African leaders in Nairobi for talks on security, governance and economic development vowed Thursday to consolidate democracy in achieving an enduring peace in the impoverished and volatile Great Lakes region.
Addressing the second Summit of the International Conference on Great Lakes Region, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki who took over the chairmanship of the forum from Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said the quest, attainment and consolidation of peace and security requires patience, fortitude and cooperation.
"We need to consolidate the delicate equation of peace and security, and begin to direct our energies towards reconstruction and development," said Kibaki, the incoming chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.
The Kenyan leader said Great Lakes countries had been ravaged by conflicts for decades, lamenting that civil wars in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan and northern Uganda, had caused myriad suffering to civilian populations.
Kibaki said it was important to build on the progress made in enhancing democracy in the region adding that the recent conclusion of democratic elections in Zambia and the DRC was confirmation that democracy was taking root in the sub-region.
"This positive trend further reinforces our belief and knowledge that legitimacy, attained through ballot, in a free, competitive setting, will ultimately lead to a significant reduction of conflict in our region and beyond," he told regional leaders and representatives of the United Nations, the European Commission and various organizations.
He said the east African nation valued the continuing support to the summit of the Great Lakes Conference and other peace processes in the region and noted that the success of these efforts required focused nurturing of strong bilateral ties and dedicated regional and international co-operation.
African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Omar Konare called on the regional leaders to find lasting solutions to conflicts in western Sudan, eastern Chad, Central African Republic and Somalia.
"The writing is on the wall. Countries are helping armed groups in violation of our rules that power cannot be taken by force," Konare said.
"They know very well that the AU cannot carry out an investigation, but we need the political will to deal with these methods that defy our very basic principles," he added.
The AU chief also urged leaders to back the fledgling Somali government that is facing rebellion from the powerful Supreme Council Islamic Courts Council (SCIC) in its efforts in stamping its authority on the Somali soil.
"Somalia has remained a non-state and we have allowed things there to rot. Obviously, we are not going to wage war. But there can be no balanced dialogue (between Somalia's rivals) if the transitional federal government is not helped and supported." He said, "for two years there has been no real support given to the transitional government. We face a difficult situation again today. We need to work for a balanced dialogue."
"If we cannot deal with this now through dialogue, we will face ethnic republics and religious republics, which will be unfortunate not only for the whole region but the whole continent," said the chairman.
In his message to African leaders, outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the region was on its way to stability and called for the ownership of the process by the leaders themselves.
"Many positive developments have taken place since the beginning of the (stability and development) process, including the elections in Burundi and DRC. I am encouraged by the commitment to press forward," he said.
"The Great Lakes region has seen some of the bloodiest wars in the world," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in message read by his special advisor to Africa, Joseph Legwaila.
"The pact is not just a vision, it is a program of action millions of people, women, youth, refugees and displaced persons and others are watching you and watching us and are awaiting concrete benefits," Annan added.
The leaders said that the international conference on the Great Lakes Region brings together countries committed to peace and stability in the firm conviction that this is the only path to economic and social development.
In his address, Tanzanian President Kikwete said several undertakings by member states have been initiated to address conflicts in the region and impressive success has been recorded in most of those initiatives during the last two years.
"Some of the crises points that looked intractable in December2004 have been fixed or are on the encouraging course of being sorted out," Kikwete, the outgoing chairman said.
He cited the successful democratic elections in the DRC and in Burundi, signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government of Sudan and the SPLA and the concluded direct talks between the government of Uganda and LRA as some of the gains the region has made in two years.
"The signing of the Peace Pact that is expected to crown this summit will herald a new beginning for the Great Lakes Region and indeed for the African continent in translating aspirations into actual deeds," the Tanzanian leader said.
"I believe it is very possible to bring to a close the very sad chapter in the history of our region. A chapter characterized by conflict, insecurity, political instability and missed economic opportunities," said Kikwete.
He expressed optimism that even the intractable Darfur crisis will soon be fixed as the forum gains momentum in its quest to rid the region of conflicts.
Sudan peace agreement in early 2005 ended the conflict between the government and a southern rebel movement, while peace talks are under way between Ugandan authorities and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army that was active in the north.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called for the faster regional integration to speed up development, saying most of the conflicts in the region were caused by underdevelopment and poverty.
The source of many of the conflicts and ideological disorientation that goes with these conflicts is rooted in this problem societies that have failed to metamorphose into modern ones mainly because of the disruption caused by the external negative intrusion in the forms of slave trade and colonialism, Museveni said.
The summit will culminate in the signing of a pact on stability, security and development on Friday by the leaders.
The agreement, comprising legally binding protocols and programs, will form the basis for the consolidation of peace and security, democracy and governance, economic development and regional integration, and humanitarian and social issues.
(Xinhua News Agency December 15, 2006)