07 November 2008
First of all, I would like to commend the leadership of Presidents Kibaki and Kikwete for calling this important meeting at this critical juncture.
I must begin by saying that I have come to Nairobi with a heavy heart. We meet today as, once again, the interlinked tensions and conflicts in the Great Lakes region threaten hard won progress. When the world has been struggling to address the impending global challenges of Climate Change, the Millennium Development Goals, the food crisis, and more recently, the global financial crisis, there is no time to lose. For far too long, peace and security in your region has been threatened by armed groups, domestic and foreign, present on the soil of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have been operating from there with impunity, aggravating strains between your countries and between your peoples.
Over the past decade, more than 5 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have lost their lives as a result of war, hunger, disease and displacement. This has been one of the worst human tragedies of our time. But the grave consequences of foreign armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are felt not only by the Congolese people. They continue to weigh heavily across your region.
So it was with great hope and expectation that, in July 2006, the international community witnessed historic elections in the DRC. By going to the polls, the country's people demonstrated a profound yearning and a strong commitment to free themselves from four decades of misery and bad governance.
The installation of a democratic Government brought high hopes for the progressive restoration of State authority throughout the country and the delivery of basic services to people who have done without so much for so long. Just as importantly, it provided hope that a stabilizing Congo would put a definitive end to the armed group challenge from its territory.
The scale of the challenge is considerable. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has taken some important steps. The United Nations has played its role in that effort, along with other valuable partners.
But progress in building effective institutions, including an effective national army, has been difficult for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, countering the challenge of uncontrolled armed groups, internal and external, has not progressed as fast as desired and expected, continuing to mar relations in the region. The violence of the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP), the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the armed groups of Ituri continues, with poisonous consequences.
You, the leaders of the region have recognized the severity of the armed group challenge, and have concluded a number of agreements over the years aimed at addressing it. These include the 1999 landmark Lusaka Agreement and a host of bilateral agreements between the concerned countries.
Last year, the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda met here under the auspices of the United Nations and adopted the Nairobi Communiqué. And early this year, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the national armed groups in the Kivus signed Acts of Engagement providing for a ceasefire, disengagement of troops and the disarmament of the armed groups.
Regrettably, implementation of these agreements has faltered. The recent military offensives by the CNDP have radically compounded the situation, led to severe humanitarian consequences and thrust the eastern DRC once more into a state of heightened crisis. This crisis could engulf the broader sub-region.
Neither the DRC, nor Rwanda, nor the rest of the central Africa region can afford to be dragged back into conflict. The international community cannot allow this to occur. That is why we are here today.
Before anything else, we must take urgent measures to contain the present crisis created by the upsurge of fighting in eastern DRC. The large United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) is a manifestation of the international community's commitment to ensuring peace and stability in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. The recent cease fire has not been respected , violent hostilities have resumed north of Goma by the Mayi-Mayi and the CNDP, putting the lives of civilians in danger. MONUC will continue to work to the full measure of its capacity, with the Congolese Government and with other parties concerned, to ensure that a maximum of civilians are protected. But I must stress that MONUC's capacity is stretched to the limit despite on-going efforts to reconfigure its forces, which are engaged in dealing with armed groups throughout eastern Congo. The capacity of the Congolese national army must be strengthened considerably if it is to do its proper job and we have asked the Security Council for the reinforcement of MONUC several weeks ago.
An already grave humanitarian situation has been considerably worsened by the most recent phase of fighting. Again, the United Nations and our international partners are mobilizing all possible resources to provide urgent assistance. I exhort all parties to ensure that international humanitarian law is observed and that access to suffering populations is guaranteed.
But it is only at the political level, here in your region, that lasting solutions can be found. There can be no military solution to this crisis.
It is because of this that I am somewhat encouraged by the intensive regional and international efforts to contain the crisis. This shows that all partners are determined to find a political solution. The Nairobi and Goma processes offer a viable framework accepted by all stakeholders for comprehensively addressing the threat posed by illegal armed groups in eastern DRC. I commend the recent bilateral talks at a senior level between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda and I would urge the leaders of both countries to meet at their earliest opportunity.
Our urgent task is to turn the Nairobi and Goma principles into concrete steps on the ground.
We need to end the conflict in the east, and prevent it from spilling over into the wider sub-region. We need to restore the authority of the State, and consolidate the stability that has been achieved in the rest of the country.
This will require leaders of the sub-region to use their influence, leverage and moral authority. In particular, they will need to urge Mr. Nkunda to desist from resuming military offensives, prevent any support that would enable his movement to do so, and urge him to pull back to the positions he held in January 2008 when the Acts of Engagement were signed. This must also apply to other armed groups as well as the FARDC. And there will need to be meaningful efforts to address the problem of the FDLR, the LRA, and other remnant foreign armed groups in DRC.
As you know, I have appointed His Excellency, former President Obasanjo, as my Special Envoy for the Great lakes region. I have asked him to work very closely with you to reach comprehensive and durable solutions to the problems created by the continued existence and destructive activities of the illegal armed groups. I am honoured to present him in that capacity to you today.
But it is through direct and frank discussions between you, the Heads of State of the region that the most effective remedies will be found. I am very encouraged at the bilateral contacts between the DRC and Uganda, as well as those between the DRC and Rwanda. I hope these contacts will bear fruit. I urge others in the region to deepen their engagement as well.
As leaders of Africa, you have a historic responsibility -- this is a critical moment for the Great Lakes region, and for Africa as a whole. We must put the cycle of violence behind us. We must build a shared future of stability, peace, development and human rights for all citizens of your countries.
I am determined to work with you to realize these urgent objectives.
I count on your leadership.
Thank you very much.