CHAMBO NGÂ´UNI, Luanda
CONFLICTS in some countries in the Great Lakes Region remain a major source of concern because they have brought about political instability and suffering of the people.
Unless there is an end to political turmoil in countries such as Burundi, Central African Republic (CAR), eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, peace and security are threatened in the Great Lakes Region.
The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU) and other co-operating partners are unsettled about this and are seeking lasting solutions to end the conflicts.
The ICGLR was established in 1994 against the background of political skirmishes which have compromised security and peace in the Great Lakes Region.
Thus in recognising the dimensions of conflicts, the ICGRL realises the need for concerted efforts aimed at promoting peace and development in the region.
As a member of the ICGLR, Zambiaâ€™s participation in the affairs of the Great Lakes Region is cardinal.
Angola, Burundi, Congo Brazzaville, DRC, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan and Tanzania are the other ICGLR member countries.
Notably, Zambia is a critical player in regional initiatives aimed at fostering and maintaining peace and security, as well as integration in the Great Lakes Region.
This is the reason why President Lungu was among the leaders who were scheduled to attend the Sixth Ordinary Summit of heads of State and Government of ICGLR last Friday in the Angolan capital, Luanda.
The one-day summit was expected to be held under the theme, Accelerating the effective implementation of the pact and its protocols for more democracy and stable Great Lakes Region.
Talatona Convention Hotel was a busy venue, hosting the meetings of ICGLR defence force chiefs and national co-ordinators on February 8 and 9 respectively.
Ministers of defence and foreign affairs also held their meetings on February 10 and 11 respectively and considered the report of the meeting of chiefs of defence forces and received briefings on the security and humanitarian situation in DRC, CAR and Burundi.
On the other hand, ministers of foreign affairs received a report of the executive secretary on the status of the implementation of the pact on security, stability and development since the last ordinary summit.
The ministers further considered recommendations of the meeting of ICGLR national co-ordinators and they were expected to recommend to the summit the candidates for the ICGLR executive secretary following the end of the tenure of Professor Ntumba Luaba.
Minister of Defence Richwell Siamunene and Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba led the Zambian delegation during the parallel meetings.
However, the summit was postponed.
â€œThere are a lot of issues going on in the Great Lakes Region and most of these will require the heads of State to seat together and share in order to arrive at the conclusion that will take forward this family of the ICGLR.
â€œThe summit has been postponed to a date that will be agreed upon through diplomatic channels,â€ Mr Kalaba said after the official opening of the regional inter-ministerial committee meeting of ministers of foreign affairs.
Mr Kalaba explained that it was decided that only the regional inter-ministerial committee was going to meet and its submissions will be presented to the heads of State during the rescheduled summit.
The regional committee meeting of ministers of foreign affairs felt that the right number of heads of State needed to attend the summit and commit themselves and interrogate critical matters before the ICGLR.
â€œThe leaders need to commit themselves. There are a bulk of issues that the leaders need to interrogate,â€ Mr Kalaba said. â€œIt was felt that the meeting [summit] be put forward for the leaders to attend.â€
Mr Kalaba also explained that documentation on conflicts in Burundi, CAR, South Sudan and the eastern DRC was a critical issue.
The minister further said the postponement of the summit gave Zambia an opportunity to critically examine crucial issues.
â€œIt goes without saying that as a result of this postponement, the President [Lungu] will not be travelling here [Angola], he will only be joining his colleagues at a time when the summit will be called,â€ Mr Kalaba said.
Zambia has continued playing her role in promoting peace and stability in the Great Lakes Region as President Lungu understands the situation.
As a landlocked country, Zambia is not immune from the effects of conflicts in neighbouring countries, the reason why it is home to thousands of refugees.
When Chinese government special representative on African Affairs Zhong Jianhua paid a courtesy call on him at State House last month, President Lungu noted that if the political instability in the region was left unchecked, there could be a spill-over effect on neighbouring countries.
Mr Lungu said there was need for concerted efforts among AU member states in ending political mayhem on the continent.
â€œWe are asking China to help Africa put pressure to expedite Africaâ€™s representation in the UN Security Council. We believe that we can achieve more when we speak with one voice,â€ he said.
And during Mr Lunguâ€™s visit to the Vatican, Pope Francis urged him to help resolve conflicts in Burundi and the DRC.
During the meeting with the pontiff, the Vatican regarded Zambia as a credible mediator which can help the parties in Burundi and DRC to resolve their political differences peacefully.
And AU special representative to the Great Lakes Region Ibrahima Fall noted that conflicts in Burundi, CAR, South Sudan and eastern DRC were a source of concern.
Speaking during the regional inter-ministerial committee meeting of ministers of foreign affairs in Luanda, Professor Fall said the ICGLR needed to find lasting solutions to the conflicts in the four countries because many people are suffering.
â€œWe are very concerned about these conflicts and a decision needs to be made to overcome the situation,â€ Prof Fall said.
He said the AU desires to see a peaceful transition in CAR and an end to conflicts and instability in Burundi, South Sudan and the DRC.
And addressing delegates during the same meeting, UN secretary-generalâ€™s special envoy to the Great Lakes Region Djinnit Said said people in the affected countries are suffering.
He said armed forces involved in the conflicts needed to be brought together to dialogue.
â€œThe people in the DRC and the Central African Republic have continued to be affected by the negative forces in the two countries. It is important to take complete action on the negative forces encouraging conflicts and political instability in the region,â€ Mr Said noted.
Angolaâ€™s Minister of External Relations Forge Chicoti called for concerted efforts among ICGLR member countries and cooperating partners in resolving conflicts.
Noting that lives of people in South Sudan, Burundi, CAR and the eastern DRC have been negatively affected, Mr Chicoti said efforts should be made to end the conflicts.
Mr Chicoti said the momentum in promoting peace through dialogue should be sustained.
Without doubt, instability in the region has potential to derail any positive development hence the need to enhance peace and security.
Through dialogue, the Great Lakes Region can achieve sustainable peace, security, political and social stability, as well as economic development.
CHAMBO NGÂ´UNI, Luanda