In Africa’s Great Lakes region, UNCTAD helps build peace through cross-border trade
UNCTAD Deputy Secretary General Isabelle Durant joins UN partners to pledge political and logistical support to formerly warring central African countries.
Cross-border trade between nations in the Great Lakes region is crucial to sustaining peace and security in central Africa, UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant said at a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, on 23 January.
Ms. Durant was representing UNCTAD at a management board meeting of the United Nations Great Lakes Regional Strategic Framework which helps build peaceful links between Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda after years of unrest and instability.
“With our trade and development contribution, we must join forces and support such a beautiful, diverse, fertile area, where, unfortunately, political crises and severe conflicts continue to shake the region with unprecedent consequences for its population,” Ms. Durant said.
Conflicts in the region have triggered the displacement of millions of people within countries and across borders, and extreme violence and poverty is experienced daily, especially by women and children.
“Many of the challenges are regional and demand cross-border collaborative solutions,” Ms Durant added.
Among activities currently underway is returning hundreds of thousands of refugees to Burundi from Tanzania. More than 400,000 people fled Burundi in 2015-2017.
Speaking in this week, Melina Nathan, Peace and Development Advisor, United Nations Development Programme, said: “Thankfully we have women peacebuilders, as well as the local committees that they have helped put in place, to finding peaceful ways of mediating and finding solutions to these challenges.”
Transport and logistics
UNCTAD assistance can help governments increase opportunities for people living near regional borders such as smallholder farmers and other traders by improving rural agriculture transport and logistics services.
“Improvements in rural logistics help farmers to harvest and market crops more efficiently; and by improving rural transport access, they serve to expand the markets for agricultural products and lower transport costs,” Ms. Durant said.
Developing rural transport and logistics networks can result in effective and efficient transport and distribution channels between national and regional markets while improving the quality and value of agricultural products.
Among other things, UNCTAD provides support to the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) on systems and processes to address trade and non-trade barriers.
UNCTAD also contributes to UN efforts to:
- Promote economic integration
- Promote regional private sector access to finance and other support services
- Promote border communities’ access to agricultural technology
- Provide capacity support for increased agricultural productivity and output
- Build regional resilience to climate-related shocks and conditions
Aligning the work of many United Nations bodies under the aegis of Said Djinnit, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, the United Nations Great Lakes Regional Strategic Framework has taken a development approach to normalizing relations between the neighbouring states since it was formulated in 2015–2016.
UNCTAD is the latest agency to participate in the regional trust fund set up to support the framework and will use its leading role in the UN Inter-Agency Cluster on Trade and Productive Capacity to help the framework team to further broaden their work on economic development and trade.
Throughout the past decades, political and security developments in the African Great Lakes region, such as the continued activities of illegal armed groups as well as electoral crises, have provided significant challenges to civilians, communities, and governments. As a result the border areas between Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda remain the main theatre for instability in the region.
Such instability has resulted in tensions within and between communities, human rights violations and abuses, new and continuing cross-border movements of displaced persons, and challenges to cross-border trade. The causes and consequences of the challenges facing the Great Lakes region are regional in nature and thus need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner by ensuring a concerted and coordinated approach across state boundaries.
The UN Great Lakes Regional Strategic Framework (UN GLRSF) encapsulates a development approach to the peace and security issues in the region and builds on a regional conflict and socio-economic analysis. The analyses speak to the vital importance of addressing cross-border issues linked to the border of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The root causes of conflict in one country are frequently to be found in a neighbouring one, with events in one country often triggering reactions and repercussions in another. There are huge flows of natural resources across national boundaries and strong flows of migrants and refugees, as well as fugitives from international justice.
The conflicts feed off and reinforce each other. The success of national-level initiatives will be enhanced when they are implemented as part of a regional focus, with simultaneous and/or complementary action across the countries involved. The trends and patterns of conflict demonstrate the centrality of border areas as the main theatres where risks manifest themselves and proliferate. However, opportunities for peacebuilding also exist in these border areas, which can be tapped to enable the building of confidence, creation of trust and establishment of the momentum for peaceful settlement of conflicts, thereby contributing to the successful implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework.
Within the theory of change underlying the Regional Strategic Framework of the United Nations country teams six interconnected building blocks or pillars of the regional approaches needed to contribute to the long-term goal of peace and security in the Great Lakes region are established, based on the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework:
Sustainable management of natural resources
Economic integration, cross-border trade and food and nutrition security
Youth and adolescents
Gender and sexual and gender-based violence
Justice and conflict prevention
Progress achieved under the six priority pillars of regional intervention should facilitate a powerful advance towards sustainable peace. In the present situation in the Great Lakes region, however, we can expect that some of the changes being pursued will be resisted.
International criminal networks, which are profiting from the illegal trade in natural resources, will put up a strong show of resistance. Those accused of human rights violations will use local groups for protection and to sabotage the justice systems.
Yet, it is essential to move ahead if we are to lay the groundwork for recovery and strengthen the moderate centre which supports peace. Success depends on the capacity to support goodwill and on the tangible follow-through on their commitment of the countries in the region.
The Great Lakes Regional Strategic Framework has been elaborated in response to the often-stated needs and priorities of governments, leaders and communities. It is intended to serve as a reference document, underpinned by the conviction that coherent action at the regional level, focusing on the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo border area, and early successes, will demonstrate, particularly at this moment of fragility, that it is possible to progress along a development path. The Regional Strategic Framework will build the confidence necessary for key countries to fulfil their commitments.
Great Lakes Regional Strategic Framework
Pillar 2: Economic integration, cross-border trade and food and nutrition security
There is inadequacy in respect of economic cooperation and regulation, which could support sustainable exploitation of natural resources for the benefit of local communities. Competition between SADC and EAC needs to be shifted to a positive cooperation trajectory through the reinvigoration of COMESA and the CEPGL.
Through technical support provided to COMESA and CEPGL, issues associated with some of the building blocks needed to bridge divides will be addressed. The potentially positive role of the private sector in the region will be harnessed through a process of nutrition security partnering with key actors, ensuring appropriate facilitation of cross-border investment and the establishment of growth poles.
The issue of the food and nutrition security of border communities in the Great Lakes region needs to be addressed through focusing on enabling small farmers and herders to access modern technologies and sustainable agricultural practices for increased productivity and the building of resilience to climate-related shocks and conditions.
Three pirority regional interventions have been identified with the aim of achieving increased trade and improved food and nutrition security among border communities in the countries in the Great Lakes region:
Support to the Permanent Executive Secretariat of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries on systems and processes to address trade and non-trade barriers and promote economic integration amongst countries in the Great Lakes Region
Promotion of cross-border private sector initiatives and access to investments
Promotion of border communities’ access to agricultural technology and provide capacity support for increased agricultural productivity and output, and build regional resilience to climate-related shocks and conditions