Region's fate hangs on a few men's egos

EAC Regional Force in Goma. [Xinhua]

The extent of displacements, loss of livelihoods and lives in Eastern Africa is disquieting – and happening before our helpless eyes.

Leaders sabotage peace, literally. Due to power games among regional top dogs, uncertainty is rising from bad to worse in a stair-stepping fashion. The latest high drama around the Rwanda-Burundi spat and the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) standoff have now made the Great Lakes region a laughing stalk.

For Ethiopia’s horrid Tigray conflict, a wobbling peace process has awfully shrunk the greater region’s harmony levels. This, as Kenya and Uganda bout over fuel and tariffs, while Tanzania and Somalia are evidently taciturn in the East African Community (EAC).

Recently, I wrote about Yoweri Museveni’s forays and why his push for EAC integration is a great pitch. But come to think of it, there can’t be palm with no dust! Leaders must invest in peace within and without their borders before calling for political federation or monetary union.

Given a close look, what’s worrying now is the Burundi and Rwanda debacle seen against a delicate regional context. On January 21, Burundi shut its border with Rwanda. Then President Évariste Ndayishimiye brazenly called for the overthrow of Rwanda’s Paul Kagame for allegedly backing Red Tabara, a notorious rebel group. Rwanda denies.

Earlier, Rwanda’s security officers deployed at the EAC Regional Force headquarters in Goma were deported to the chagrin of observers. While Rwanda’s disavowal without accompanied proof could put much into question, Ndayishimiye’s views reek of recklessness. There are continental mediums to address diplomatic rows, not public forums held under blurry shadows of the African Union (AU). The Burundian leader, who’s AU youth peace champion, besmirched Rwanda while meeting youths in Kinshasa on January 21 ostensibly to preach peace.

This, happening as President Felix Tshisekedi fears that Rwanda is backing M23 rebels in eastern DRC. The crisis didn’t start now. In 2013, the UN Security Council deployed a brigade to back up local forces against M23. There’ve been numerous other military offensives. But what homegrown solutions has Tshisekedi initiated away from blaming external forces?

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta has been leading DRC peace talks. But tactlessly, leaders still won’t speak in one accord on a situation that has disenfranchised millions. Already, there’re 7 million IDPs as M23 kills with abandon in Kivu Province. The Kigali-Gitega row has led to serious settlement insecurities. In Congolese cleric Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo’s words, politicians’ hearts have become insensitive to victims’ cries.

The Great Lakes region must heed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s latest appeal that the Uhuru-led Nairobi Process on DRC must be supported to the hilt. It should to offer a pathway to reconciliation with rebels. DRC and Rwanda need serious confidence-building.  Lest we forget, politicians’ obstinacy and their undiplomatic tendencies have a spillover effect that should worry us. Those who fuel the fire through verbal diarrhea must be stopped. Tension will push countries into more complex problems like terrorism. UNPD values the economic cost of terrorism in Africa at US$15.5 billion. We can’t grow through the gun’s barrel.

As UN chief Antonio Guterres warned while on a trip to Kenya in 2023, it is imperative to guard against intended or unintended effects of the diplomatic haggling. Let’s remember how Chad, Ethiopia and South Sudan are undergoing a delicate political and post-conflict recovery. Sudan comes into mind. It hasn’t known peace since April 15, 2023 when de facto leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the regular army and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces clashed. As if not enough, ethnic cleansing continues in Darfur.

Yes, 2024 must offer a fresh impetus to efforts to resolve needless accusations and counter-accusations. EAC under chairman Salva Kiir, AU and the UN must sustain pressure on leaders to talk. Egos and a spillover of tensions will be costly.

The writer is a communications practitioner. X:@markoloo

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