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ISS Seminar Report: Regional Dimensions Of Conflict In The Great Lakes Region
Date: 19 July 2012

Organised by the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis (CPRA) Division, ISS Nairobi Office


The Great Lakes region has been home to some of Africa`s most intractable and turbulent conflicts. Over a 20-year period, this region has experienced genocide in Rwanda, civil war in Burundi and cross-border conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), exacerbated by internal and external illegal armed groups. Significant crosscutting themes that have dominated the conflicts in the region include the illegal exploitation and trafficking of natural resources, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, illegal armed groups, sexual/gender-based violence and forced population displacement. Despite various efforts at resolution, the conflicts persist with profound effects on the human security of communities and the stability of the region. The regional dimensions of conflict in the Great Lakes and the emerging dynamics call for a continued collaborative analysis by regional stakeholders in order to inform the implementation of strategies towards sustainable peace in the region.

To facilitate this continued analysis, the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis division of the ISS (CPRA-Nairobi) organised this seminar to deliberate on the regional dimensions of conflict in the Great Lakes, with a focus on Burundi, the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. The seminar came at the tail end of a larger Great Lakes project that was supported by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The 6-month project started with a regional workshop on the same theme in September 2011, followed by the production of various publications, including a report on the aforementioned workshop containing five thematic papers, a regional strategy paper, a situation report on the DRC 2011 election polls and a policy brief on conflict minerals. The seminar on 19 July 2012 brought together 63 participants to deliberate around three major presentations and the launching of key publications.

Dr John Distefano, the acting Office Director for the ISS Nairobi office and Division Head for CPRA, welcomed participants to the seminar and thanked the Swiss Government for facilitating this particular project on the Great Lakes. Amb. Jean Kimani, Director/National Co-ordinator, Office of the Great Lakes region at the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, chaired the seminar. The presenters were Dr Musambayi Katumanga, Senior Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Nelson Alusala of the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, and Dr Jide Martyns Okeke, Senior Researcher at CPRA-Addis. Francis K. Wairagu, Head of Research and Gender at the Regional Centre on Small Arms (RECSA), and Nyambura Githaiga, Researcher at CPRA-Nairobi, presented two key publications.


Dr Musambayi Katumanga presented on Discourse, the unviability of the state and political ecology of conflict in the Great Lakes region. He alluded to a failed process of state building in the region as evaluated against indicators of state-ness such as the ability of the state to maintain sovereign authority over its territory; to provide a source of national identity; the capacity to mobilise resources and serve as an arena for politics; and to be the guarantor of security. In the region, resource politics and the dilemmas of open spaces and conflict were used to conceptualise the regional dimension of conflict in the Great Lakes. The history of the region is underlined by predatory resources politics at three levels of largely closed vertical resource extraction perpetuating conflict. Vertical extraction as compared to horizontal extraction is centred on a state-centric or elitist model of resource politics that has no value additive or participatory components, thereby providing very limited benefits to the majority of the population. Dr Katumanga described the triple vertical extraction by external, internal elite and local stakeholders. Increased distance decay and the ensuing challenge of administering the territory had given way to ungovernable spaces of violence and the regionalisation of local spaces with conflicts regarding access and denial to resources. Introducing the dilemma of open spaces and conflict, the presenter described three levels of space and associated politics. At one level is the nation state/ruling/external elite level with the corresponding politics of nation building and citizenship. Another level of space is of indigeneity characterised by the politics of ethnic mobilisation and instrumentalisation as a basis for core nationalism.  At the last level of chieftaincy lies the politics of youth and gerontocracy with an element of elite conservationism. The convergence of the concepts of weak-state and regional anarchy has created a regional security complex in the Great Lakes, vulnerable to multiple security threats. In conclusion, looking at the ways to redress the Great Lakes crisis, Dr Katumanga noted the paradox of UN and humanitarian functions subjugating the role of states in guaranteeing security and mobilising resource provision for their citizens. He emphasised the need to broaden security discourse from national to regional levels in a shift towards collective security with the notion of security stretching beyond military force to engender vital aspects of economic and political growth at both a national and regional level.

