The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) – review of Norwegian support to the ICGLR Secretariat

Norad Reoprt 17 2009
Published:June 2009 by Norad
Carried out by:Morten Bøås (Senior Researcher, Fafo), Randi Lotsberg (Senior Advisor, Norad) and Jean-Luc Ndizeye (Independent Consultant)
Series:Norad report: Discussion 17/2009
Tags:Africa, Conflict prevention and resolution, peace and security


Review of the | to the Secretariat for the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region - creating regional institutions in a volatile environment

A new report presents the review of the Norwegian Ministry of Affairs' support to the Secretariat for the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.

The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) was set up against the back drop of the war in DR-Congo (2002-2006), with the assistance of the African Union, UN and bilateral donors. Its aim is to implement the Pact on Security, Stability and Development (PACT), signed in December 2006 by eleven heads of states from Angola, Burundi, Central Africa Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia.

The PACT sets an ambitious agenda "to transform the region into a space of sustainable peace and security for peoples of the region, political and social stability, shared growth and development, a space of cooperation based on convergent strategies and policies driven by a common destiny."

Already during the preparations to the PACT, there was disagreement between the countries of the region and key development partners as to whether the ICGLR should concentrate efforts on a narrow peace and security agenda or also become the main vehicle for a broad socio-economic development in the region.

The ICGLR operates in an environment that best can be characterised as the deadliest conflict since the Second World War. Even the world's largest peacekeeping operation, the United Nation's Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) has not managed to bring peace to the region. This suggests that the countries that constitute the ICGLR have conflicting political and economic interests and interpretations of the crisis that has caused so much death and despair in this part of Africa.

A small Secretariat was established in May 2007 in Bujumbura, Burundi, to coordinate the implementation of the PACT. It consists of staff from all member countries and was fully operational only in 2008.

The objective of the Norwegian contribution was to support the establishment of a functioning documentation centre and conference facilities for the ICGLR, and to strengthen the capacity for translation in the organisation. The Norwegian support is relatively modest, amounting to three million NOK. Another three million NOK was spent on the conferences leading up to the PACT. However, as the ICGLR is a new organisation that attempts to build a regional institution covering a volatile region, the Review Team chose to also focus on the larger question of the relevance of the ICGLR in the region and not only on the Norwegian financial contribution.

Main findings and recommendations from the review:
The ICGLR is an attempt to build a regional institution that covers a volatile region with countries and governments with different interests and degrees of involvement in the current conflicts. This entails that the ICGLR face huge challenges and must overcome many constraints if it is to fulfil its mandate.

Not surprisingly the review found an organisation that has spent much of its activity on establishing itself. This has clearly limited its impact on the region it is supposed to serve, and must be taken into consideration in decisions about future funding. At the same time the agenda that the Pact gives to the Secretariat is large and very ambitious; suggesting that the Secretariat may easily overstretch its limited institutional capacity if it does not set concrete objectives based on an agenda of clearly defined priorities. The Secretariat is aware of this, but it is also torn between two competing positions; a broad-based developmental agenda primarily set by the member states and a "narrow" political, peace and security agenda supported by development partners who are also expected to contribute financially.

Due to the infancy of the ICGLR, the Norwegian contribution was channelled through UNDP Burundi. The funds has not been fully utilised and a request for a no-cost extension has been forwarded. This is a result both of the time the Secretariat has spent on organising itself, but also a consequence of challenges with regard to its relationship to UNDP. The funds have been spent according to the intention. The equipment has been bought, it works and the documentation centre is in the process of being built.

Some questions concerning the sustainability of ICGLR must be asked related to the institutional, intellectual and financial capacity of its member countries. There is clearly the danger that the ICGLR could end up as yet another externally-financed donor driven institution if large amounts of funding was made available. This should be avoided. However, on the other side, the Great Lakes Region is undoubtedly a dangerous and violent region, and an organisation that brings the various countries together may contribute to less human suffering and insecurity. None of the countries in region can prosper on their own, and some of them in fact desperately need the region. This is for example clearly the case for core countries such as Rwanda and Burundi. They are simply too small to be
sustainable on their own in the long run, and the governments in Kigali and Bujumbura are
starting to realise this. In the future they will have to become net importer of food as well as non-food items such as charcoal.

In order to survive and have a sufficient level of meaningful engagement with its region, the ICGLR needs to have its own core funding as well as commitment and leadership from leading regional countries. Some countries show this kind of commitment and leadership, but only within certain sectors and issue-area (e.g. Uganda) and not necessarily in general. The danger is therefore that the ICGLR is turned into an organisation from which member countries and development partners pick certain items of interests, without giving the necessity of a coherent agenda much thought. An inter-regional organisation is supposed to be demand driven, but given the complicated situation in the region this may lead to a haphazardly implemented regional portfolio. The ICGLR therefore needs internal leadership and vision to complement demand from member countries and donor countries. The question is where it could turn for such leadership.

The next year will be crucial for ICGLR. The organisation has taken some important steps forward and implemented some promising programmes, but much work also remains. Norwegian policymakers must therefore conclude if they see an added value in the ICGLR or not. 

The publication is only available in digital format.

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