security Institute of Africa, called for the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law. He said the region suffered from disparities in national constitutions, as well as weak and contradictory legal and policy frameworks.
Other problems mentioned in his presentation include internal political disunity and immaturity in all the Partner States, disrespect of political organizations and leaders, as well as ethnic and religionbased politics. All the EAC member states, he said, had been involved in questionable elections.
Speaking at the meeting, Tanzanian famous columnist and media consultant Mr JeneraliUlimwengu said that rising religious intolerance, bigotry and xenophobia were also contributing to the region's peace and security challenges.
EAC Peace and Security Expert Mr Leonard Onyonyi added that internal challenges included unemployment, food scarcity, cattle rustling and banditry, drug abuse, environmental degradation, insecurity in regional water bodies and retrogressive socio-cultural practices.
Terrorism, Mr Onyonyi said, "remains one of the most serious threats to regional peace and security." This is now fuelled by the emergence of homegrown terrorists. In addition, according to Mr Onyonyi, there were external threats contributing to the influx of refugees, proliferation of small arms, cyber crime, piracy and competition over shared resources.
The key issues the region must contend with, Mr Edobu said, include how to resolve tensions in the summit of heads of state, lack of a common vision and position on implementing agreements, and the pace of integration. There have also been varying expectations among citizens on political and ethnic issues that need to be addressed.
Reacting to concerns about the open split brought about by the grouping of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda into the so-called "coalition of the willing," EAC Deputy Secretary General (In charge of Political Federation) Charles Njoroge said the matter had been discussed at the EAC Council of Ministers two months ago.
"Quiet diplomacy is going on. The union is not about personalities and individuals, but about how all of us can benefit." Due to these and other problems, Mr Edobu said, the East African Community was late in realizing all the timelines envisaged in the Treaty. Increased participation by civil society, the academia and other groups, he said, would help in strengthening the existing institutions.
The solutions proposed for consideration by the conference include enhancing the exchange of criminal intelligence and other security information between partner states; enhancing joint operations and patrols; installing common communication facilities for border and interstate security; adopting the United Nations model law on mutual assistance on criminal matters; and implementation of the protocol on combating illicit drug trafficking.
Participants proposed the formation of an East African Peace and Security Commission to be charged with implementing the EAC Peace and Security Protocol. Other proposals are to increase exchange visits by security authorities; enhance exchange training programmes for security personnel; establish common mechanisms for the management of refugees; establish regional disaster management mechanisms; and formulate security measures to combat terrorism.
Additional proposals were to establish measures to combat cattle rustling; establish measures to combat proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons; develop mechanisms to combat security challenges on Lake Victoria; and develop a mechanism for conflict management and resolution.
Betty Bigombe of Uganda said that all combatants should be engaged in the search for peace. Giving the example of Uganda's war with the Lord's Resistance Army, she said that it was difficult to make the army accept to negotiate since they considered themselves more powerful and did not wish to negotiate with "bandits."
The parties to be engaged in negotiations, Ms Bigombe said, include the victims of conflicts, suppliers and even manufacturers of weapons. "The various stakeholders have ways of influencing what happens on the ground."