The Great Lakes region of central Africa—the countries grouped around Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika—showcases both the very best and the very worst of humanity. The region has seen its fair share of war and conflict: the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a twenty-year ongoing legacy of conflict and war in eastern Congo and a prolonged civil war in Burundi (a country where, just weeks ago, political tensions broke out again after ten years of peace) have all left their marks on the bodies and psyches of the peoples in the region. At the same time, the Great Lakes region is home to a vast and ever-growing community of peacebuilders, researchers, teachers, civil society actors and citizen activists who strive to re-establish and maintain peace.
The past and current conflicts of the region are nothing if not interconnected, both to each other and to the wider world. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda emerged from the same ethnic tensions (created and fostered by the colonial powers) that fueled the Burundian civil war. The conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi caused the displacement of refugees (and rebel groups) into Congo. International organizations and actors are omnipresent (although not with uniformly positive results). Through all of these events, the ugly specter of colonialism makes its enduring presence felt across the entire Great Lakes region.
Local dynamics often have regional and international causes: in eastern Congo, for example, a mine worker’s livelihood can be affected by the local military commander, by merchants in neighboring countries or by legislation enacted in the United States. In the Great Lakes, as elsewhere, following one single thread often leads to the discovery of a rich and varied tapestry of causes, effects, solutions and consequences, all tied into
one another, each one impossible to consider on its own.
True understanding is an act of compassion and the root of real peace. In this issue of Intersections, a team of authors from the Great Lakes region, along with MCC workers, present several windows into the dynamics that shape the region as a whole. While their articles do not present definitive solutions to the challenges facing the Great Lakes countries, the authors do highlight several key dimensions of the quest for durable peacebuilding and sustainable development in the region, including: the vital role played by
the church in durable peacebuilding efforts; the importance of supporting the efforts of local organizations; the pressing need to address the economic and human security devastation created by militias in the DRC; and the promise of grassroots peace initiatives in Burundi and Rwanda.
Patrick Maxwell is MCC’s Eastern Congo Peacebuilding Coordinator