KAMPALA,UGANDA - As the Global Peace Conference opens in Uganda, heads of state, especially in the East African region, are trying to focus more on unity instead of fragmentation that has plunged the area into conflict.
East African leaders say they need to find new models for sustainable peace and development in a bid to effectively deal with crime, conflict and poverty.
With instability taking root, leaders in the Great Lakes region are being urged to promote value-driven and innovative leadership that will provide meaning to citizens. This includes security, job growth, running water, electricity, and good roads. They agree this must be accompanied by more investment and trade, rather than aid and political federation.
Ambassador Fred Ngoga Gateretse, who leads the Conflict Prevention and Early Warning division of the African Union Commission, notes that terrorist organizations, such as Somali militant group al-Shabab, are more organized than some governments.
“African countries simply do not make sense in fragmentation. We make sense in unity. Did you know how long it takes to recruit a suicide bomber, on average? It takes about five to six or seven months. And did you know how long it takes to recruit a civil servant from the U.N. or AU? About 19 months at best. So, what does that tell us? It tells us that our criminals are more efficient than we are,” said Gateretse.
Delegates at the conference also are calling on leaders to improve their respective education systems to create a common goal and interest in the community. Uganda, in particular, has been working with neighbors, such as South Sudan and Somalia, to end conflict.
Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda notes that the conference is an occasion for leaders not only to celebrate achievements, but to find ways to overcome conflict and its daunting challenges.
“As you are aware, amidst great development potential, the Great Lakes region has for many decades been characterized by identity-based conflicts, violent extremism and refugee crises,” said Rugunda.
The conference has bought together stakeholders from all walks of life, including business entrepreneurs. Julian Omalla is a Ugandan businesswoman who ventured into northern Uganda. The area faced the brunt of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion, a conflict that left thousands dead and more than 2 million in internally displaced camps.
“When there is no money in somebody’s pocket, peace cannot be there. And when there is no economic activity in the area, the peace and the unity cannot be there,” she said.
According to the African Union, the continent currently faces 20 crisis situations that need to be resolved.
It is now up to the heads of states to show if their interests are aligned with those of their countrymen and women in the region.