The United Nations Secretary-General Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Huang Xia, who took office in April, spoke to Fred Oluoch on the role of women and youth in finding and maintaining peace and security in the region.
In your experience, what is the current level of involvement of women and the youth in peace and security in the region?
They have always been very active in the quest for peace and stability in the region. However, their efforts and role are not fully recognised. It is therefore our duty to involve them more.
UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 2250 recognise the role of women and youth and civil society as essential partners for change for sustainable peace and security.
My office recognises them as vital forces, and it is the responsibility of all to ensure constant engagement and sustained dialogue with this important group in society so that they can take greater ownership of the strategic process of peace and socio-economic construction.
Since you took office in April, what are some of the efforts you have undertaken to try to advance the cause of peace in the Great Lakes region?
I have dedicated the first phase of my mandate to a series of visits to region. In the very first days of my appointment I visited the DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Angola, among others.
The objective was to listen carefully to the leaders and stakeholders in order to understand their concerns and aspirations as well as the challenges and opportunities in the region.
This approach is based on the conviction that solutions to the region's challenges lie within the region itself and are known by its stakeholders.
Countries in the region are committed to implementing the Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for DR Congo and the region, whether in the context of security co-operation, the fight against impunity, the repatriation of former combatants or the promotion of investments in the region.
You have worked as a diplomat in Niger, Senegal, the Republic of Congo and Gabon. What experience do you bring as the United Nation’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region?
I have accumulated a wealth of experience in diplomacy, not only with the governments, but also with other bilateral partners as well as with international and regional organisations.
This experience will add value to efforts to support member states and international partners in the implementation of sustainable peace and security for the region.
The region was new to me, but within a short time, my intensive familiarisation missions to key countries have enriched my understanding through exchanges with a wide range of interlocutors.
The DR Congo has a new president who is trying to introduce reforms, but the eastern part of the country is still in turmoil and home to militia groups.
President Felix Tshisekedi has taken important steps towards regional rapprochement, which have seen various countries voice their intention to revitalise their regional co-operation efforts and to support the country to fight negative local and foreign forces operating in its territory.
However, these efforts are hampered by the insecurity in eastern DR Congo, and much remains to be done to ensure that civilian populations, especially women and children, can truly benefit from the potentials of their country.
Due to the absence of a strong government presence in the east of the country, many local and foreign armed groups are flourishing there.
Foreign groups, including the FDLR, ADF and emerging groups of various origins, still use the area as a base for their operations against countries neighbouring the DR Congo.
The DR Congo ambassador to the UN recently told the Security Council that a coalition of Rwandan opposition groups led by exiled Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa could lead the country into another armed conflict. What’s your take.
The Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for the DR Congo and the region was signed to end recurrent cycles of violence.
It provides a forum for neighbouring countries, regional organisations and the international community to work together to address the structural causes of instability in the DR Congo and the region.
It is in this context that the region has created co-operation mechanisms aimed at neutralising armed groups in the east of the DR Congo, including within the framework of the ICGLR.
In addition, the countries concerned have recently embarked on a process of consultations among the security services aimed at strengthening trust and security co-operation among countries.
Eastern DR Congo is used as a base by various foreign armed groups.
In addition to posing a threat to the civilian population, the presence of armed groups also perpetuates mistrust between countries and contributes to instability.
There are fears that some of the commanders of the M23 group defeated in 2013 have returned to the bush. Do you think that the M23 has been totally defeated?
The M23 was defeated in 2013, following close collaboration between the Congolese army and the Monusco Intervention Brigade and with support from neighbouring countries. That's for sure.
The issue of some members of the group, who are still on the run, is often raised in discussions with relevant stakeholders of the region, especially in the context of the fight against impunity for the crimes committed by the group in the DR Congo between 2012 and 2013.
As for a possible reconstitution of the group, I know that the authorities of the countries concerned are working hard to address this issue, which requires attention, including UN mechanisms.
We are listening and ready to provide any support the region may require in order to prevent a regrouping of the M23 elements and the commission of other horrific crimes against civilian populations.
Do you think the recent memorandum of understanding signed by Uganda and Rwanda to end hostilities between the two countries will hold?
We have no reason to believe otherwise. Looking closely at the context in which this development has taken place, everything is in place for Uganda and Rwanda to normalise their relations.
The memorandum is a sign that the Rwandan and Ugandan presidents are determined to find peaceful and lasting solutions to tensions between their countries in line with the regional commitments under the PSC Framework agreement.
This evidence of wisdom is highly commendable, as is the mobilization of other countries in the region, including Angola, the DR Congo and the Republic of Congo, which have accompanied this process.
The United Nations warmly welcomes this positive momentum.
To this end, my office remains fully prepared to support and assist the Great Lakes region, as well as individual countries, in their efforts towards peace, security and development.