By Ofwono Opondo
This week’s one day visit to Uganda by President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) brings freshness and lines of hope to strength our bilateral as well regional relations within the Great Lakes Region. There have been frosty relations between DRC and its two neighbours Uganda and Rwanda over mutual security concerns, and President Kabila was last in Uganda in 2012.
At the time, he was here to participate in the Kampala meeting of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) which among other things was seeking to resolve the thorny issues of the M23 rebel outfit that had crossed into Uganda soon after elections back home.
Subsequently, all the M23 rebels numbering thousands were apprehended, disarmed, arms verified and found to have been from the DRC which all handed back to the government there. Meanwhile, the rebels were cantoned at Bihanga UPDF barracks where some 736 remain to-date because they claim conditions back home are not conducive for their return.
So, Kabila’s visit and meeting with President Yoweri Museveni at Mweya Safari Lodge should be a good re-starting point, and good, indeed it was because many of the issues were resolved and what remains to be done are follow-ups by the technical branches of the two respective governments. Additionally, the DRC which enjoys an observer status seems to have realized that it is being left behind by the progress of the East African Community (EAC) and now wants to join some of the infrastructural investment projects.
Accordingly, during this week’s visit the DRC agreed to join the Uganda-Tanzanian oil pipeline, and Uganda to connect a 220kv electricity power line to its east. Also, a joint technical team on petroleum exploration and production between Uganda and DRC is to be set up within this month. The re-demarcation of the border where disputes have been from Arua in the north down to Kasese district was reported to be progressing well. President Museveni remains a major shaper of regional and Africa’s continental security, stability and integration, and therefore should be given all the necessary support to continue the good work.
There was a time from the 1970s to early 2011 when the world had given up on what became to be known as the Great Lakes region, comprising Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, and Somalia, in fact stretching down to Angola and Mozambique because many of these countries had virtually became failed states.
Today, after painstaking work through joint efforts, the Great Lakes region is under-going both political and economic renaissance, with stable and democratic governments, economies growing steadily, and becoming a respectable part of the global international community. Rwanda has emerged from the genocide of the 1994, when the world, except Uganda stood by.
Mozambique and Angola, too came out of their internal, protracted and prolonged civil wars actively sponsored by then apartheid regime of the White Supremacist South Africa, in addition to support in arms and personnel by Britain, France, West Germany and the United States that began soon after the attainment of their respective independence in 1975 from Portugal.
Big Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which had for long been a strong ally of, and the hunting ground for Western imperialism, came tumbling down, as its ailing kleptocratic leader Mobuto Sese seko Kuku’Wazabanga lost grip, and today, the DRC, with its huge size and untapped natural resources’ potential, remains one of the sick men on the continent.
Meanwhile, an equally large country in our north, the Sudan, reeled in one of Africa’s longest brutal internal wars between its south and north where Islamic Arabs believed they were racially superior to their fellow black citizens. After so long and too much time lost, blood and efforts wasted, South Sudan got its independence in 2011 and many thought the dawn of resurrection was upon them. Today, almost everyone of sound mind especially those like Uganda, that put in so much effort in South Sudan’s liberation struggle stand embarrassed by one of the uttermost failures of leadership that President Salva Kirr and his erstwhile deputy Riak Machar, cannot agree even on the basics, which is, peace for their people.
Somalia, for over two decades had degenerated into a failed state where urban and rural warlords held say both within the country and its expansive parameter especially the Indian ocean where armed pirates ruled, took international cargo ships, and traded in illegal arms across the globe. While Somalia remains unstable and dangerous place even to its citizens, the African Union led force, AMISOM has pacified much of the country that had been left to itself. The signs are ominous, and many hope the so-called international community will not leave Somalia to slide back into anarchy where the rule of the jungle prevails.
Africa’s socio-economic transformation demands that there must be stability, democracy and good governance, and so it so refreshing that its leaders are somehow now beginning to listen to each other, compromising and finding common purpose as was seen in Rwanda during the just concluded AU Summit.