A wind of hope upon the Great Lakes region
The Great Lakes Investment and Trade Conference scheduled for March 18-20, 2020, in Kigali comes at a time when the region is starring at a new dawn.
The Great Lakes Investment and Trade Conference promises to be a significant regional economic event of the current year. In the context of the operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area, it will bring together over 700 political and economic leaders from the region and will focus on cross-border investment and trade.
It will provide a platform to promote business opportunities in the Great Lakes, which undoubtedly has the most significant economic potential on the continent. The region has nine large lakes, as well as mining, forestry, and many other under-exploited resources. The Great Lakes region also has a young and vibrant population and is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
I have hopes the Kigali conference and hopes that it will be a unique moment to conclude deals that will promote the sustainable management of natural resources for shared prosperity and regional integration.
Despite the many challenges, there are encouraging signs in the implementation of the regional and national commitments of the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework agreement for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the region.
Indeed, the discourse that used to focus on political instability and conflicts is now giving way to rhetoric based on the desire to deepen regional economic integration and sustainable development. For instance, the peaceful transfer of power in the DRC and the election of President Félix Thisekedi, who made the stabilization of eastern DRC and the policy of good neighborliness his priorities. In this regard, all the heads of state of the countries of the region whom I had the honor to meet recently assured me of their commitment to support this diplomatic openness and this new impetus for cooperation.
The repatriation of disarmed combatants, the development of reintegration programs for them, information sharing on security matters between the countries of the Great Lakes, strengthening judicial cooperation and other strategic actions aimed at putting civil society organizations, particularly women and young people, at the heart of the conflict the resolution, are all positive developments.
On the economic front, there is the new dynamic of the revitalization of agreements aimed at relaunching the implementation of regional infrastructure projects, the DRC's request for membership in the East African Community, and the recent increase in the local production of clean energy. These developments are indicative of the increased interest of leaders in the Great Lakes to deepen regional economic integration and address the challenges that hinder its emergence.
However, the region is still far from the goal of universal energy access. In this regard, my Office is supporting this year the organization of two strategic actions in the Great Lakes region, namely the Great Lakes Investment and Trade Conference in March and a meeting of Heads of State of the Regional Oversight Mechanism for the Framework agreement planned this year in Kinshasa.