Great Lakes Region: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow morning (19 April), the Security Council will hold a briefing and consultations on the Great Lakes region. Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region Huang Xia will brief on the Secretary-General’s latest semi-annual report on the implementation of the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the region (PSC-F), which covers the period from 16 September 2022 to 15 March. The chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), Ambassador Ivan Šimonović (Croatia), is also expected to brief. Several regional countries may participate at tomorrow’s meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Xia is likely to focus on the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC and the heightened tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. The Secretary-General’s report describes the military activities of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), a resurgent armed group operating in North Kivu province, which expanded its control of territories during the period covered by the report. It also says that joint military operations by Congolese and Ugandan armed forces targeting the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)—an armed group active in Ituri and North Kivu provinces—and by Congolese and Burundian armed forces targeting the Résistance pour un État de droit au Burundi (RED Tabara)—a Burundian armed group operating in South Kivu province—have not improved the security situation.
The Secretary-General’s report refers to clashes between the M23 and the Forces démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu armed group operating in North Kivu province, which in a 6 December 2022 communiqué committed itself to cooperating with the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) to fight the M23. It also mentions cross-border incidents between the DRC and Rwanda, which have increased tensions between the two countries.
Tomorrow, Xia may describe the work of the verification mechanisms of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), which are conducting investigations on these incidents. He might also speak about his engagement with regional leaders to advocate political solutions in order to ease tensions, as well as to support ongoing regional diplomatic efforts under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC) and the ICGLR, known as the Nairobi and Luanda processes, respectively.
The EAC has been pursuing a two-track approach through the Nairobi process that includes facilitating intra-Congolese dialogue and deploying an EAC Regional Force (EACRF) in eastern DRC to deal with armed groups which refuse to join the dialogue process. Within the political track, a third round of consultations between the Congolese government and armed groups operating in eastern DRC, as well as representatives of local communities and civil society, took place from 28 November to 6 December 2022 in Nairobi. The EAC facilitator for the Nairobi process, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, is reportedly planning to convene a fourth round of dialogue in eastern DRC between the Congolese government and armed groups. It seems that Kenyatta is in favour of inviting the M23 to participate in the Nairobi process and has met with the chairman and senior political and military leaders of the group in Mombasa, Kenya, in January. The Congolese government, however, strongly opposes to the group’s participation in the Nairobi process.
Regarding the military track, the Secretary-General’s report mentions the deployment of Kenyan and Burundian contingents in eastern DRC in November 2022 and early March, respectively. Uganda and South Sudan subsequently deployed their respective contingents in late March and early April. The status of forces agreement (SOFA) signed in September 2022 between the DRC government and the EAC to enable the deployment of the EACRF for an initial period of six months (that is, until March) has expired and negotiations are reportedly underway to renew the agreement. However, in light of the negative public sentiment in eastern DRC about the deployment of the EACRF, which soured in recent months after the M23 advanced and took control of more territories in North Kivu, it seems that the Congolese government only wants the force to stay for a shorter period, pending the withdrawal of the M23 from the areas it has occupied. In recent weeks, the EACRF has reported progress in the withdrawal of the M23 from several localities—which was confirmed by the EAC and ICGLR verification mechanisms—and the deployment of its contingents in the vacated areas.
Regarding the Luanda process, the Secretary-General’s report refers to the efforts of the ICGLR chair, Angolan President João Lourenço, who engaged with the M23 to secure a ceasefire that was supposed to take effect on 7 March but was not implemented. The continuation of the fighting seems to have prompted Angola’s subsequent decision to deploy its armed forces in the region, after consultations with the Congolese government, to secure cantonment areas where the M23 is supposed to be stationed after a ceasefire is observed, and to protect members of the ICGLR’s verification mechanism.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Xia may provide updates about the implementation of the PSC-F, which aims to break the cycle of conflict and violence in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. On 24 February, which marked the tenth anniversary of the PSC-F, the guarantor institutions of the PSC-F—the UN, the AU, the ICGLR, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC)—issued a statement expressing deep concern about the grave security and humanitarian situations in the region. The 11th high-level meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism of the PSC-F is expected to take place in Bujumbura, Burundi, on 6 May. Xia might mention the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) meeting held on 17 February at the level of heads of state and government to consider the situation in eastern DRC. In a communiqué issued after the meeting, the AUPSC reaffirmed that the PSC-F “remains a viable instrument to support the DRC and institutions in the region to achieve peace and stability” and called for its “urgent revitalization”.
In his briefing, Šimonović is expected to describe the PBC’s work on the Great Lakes region. He might reference the commission’s written advice to Council members ahead of their October 2022 meeting on the region, which stressed the importance of involving civil society and traditional leaders in dialogue initiatives and highlighted the need to promote the sustainable and transparent management of natural resources in the region. Šimonović may also mention the PBC’s meeting on the Great Lakes region held in October 2022 to receive updates on political processes in the region and mobilise diplomatic and financial support for the implementation of the UN Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region developed by the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region.
Council members are supportive of addressing the root causes and drivers of conflict in the Great Lakes region through a comprehensive regional approach. At tomorrow’s meeting, they may call on regional countries to reaffirm their commitment to the PSC-F in order to promote peace, security, and development in the region. The A3 members (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique) might highlight the AUPSC’s 17 February communiqué and the subsequent discussions on the revitalisation of the PSC-F that took place in March in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They may also refer to the AU’s decision to support the deployment of the EACRF through its peace fund.
Following their visiting mission to the DRC, which took place between 9 and 12 March, Council members adopted a presidential statement underlining the need to build trust and confidence between countries of the region in line with the objectives and commitments of the PSC-F. Council members also reiterated their support for ongoing regional diplomatic efforts through the Nairobi and Luanda processes, while underscoring the need to ensure synergy of these processes, including with support from the UN. (For background, see our 29 March What’s in Blue story.)