East Africa: Huang - Region's Natural Resources Can Drive Shared Prosperity

Huang Xia, the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Great Lakes, spoke to Fred Oluoch on the region's sociopolitical and security developments.

What is the state of security in the region and how do you assess the security co-operation?

The security situation in the Great Lakes region remains challenging, with persisting pockets of insecurity, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. The toll of the continued activities of armed groups on civilian populations is appalling, with women and children often bearing the brunt.

On a positive note, we have seen a relative decrease in cross-border security incidents between September 2020 and March 2021 compared with the six months prior to September 2020.

We have also observed a greater drive towards strengthening security co-operation, both at bilateral and regional levels, with countries proactively taking steps to enhance information sharing and discuss options for joint initiatives to eradicate the threats posed by armed groups.

What progress has been made on peace and security in the Great Lakes region?

Despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing efforts to improve bilateral and multilateral relations and co-operation in the region, as illustrated by continued consultations between Burundi and Rwanda, and between the DR Congo and its eastern neighbours. I also welcome countries' ongoing efforts to strengthen regional and bilateral economic cooperation, including in the management of natural resources, the development of cross-border infrastructure, as well as the promotion of the participation of women and youth in the peace and security agenda.

But a number of challenges remain -- from persisting insecurity, inequality, and underdevelopment to human rights violations, including some linked to measures adopted to curb the Covid-19 pandemic and election violence.

What about the reports showing more than 120 armed groups still operate in eastern DR Congo?

Indeed, the persistence of multiple armed groups operating in and from eastern DR Congo constitutes a significant security threat, even though the capacities, motivations, and reach of these groups vary considerably. Countries in the region are undertaking important efforts to address this threat.

For example, the eighth ICGLR Summit called for a comprehensive approach towards neutralising foreign armed groups in eastern DR Congo. This comprehensive approach, supported by my office, will include non-military measures to complement ongoing military operations by countries of the region.

The US recently put Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Comment.

The ADF remains a significant security threat and is responsible for abject human rights abuses. I am concerned by reports of the increasing regionalisation of the composition of the ADF and allegation of possible links to the Islamic State. Changes in the modus operandi of the ADF have also been acknowledged by countries in the region.

We must, in my view, take the time to analyse all these new elements and refine our analysis on the ADF and tailor our response accordingly.

Despite efforts by your office, the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the region to fund militia groups, continues. What's your new approach?

My office continues to advocate the transparent and sustainable management of natural resources. Our efforts are driven by the firm belief that natural resources can be transformed from drivers of instability into drivers of shared prosperity: they can contribute not only to generating licit jobs, revenues, tax income, infrastructure and basic services, but also to advancing co-operation between countries in the region.

We have also been promoting political consensus with all stakeholders involved in the exploitation and trade of natural resources. This is part of the new UN strategy on peace and security in the region. My office is also supporting the ICGLR Great Lakes Judicial Co-operation Network in tackling impunity related to cross-border crime and crime related to the illicit trade and management of natural resources.

DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has been trying to promote dialogue and security co-operation between Rwanda and Burundi; Rwanda and Uganda; and DRC and Rwanda. What is your take on these efforts?

We firmly welcome and support the leadership shown by President Tshisekedi in promoting regional co-operation. Since he took office two years ago, he has contributed to building confidence and generating a positive dynamic in the region, including in efforts against armed groups.

This type of outreach and ownership can help drive regional integration, cross-border economy and trade, and other areas, such as human rights.

How do you plan to continue your efforts to preserve Women Peace and Security achievements in the current context of the Covid-19 pandemic?

My office is making every effort to raise awareness on the impact of the pandemic on women and youth, and to advocate for sustained efforts in ensuring that women play a meaningful role in peace and political processes. We are focusing on strengthening the role of regional actors and civil society in peacebuilding; preventing violence against women; enhancing co-operation with the region's gender ministers and other key partners.

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EXPERIENCE

Huang Xia is the UN Secretary General's Special Representative to the Great Lakes Region.

Previous positions:

- Deputy Mayor of Jiamusi, Heilongjiang Province in China.

- Served in the Embassy of China in Gabon, France.

- Chinese ambassador in Senegal, Niger, Republic of Congo.

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