In a presentation entitled Emerging dynamics of conflict, implications and future prospects for the Great Lakes region, Nelson Alusala elaborated on the complexities of the Great Lakes conflict system, which are exacerbated by ethnic survival and expansionist agendas; geopolitics in the interconnectedness of the countries with trans-boundary ethnicities; historical conflict; and migration patterns, as well as the absence of a hegemonic state in the region to steer efforts towards collective sustainable peace. He expounded on the historical experiences of the Great Lakes countries in regional conflicts, which cannot be underestimated and continue to define conflict dynamics and geopolitical relations. The DRC bears the brunt of the regionalisation of insecurity and as such should lead the way in promoting regional peace by first dealing with internal causes of conflict. This would include prioritising infrastructural development and good governance of natural resources, as well as security sector reform and in particular the establishment of a strong patriotic military force to counter external security threats. Managing diversity would also be a crucial facet of handling the protracted identity conflict that has had political and social implications on the region. 

Dr Jide Martyns Okeke gave a presentation titled ‘Myth or reality? Women`s political participation in Rwanda and Burundi. This was based on a research study undertaken in 2011 that sought to advance knowledge on the political participation of women in Rwanda and Burundi vis-àƒÂ -vis their level of representation, their level of influence and identify challenges they faced. The background to this was in establishing the role of women in post-conflict transitions as a category for the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. In Rwanda, the progress made was linked to the history of genocide and the constitutional requirement of a 30 per cent representation of women. Women have been involved in post-genocide processes such as the gacaca court system and as leaders or members of key reconciliation institutions. Political will in the involvement of the First Lady has also promoted the political participation of women. Some of the key challenges faced comprise the issue of representation versus influence with an increased representation not always visibly translating into the development of more gender sensitive policies. The societal cultural context of patriarchy has also impeded gains for women`s political participation. A final challenge discussed was on the disconnect between women decision-makers and their female electorate, thus raising concern on how well women in leadership are able to accurately articulate and represent the segment of women in the electorate, given their limited engagement with them. In Burundi, the history of women`s political participation can be highlighted in their role of observing the peace process even though they were not at the table per se. The Arusha agreement specified 30 per cent representation of women in Parliament, but this has faced implementation challenges such as limited technical capacity due to low levels of education, systems of patriarchy negatively affecting the political environment for women, and the use of women as agents for political party agendas. Dr Okeke concluded his presentation by noting that female representation and participation in the formal political arena was real in Rwanda and Burundi though there was a need to move beyond numbers towards providing political space for more influential roles for women politically. He also underlined the crucial role of women`s organisations in the post-conflict transitions of the two countries with their notable involvement in economic empowerment, community justice and capacity-building activities.


Two publications were presented at the seminar. Francis Wairagu present a report from the workshop that took place on 12–13 September 2011 jointly organised by ISS, RESCA and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). 

The report, titled Regional Dimensions of Conflict in the Great Lakes, contains the following five workshop papers:

  • Small arms and conflicts in the Great lakes Region by Francis Wairagu
  • Natural resources and conflicts in the Great Lakes Region by Nyambura Githaiga
  • Forced displacement and conflicts in the Great Lakes Region by Dr Khoti Kamanga
  • Bridging the Great Lakes: implementing the human rights dimension of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region by Dr Isabell Kempf
  • The role of regional bodies in promoting sustainable peace in the Great Lakes Region by Dr Connie Mumma-Martinon

To view this publication,
click on the image above.
Available in
PDF format

Nyambura Githaiga presented a self-authored Situation Report, The 2011 DRC Election Polls and Beyond, which provides an analysis of the pre-electoral context of the DRC, the polls of 2011 and the prospects and challenges ahead of DRC beyond these polls.

Click on the image below to view the report, available in PDF or EPUB format


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