Peacebuilding and Sustainable Development in the African Great Lakes Region a region Too big to fail and too poorly managed to Develop

by admin on June 26, 2015

The countries of Burundi, Congo-DR, Rwanda and Uganda in the Great Lakes region of Africa have created, attracted, and now interact with a multitude of organizational structures and actors. In addition to local and national governance structures, governments of the respective Great Lakes countries have initiated regional agencies to facilitate trade and other matters of mutual concern including Peacebuilding and sustainable development.

 These all live side by side:

 -with United Nations agencies

-with peacekeeping contingents

-with the US’ AFRICOM

-with vibrant civil societies

-with multitudinous religious fraternities

-with business barons

-with international financial consortia

-with cantankerous warlords

-with a myriad international non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

-with inter-governmental organizations (INGOs)

-with special envoys

-with renowned international mediators

-with diplomats

-with arms dealers

-with glamorous Hollywood stars

-with researchers

-with journalists

 Each of these actors sports a brand name and promotes a product, advertised by one means or other. Their mission: “saving lives” or “exercising the responsibility to protect.” or that of “Peacebuilding, Peacekeeping and Peacemaking”. Some of these initiatives are field-based; some operate from distant headquarters within the region; others are based further afield; in Washington D. C., in London, in Paris, or in “Timbuktu.” Mali.

 Since colonial times, the region has become volatile and unpredictable. Waging War-and-Waging-peace dominates all agenda, everyone’s agenda. Che Guevara (1965-67), the legendary guerilla fighter was once active here in contestation with capitalism; Fidele Castro’s foot soldiers visited here, recruiting soldiers locally, training and leading them to destroy the symbols of capitalism which included all the ‘development infrastructure’ within the region. 

In the early ‘60s, Muzaliwa was a fighter. An old man now in his 70s, he fought the liberation wars of the ’60s, alongside Che Guevara. Our lives intersected; I had hired him in 1995-99 as a night guard in the context of an assignment promoting peacebuilding through relief and development in the region.

 From his perspective, the massive presence of all manner of organizations with their brands, with their vehicles, with their offices was unprecedented and confusing. Every night he interrogated me with the same question: ‘What are all these organizations doing here.’

Twenty years later I met him again in Bukavu, South Kivu.  This time his question was: ‘When will these organizations leave–I’m not sure I know what are they doing here?’ In other words, he was asking questions about Peace and food security and their achievement and success. He could not detect either of these development virtues.

 This article explores conflict sensitive economic development from the perspectives of people living in the African Great Lakes Region represented here by Muzaliwa, a 70 years old man who worked as a night guard for the volunteer couple sent by the Mennonite Central Committee, in Bukavu/Eastern Congo,(1995-99). The couple were assigned to strengthen the Peacebuilding and development work of the Council of Churches of Congo, the Civil Society and, religious leaders from Rwanda and Burundi who fled the ’94 genocide in Rwanda.

 Over-promised and Under-delivered: The challenge of Peacebuilding and Sustainable development

 Muzaliwa, the “freedom fighter” reminded me why he had joined the fight against capitalism in the ’60s. For him the fight had not been against some ideology, as many believed at the time; he was fighting against greed and greediness. His story, like the stories of many other young boys who joined the revolutionary wars in the region was that of an over-worked and under-paid person, with no prospect of upward mobility. According to him, that situation was occasioned by the inherent greed of capitalism. Che Guevara was defeated eventually by capitalist forces, but Muzaliwa and his age-group colleagues joined other liberation movements. Why did he eventually retire from the regional liberation wars, including the most recent one? According to him, it was because all the leaders and managers of those rebel initiatives over-promised and under-delivered.  But still, he remained convinced that the region was too big to fail.

 Linking the Trauma of wars and that of No Peace No Development

 Muzaliwa, like many people living and working in the Great Lakes Region, is tired of the many meetings that, according to him, produce nothing more than another empty promise of a better tomorrow. For example, training in capacity building by those who came to “save lives,” failed to effect perceptible changes in his life. He found himself comparing the failure of these organizations to “make-changes-that-he-could-believe-in” with the Che Guevara era.  Every encounter with the meetings convened by those modern community organizers triggered flashbacks; images of leaders (from Che Guevara to Museveni to Kabila to Kagame to Nkurunziza) whom he had met, supported and fought with from the ’60s to 2000, came to mind.

 Muzaliwa’s memory and perception regarding over-promised and under-delivered results has coagulated into a malady not unlike the oft-cited post-traumatic-syndrome-disorder (PTSD). Muzaliwa qualifies as a veteran of the liberation wars of the Great Lakes Region. Not only does he experience flashbacks of those wars, he also experiences what could be called “flashforwards” of promises yet to be fulfilled for better tomorrows. He attends meetings of all kinds to learn what is new; when elaborate promises are voiced, he acknowledges them as signals to exit from the meetings.  According to him, the Hunter Lion doesn’t make an empty promise to attack his prey; he attacks and “eats.”Like others who came after him, Che Guevara also over-promised and under-delivered; according to Guevara, “capitalist-based organizations” functioned as lions; they didn’t promise much and their “eating” only enhanced poverty.  


