Heads of state and other representatives from 11 African countries are gathering in Kenya's capital this week for their Great Lakes conference. The leaders are expected to sign a pact that sets out plans to increase security, stability, and development in the area. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.
The pact consists of a number of protocols, funds, and programs to address security, governance, economic development, and social issues among the 11 countries.
It is based in part on a declaration that the leaders of Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia signed at their first summit in November 2004.
Among other things, the declaration states that conflicts and persistent insecurity in the Great Lakes region have many causes: poverty, suspicion between governments, massive human rights violations, gender inequality, war crimes, small arms trafficking.
To that end, the leaders agreed to work together to tackle these problems. Conference spokesman George Ola-Davies explains.
"Every country has got its own particularity. Every country has got its own needs, and they have all come here with what is paramount for them," he said. "But when you look at the whole map itself, you will tell yourself that what they're looking for is stability. So, how can we get that stability?"
The end result, says Ola-Davies, is a number of regional projects and initiatives to increase security, stability, and development in the area.
These include: a Regional Center for the Promotion of Democracy, Good Governance, Human Rights, and Civic Education; a 900-kilometer-long railway system that would link countries in the region; and a regional protocol that would punish acts of sexual violence against women and children during war and peace time.
Planning for the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region began in earnest in 2000, when the United Nations Security Council passed two resolutions calling for a conference on peace, security, democracy, and development in the region.
African countries were urged to take the lead themselves in tackling the region's problems. Twenty-seven donor countries and the European Union are supporting their efforts.
The Great Lakes region has been plagued by violence, most notably the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in which some 800,000 people were killed. Long-standing civil wars in Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Uganda have also caused much suffering.
Countries of the Great Lakes region are among the poorest in the world. According to conference statistics, the average gross national income per capita in 2005 for the 11 countries was $485.