Since early in the spread of COVID-19, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has been sounding the alarm about the possible catastrophic impact of the pandemic in conflict-affected countries, including the risk of a rollback of hard-fought gains in peace and stability. Politically Speaking spoke to Huang Xia, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa to get a better understanding of the effects of the pandemic on these countries and how the United Nations is supporting their efforts.
Politically Speaking: Countries around the globe are battling COVID-19. What are some of the political implications of the pandemic in the Great Lakes region?
Huang Xia: Let me begin by expressing my solidarity with the population and governments of the Great Lakes region in their efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic poses a real threat to the sustainability of the progress made in terms of peace, security and economic integration in the Great Lakes region. It is exacerbating inequalities and accentuating vulnerabilities. This constitutes fertile ground for social discontent and conflict. Therefore, while tackling the pandemic, bold measures to maintain peace and security in the region remain paramount. The countries of the region have reacted quickly and have been able, at the national level, to mount robust responses to the pandemic. At the regional level, leaders are coordinating their actions, applying preventive measures and dispelling misinformation that could incite community division and mistrust of public institutions.
Due to COVID-19, the implementation of some important regional cooperation initiatives such as the Great Lakes Investment and Trade Conference organized jointly by my Office, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Rwanda Development Board; and the 10th summit of the Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Framework agreement have been suspended, thus slowing down progress on regional cooperation.
Does your office have a role in the fight against the pandemic? What priorities is your office focusing on?
As the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, in collaboration with my peers and regional partners, I focus on supporting the region in mitigating the impact of the pandemic and preserving the important achievements in peace and security of recent years, including, for instance, by continuing to promote concerted action against negative forces in eastern DRC, and mobilizing international support, including of international financial institutions and regional banks, for the region.
In this regard, I will facilitate virtual dialogues with representatives of the governments of the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, as well as the United Nations Resident Coordinators to facilitate coordinated and coherent support for the countries of the region to address the economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I also believe that the current crisis could offer an opportunity to strengthen solidarity and cooperation not only between governments, but also between the private sector, civil society, women, young people and local communities throughout the region.
To be successful, women, youth, and civil society must be at the heart of all aspects of the response to COVID-19. On 12 May 2020, I convened a virtual meeting of the Advisory Board on Women, Peace and Security, with the participation of civil society representatives, to identify solutions to deal with the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups. I will continue my engagement with these critical segments of society.
Generally speaking, what are some of the key initiatives you are pushing forward currently?
Before the onset of the pandemic, we saw the region on an encouraging trajectory of political, economic and security cooperation.
In the coming months, we will continue to promote efforts to support peaceful political processes, for example in Burundi in cooperation with DPPA; improve relations between the countries of the region; pursue regional cooperation for the eradication of negative forces; promote effective governance in the exploitation and trade of natural resources in a sustainable and transparent manner; and support preparations for the 10th Regional Oversight Mechanism Summit and the Great Lakes Investment and Trade Conference.
My Office also continues to support a confidence building process with the Heads of Intelligence and Security Services of Burundi, Uganda, the DRC, Rwanda and Tanzania, with a view to agreeing on non-military measures to eradicate negative forces operating in eastern DRC.
To help the region tackle the root causes of conflict, we are also working to encourage cooperative initiatives in the fight against illegal exploitation and illicit trade of natural resources. My Office, the ICGLR and the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ) are currently preparing a high-level workshop on natural resources in the Great Lakes region, scheduled for September 2020 in Khartoum, Sudan.
In addition, I have launched a consultative and inclusive process to develop a UN regional strategy on conflict prevention and peacebuilding in the Great Lakes region. This strategy will also look into the profound changes resulting from the pandemic.
Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security is turning 20 this year. What do you see as the achievements in this area?
Women, Peace and Security is at the heart of my mandate.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of resolution 1325 (2000), I am pleased to note that the countries of the region have made progress to increase the representation of women in their respective institutions and review their legal frameworks to ensure the promotion and protection of women. Women currently occupy decision-making positions in the DRC, Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda, the latter is considered a guiding light in terms of gender parity. Most of these countries have also reached the minimum quota of 30 per cent in their legislative bodies.
The creation of an Advisory Board on Women, Peace and Security in the region, which includes the African Union, FemWise Africa, African Development Bank, World Bank and academics, civil society organizations and regional fora help promote, through strong and constant advocacy, the meaningful political participation of women and their economic empowerment.
I will continue this advocacy work on behalf of women, regarding their participation in policy-making and implementation processes, as well as in economic recovery. In addition, I will focus on strengthening solidarity with women, who are affected by the pandemic, and tackling domestic and gender-based violence.
Title picture: On 20 May in Cishadu, Kabare Territory, Democratic Republic of the Congo, peacekeeping mission MONUSCO and the Interprovincial Commission Tasked to Support the Awareness, Disarmament, Demobilization and Community Reintegration Process (CIAP-DDRC) registered around fifty members of Mai-Mai Maheshe armed group and recovered 20 weapons and ammunition. Photo: MONUSCO/Alain Likota