“Peacebuilding and Development are effective only on paper”

 What about Peacebuilding and development I asked him. Everything is great but only on paper book said Muzaliwa.

Books have been written by best-seller authors on peacebuilding and development; experts have been sent to assess, collect and analyze data about how to pull together pieces of the puzzle that “saves  lives” of the people who live in the Great Lakes Region how to close gaps. The United Nations came with the Millennium Development goals while African governments have initiated The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). “NEPAD” is an economic development program of the African Union, adopted at the 37th session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government in July 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia. NEPAD aims to provide an overarching vision and policy framework for accelerating economic co-operation and integration among African countries (Wikipedia).

 What does Muzaliwa, my old night guard, have to say about NEPAD, an African promise of a better tomorrow? Is this yet another development venture featuring “over-promise and under-delivery?” How will he react to the development mantras of the once-every-week-capacity-training-meetings that call for monitoring and evaluation, for indicators of success, for measurable performance and for assets-based management approaches? Then Muzaliwa fought alongside “freedom fighters” in the bush; now he is being “capacity-built” in the region’s best hotels. Could it be that the development lacunae are metastasizing like an incurable cancer? Is he blaming somebody or everybody?

 Blame: the circle and the pyramid

Placing blame is embedded in the human DNA; blame is exercised when we have failed to deliver or have not fulfilled our commitments. Blame is what everybody in this region–from politicians to the community members–is tired of hearing; but it is precisely the blame game that justifies why the mission of “saving lives”; the “meeting the needs of community” and the “Peacebuilding” is a subject of controversy and of a complexity.This is a region where success is yet to be defined and where change in people’s lives has yet to be realized; this is the mantra one hears when talking to donors, grantees and beneficiaries.

 Circular Blame

“Where is peace and the development they all come to implement?” is the question repeated by intended or potential beneficiaries. Blame is framed sometimes this way: “During daylight hours development experts parade up and down our highways and streets; at night they are relaxing and enjoying themselves in nightclubs”. While potential or intended beneficiaries entertain high expectations, peace and development workers complain that the grants made to beneficiaries are mismanaged, unaccounted for and that the application of funds is not transparent. Regarding the lack of accountability and transparency, the beneficiaries blame those at the top of their own organizational pyramids.

 Pyramidal blame

Typically, beneficiaries are members of civil society organizations (CSOs). Blame follows money. Both money and blame follow flexible and diverse trajectories.  In the decade of ‘90s during which millions of US development dollars flowed into Uganda, the US aid agency—USAID–blamed the lack of Peace and development on President Museveni and his administrations for embezzlement and corruption. Earlier, Uganda had been cited by US President Clinton’s administration and by USAID as a development success story and Museveni had been lauded as an exemplar of the new breed of astute African leadership. When the tide turned, Museveni blamed Kony–the rebel leader–and the political opposition for his woes. In Rwanda, Paul Kagame blamed the Hutu rebellion in the Congo and the Rwandan genocide for his woes. In Burundi, the President blamed the opposition and the militias for the country’s lack of development. Similar accusations prevailed in the DR-Congo.

 High in the hierarchy of Peacebuilding and development pyramid is the United Nations coordination agency known as OCHA. Its monthly coordination meeting provides a forum where the pyramidal blame game can be heard. Here the blame is shared between the dispensing agency—the UN–and the beneficiaries who receive funds. Blame focuses on the absence or insufficiency of measurable indicators of Peacebuilding and development performance. At this point those who did not wish to be associated with an ineffective coordination meeting have created what they called a “clusters approach” and when ineffective coordination persisted they created an “inter-cluster approach” followed by additional alternative approaches. All of these approaches were deemed acceptable and workable by humanitarian workers, but donors had other opinions. Donors were being blamed by recipients/grantees for reducing their financial subventions precisely when needs were increasing. Donors don’t blame anyone: they are experiencing what is known as “donor fatigue.” They write off under-performing grantees organizations and re-direct their funds to programs and projects such as relief aid. The dog is wagging the tail, as it were.   

 As of now my old night guard Muzaliwa is still alive and he is facing a new challenge: the information technology revolution; with a little bit of money I sent him, he has a cellphone which he considers to be a symbol of development integration and peacebuilding according to him. After all, he had not possessed such a phone when he was a freedom fighter. At that time a cell phone was considered an instrument to be used only by those of elite status such as leaders of the military and senior politicians in charge of listening to enemies of the revolution. For Muzaliwa technology is somehow compared to another over-promised and under-delivered paradigm of the past. Sometimes the battery of Muzaliwa’s cell phone has no charge; for days he goes without making or receiving calls. Like everyone else in the region, he takes one step forward and two steps backward. Everything changes and at the same time, everything remains the same.



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