COMESA in Peace Building Initiatives

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) has prioritised development of programmes on post-conflict reconstruction and development, especially in the Great Lakes Region, through Trading for Peace Programme.

Under the initiative, 10 trade information desks have been established at various border posts of the Great Lakes Region to provide small scale cross-border traders with information such as pricing, taxes and markets, according to Comesa secretary-general Sindiso Ngwenya.

Speaking at the 14th Ministers of Foreign Affairs meeting in Addis Ababa, Saturday, Ngwenya said investing in empowering communities at the border area and encouraging interaction between them, was an incentive to avoid getting into activities that can disrupt the benefits accrued from the trading relations.

He said another phase of the programme had begun this year aimed at reinforcing infrastructure at border posts starting with the reconstruction of border offices at Goma and Kavimvira in DR Congo.

“During this phase, we plan to construct markets at Goma, Rubavu, Gatumba and Kavimvira, at the cost of about $3 million,” Ngwenya told the ministers.

The project is supported by the KfW Bank under the framework of the African Peace and Security Architecture.

Matter of urgency

What was most urgent, he said, was to manage and resolve existing conflicts, and ensure that the factors that led people to pick up arms are addressed comprehensively so that any conflicts that are resolved do not re-occur.

In addition to the post-conflict reconstruction programmes, Comesa was also investing in an early warning system that is able to provide indications about structural factors that need to be addressed long before they manifest.

Ngwenya, however, noted that it was “up to policymakers to act on the warnings given, if the conflict is going to be prevented.”

Ethiopian state minister for foreign affairs Berhane Gebre-Christos called on Comesa member states to complement the efforts of other sub regional groupings in the region involved in peace and security, such as Igad, to avoid duplication of efforts and institutional rivalry.

Amb. Gebre-Christos said it was not only critical to build peace where it has been established but also to overcome through dialogue the persistent stalemate characterising some conflict situations in the region.

The minister cited terrorism as one of the serious threats facing Comesa region that required collective action to counter.

“Terrorism threat posed by groups such as al-Shabaab, AQIM, LRA and others is not only a problem of few countries but of each and every one of us,” the minister said.

“Our counter-terrorism efforts should begin from a clear understanding of this fundamental reality and demonstrate a firm commitment to individually and collectively fight the menace.”

He urged the Comesa states to support the peace efforts in Somalia and continue to assist, encourage and even press parties in South Sudan when necessary in order to achieve durable peace and stability.

Ngwenya thanked the European Union for funding the Maritime Security programme, and development of Comesa mediation support and early warning programmes through the African Union. He also thanked the KfW bank, the African Development Bank and USAID for supporting the Trading for Peace Programme.

The ministers drawn from the 19 member states commended the African Union for providing Comesa with conference facilities for its policy organs meetings and Summit.