The Great Lakes of Africa
Since 2003, Pax Christi has focused considerably on the Great Lakes francophone countries of Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Prior International Co-President Msgr. Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa (DRC), has played a pivotal role in promoting Pax Christi efforts in the region. National Sections of Pax Christi have worked closely with the International Secretariat to strengthen local capacities of Member Organisations in this network.
Members of the Great Lakes network have formulated an Action Plan placing particular emphasis on priority concerns such as civic education, disarmament, small arms trafficking, peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts. Since many conflicts in the region have been linked to identity, the network endeavours to ‘bring all elements of society in these countries to live with each other and to view otherness as mutually enriching’ (2005 Mission Statement).
For the past several years, Pax Christi members in the DRC, Burundi, and Rwanda have commemorated Peace Week in their towns and cities. Peace Week activities highlight themes of nonviolence and reconciliation through events like musical concerts, theatre, sports matches, forums, peace marches, radio transmissions, and many other actions designed to educate the public and engage young people in building a culture of peace.
Community-based Reintegration of former combatants:
In 2011-2012 the work on Africa focused on the Great lakes programme on community based reintegration of former combatants.
- Former combatants and local communities in the eastern DRC and Burundi;
- Youth in target areas that are particularly susceptible to recruitment by armed groups.
- General population where armed groups have been especially active.
- Local leaders and government officials.
For its advocacy work in the Great Lakes, Pax Christi International
- Has continued collaboration with European Network for Central Africa (EurAC) of which Pax Christi International is a member:
- In 2012, we expressed grave concern for the renewed outbreak of violence and insecurity in the Democratic Republic of Congo; issued a statement calling on the European Union and its Member States to urge the Congolese government to renew its commitment to genuine reform of the security sector and to address the causes of insecurity in the region, including the role of neighbouring Rwanda; called upon the EU and all EU member states to likewise withhold its budget support and to limit interventions to project support. However, on-going support of civil society initiatives that will limit the impact of the sanctions on the Rwandan people is encouraged.
- Publication of EurAC positions papers and other communications, especially on the DR Congo elections and on renewed violence in the eastern Congo;
- Communications and support for Justine Masika Bihamba, Pax Christi peace prize winner 2009, after threats to personal security forced her into exile from her home in Goma, DRC;
- Eleven Listening Communities, composed of former fighters, functioned and moderated by local Pax Christi partners, each with about 10 participants;
- Safe space created for ex-combatants, meeting at least monthly, to share experiences and explore solutions for reintegration into civilian life;
- Local associations of ex-combatants and/or income-generating projects initiated in 2 locations;
- Local support committees met with ex-combatant groups in 7 localities and collaborated on reintegration activities;
- Wider participation of ex-combatants in local community leadership and commercial activities, e.g. election to local council, neighbourhood security patrols, micro-businesses, etc.
- Publication finalised with 10 stories of ex combatants and identification of 8 recommendations for further advocacy
- Strengthen the psycho-social dimension of the DDR process: changed attitudes in local communities strengthen the psychosocial dimension of the DDR process: we have been able to facilitate a striking readjustment and social reintegration of ex-combatants that might not otherwise have been possible.
- Fully support social and economic reintegration in the DDR process: there is a great need for a more comprehensive approach that takes both the psycho-social and socio-economic aspects into account in order to foster the sustainable development of entire communities.
- Acquire in-depth knowledge and act with respect for the social and cultural context: if local realities are not taken into account when designing and executing DDR programmes, there is a risk of promoting interventions that do not match the context.
- Integrate permanent civic education in the DDR process: civic education has proven to be essential for fostering a population of well-informed, educated and active citizens but should not be limited to the election period.
- Act in strict cooperation with civil society and community leaders: by acting as agents of change in the environments where they operate, civil associations have a special role to play in the reintegration of ex-combatants.
- Inform and raise the public’s awareness about DDR programmes: If we want to end the vicious circle of violent conflicts in any society, we should start by looking at the society itself.
- Closely Support Reform of the Security Sector: building a functional and well-developed state must go hand in hand with developing a security sector that is better suited to the needs of the population. The emphasis for any training in this sector must be on respect of human rights.
- Closely Follow Arms Control: it is crucial that control mechanisms are strengthened in order to put an end to the illicit trafficking of small calibre light arms between countries and within the country.