Great Lakes Region needs to embark on economic transformation

Tanzania’s diplomat, Ambassador Liberata Mulamula, is the founder and first Executive Secretary of the Bujumbura-based International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) secretariat who has just completed her term of office.She said it is high time the region embarked on economic transformation. She granted this interview with our Staff Writer ICHIKAELI MARO. Excerpts…  

QUESTION: Let me congratulate you for the excellent job you have done as the founder and first Executive Secretary for the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). What has been your experience after the exceptional five-year term of office?

ANSWER:  The Great Lakes Region is a unique region in the African sub continent. Comprising of eleven member states, ICGLR is famous for conflicts with long term wars and genocide. The region is also famous for its endowment of natural resources of all kinds -- minerals, oil, gas, water. On the other hand, it is a region hardest hit by poverty. Its people are among the poorest in the world. 

Q: What has been the main cause of poverty despite the richness that is endowed in the region?

A: In my opinion, poverty in the region is mainly caused by many years of wars and conflicts. There have been many years of conflicts among countries in the region, and among differing tribes and clans within a particular country. It is estimated that the region lost approximately two decades of conflicts and wars in the Great Lakes Region. The major preoccupation of countries in the Great Lakes Region was to resolve conflicts.

Tanzania, for example, has been requested to mobilize warring factions in specific countries in the region to resolve conflicts and resort of negations. Part of Tanzanian soil, Ngara in North western part of the country, was overwhelmed by the influx of refugees that were fleeing massacre in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It is estimated that over one million refugees from Rwanda settled in Ngara District.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is very rich in minerals, was used by rebel groups to kill each other instead of developing their country. They plundered the minerals to buy weapons to fight each other. Now that peace has returned to these countries, former refugees have returned into their countries, but this did not mean the end of problems.

There is high rate of unemployment, especially among the youth. In Burundi, for example, about 80 per cent of the youth are unemployed.  In other countries the problems are the same. Angola has never experienced peace. It lost all the years in internal conflicts between the country’s opposing parties -- UNITA and MPLA that left hundreds of thousands of its people dead and others internally displaced. Tanzania and Zambia are the only countries in the Great Lakes Region which had not experienced conflicts.

But the impact of conflicts in neighbouring countries had left unending scars. They suffered social stress and environmental destruction due to refugees’ influx from the conflicts prone countries. The natural resources in conflict-free countries, including Tanzania, have impact on the well-being of the people.

Investment contracts and royalties paid to host countries (amounting to 4 per cent for Tanzania) is not sufficient for the countries’ development. The war in Uganda, in late 1970s had adverse effects not only in Uganda but to other countries in the region. Governance issue on the Great Lakes region has always been a matter of concern for many years. Experiences indicate that there had been coups after coups in countries in the region.

The situation in Burundi in 1993 in which a first Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye was elected, only to be killed four months later is a vivid example. It was followed by demonstrations which led to genocide that claimed hundreds of lives in the tiny Great Lakes region. There had been a series of peace negotiations that led to the Arusha Declaration on Burundi.

Tanzania, for example, had a total of 20 summits on Burundi peace process since 1993 in efforts to find lasting peace in that country.  The root cause of all these is bad governance, bad politics, politics of exclusion and discrimination based on tribes, ethics groups or class in a particular tribe.  It is only Tanzania, in the Great Lakes Region, with political landscape worth emulating. It is for this reason that Tanzania was always contacted to intervene in case a political upheaval occurred anywhere in the region.  The international community has lots of respect for Tanzania for her efforts to resolve conflicts in several countries in Africa, including those in the Great Lakes Region.

Q: What is the status of rebel groups in the Great lakes Region?

A: Their numbers have greatly declined at the moment. In DRC, for example, there were over 40 rebel groups fighting each other in the 1990s but presently there are only four active groups. The Great Lakes programme on disarmament has been successful because we were able to bring the groups together in roundtable negotiations.

The same thing happened in Rwanda whereby the rebel group -- interahamwe -- entered and conducted wars in eastern DRC in Goma. The group was about to divide DRC but was dispersed through joint efforts of the Great Lakes coordinated by ICGLR secretariat. 

Major Nkunda led the rebel guerilla war in Goma and was about to declare it an independent state from DRC but he was arrested in 2010 by Rwandan army through Great Lakes efforts and is now under house arrest. But before Nkunda was arrested, a Great Lakes Summit was convened in Nairobi, Kenya, which appointed Africa’s former Presidents Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania) and Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria) to broker peaceful negotiation with Nkunda following complaints by DRC that Rwanda was harbouring rebels waging war in Goma.

Q: What is the future of the Great Lakes Region?

A: Now that rebels have laid down arms, I see a bright future in the Great Lakes region. It is a region most endowed with natural resources, both human and minerals. This is the time to embark on economic transformation of the Great Lakes region. This can only be achieved if the natural resources can benefit the people of the region.

Unfortunately, the resources are yet to benefit the people because of the bad contracts entered with foreign investors in which the latter operates with high secrecy; there is no transparency in how much they ship outside the countries and what they leave behind under the so- called corporate social responsibility window. Great Lakes region member countries need to embrace good governance in their endeavours to make economic transformation a reality.

Tanzania will have to learn from this that it is only with right policies that will help the country benefit from its natural resources. We have good policies, yes, but the management aspect of it is a big problem. Corruption is high; something needs to be done to contain the vice. Hard work is the secret to any success.

There is no short cut to success without hard work. All in all, I cannot substitute Tanzania for any country that I have lived and worked in, in all aspects. It is a country that everybody admires, we have good leadership, right policies, we have rich history and a clear vision for the country’s development.

Therefore, without hard work, all that we have is meaningless. In Rwanda, for example, its level of development, one would not believe the country had undergone several years of civil war. It is moving very fast because they have a shared vision, collective responsibility and there is no politicking. One cannot be in the cabinet in Rwanda through a political platform. Separation of power is very clear. Their governance system is result-oriented. Ministers go on retreat after every six months in which they set objectives and plan for achievable results together.

Q: You had the opportunity to knock doors of Presidents of the eleven member states of the Great Lakes Region for five years as ICGLR Executive Secretary. What was your experience?

A: I had the opportunity to talk to all Presidents in the Great Lakes Region and I enjoyed every minute of my encounter with them. I came to realise that they (Presidents) are normal but very lonely human beings. Their lives are so programmed. My message to them was that they had to do something for Kenya during the aftermath of the 2007 general election that broke into chaos.

The aim was to prevent genocide from occurring in that country. And in the ICGLR we vowed the Rwanda genocide experience should never be allowed to recur in the region. I visited the President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, to deliver a message that he had to do something for Kenya because the latter had done so much for Sudan during its civil war that lasted for decades. The international community recognizes the role of Tanzania in conflict resolution in several countries in Africa. That is why it refers conflict cases to Tanzania.

President Jakaya Kikwete is highly respected at the international level, when he speaks they listen to him. Therefore, when I paid courtesy call on him he simply said Tanzania will help resolve the crisis in Kenya when opportune time comes. He was so friendly and brotherly, did not hesitate to agree to my proposal on the need for Tanzania to do something for Kenya. In Angola it was difficult but I finally managed to go and talked to President Edwardo dos Santos in Luanda.

I went to see him specifically for the case in Eastern DRC. Angola had just emerged from civil war, thus, had the experience, resources and power. Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Joseph Kabila (DRC), to mention but a few, were all warm and welcoming. They were all relaxed and were for lasting peace in the Great Lakes region.

Q: Can you proudly say your mission to ICGLR was a success?

A: I am happy and thankful that I was able to make an achievement compared to how far we have come. I was able to build the trust and the power of collegiality among Heads of State of member countries of the Great Lakes region. We have been able to disarm most of the rebel groups in the region save for few ones in DRC and Uganda. I had a listening ear from all the leaders in the region. Everybody accepted me.

Everyone saw me as mama (mother), they say let's listen to mama -- that was very comforting. There is a saying and it perfectly worked for me that goes; “If you want something said, give it to a man, but if you want something well done, give it to a woman.” For example, during Nkunda’s guerilla operation in eastern DRC they put me in the frontline to face him. Nkunda did not resist me at all. He said he would listen to me because I was a mother to him. He called me mama. Actually they nicknamed me “mama Nkunda.” This is because women are naturally born leaders -- they are unifiers of families which are the first pillars of the nation. I played my role as the unifier of the region, and it is true that the guns are silent in the region. The gift of being a mother has helped me a lot in doing my job. I am thankful to all leaders in the Great Lakes Region for the support they accorded me during my tenure of office. They all trusted me.

Q: Any disappointment in mission?

A: There was little commitment in some specific countries. They thought they were giving me great favour to come to summits until where there was crisis. Clear example was Nkunda when he was advancing in eastern DRC. It was when the international media reported the crisis in Goma when western countries, including France, UK and the UN convened in Goma.

Within three days a summit was convened in Nairobi, Kenya, to address the Goma crisis and rescue DRC from falling. We were here telling the world that DRC was falling but nobody listened until when outsiders came. The damage could have been prevented.

Q: Did you want to serve another term?

A: I did my part that was to establish the ICGLR secretariat and let others manage it. One term is enough. Actually the constitution establishing ICGLR stipulates that one must lead the secretariat for a nonrenewable four-year term. But after four years the Heads of State in the region did not find a candidate, thus, extended my contract for one more year. In Tanzania we have a culture to respect constitutions. Therefore I respect my term in office. I must say here that I received big support from my government in tenure of office at ICGLR secretariat. 

Q: Any future plans?

A: I am a civil servant, I will remain so.

ABRAHAM John (23), a second year student at ...


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