Rwanda is considering withdrawing from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), questioning the body’s role and impact in the prevention of insecurity in the region.
According to Rwanda, ICGLR has not taken an active role in addressing the issue of genocide fugitives and negative forces in the region, despite having a security pact that obliges member states to take action.
ICGLR is made up of 12 countries: Rwanda, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, DR Congo, Central African Republic, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Angola.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe, posted on Twitter: “We will consider a permanent withdrawal from ICGLR. It will have to first explain its work in its 12 years of existence.”
Mr Nduhungirehe was not available for further comment, but observers point to Rwanda’s diplomatic issues with Burundi as a possible reason for his statement.
The ICGLR has its headquarters in Bujumbura, Burundi, a country that has had frosty relations with Rwanda since 2015 following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial third term presidential election.
Rwanda blames ICGLR for its failure to hold Burundi accountable in 2015, following allegations that Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels had crossed into Burundi from eastern DR Congo and joined ranks with the youth wing of Burundi’s ruling party CNDD-FDD.
The FDLR rebel group is opposed to the Rwandan government and some of its members are wanted in Rwanda for genocide-related crimes.
“ICGLR is no longer effective. Rwanda will remain committed to different regional bodies that are vibrant. There is no need to stay in dormant organisations which are a needless expense,” a source said, adding that the agenda of the ICGLR remains dictated by the interests of its major donor — Angola.
Officials at ICGLR, however, defended the body’s record, noting that it has held several fora where regional security is discussed in detail and solutions are sought for member states that have frosty relations.
“Burundi and Rwanda maintain diplomatic relations; embassies are open in both capitals. Behind-the-scenes, preventive diplomacy is never exposed to the media and is in most cases more effective,” said Wilson Kajwengye, director of peace and security at ICGLR.
He added that ICGLR mandated its follow-up mechanism to undertake diplomacy to normalise the bilateral relations between neighbours. The directive was made in July during the ICGLR regional inter-ministerial committee meeting.
Last week, ICGLR and UN teams took part in a sensitisation and screening campaign for former FDLR rebels in eastern DRC who are willing to give up arms and be reintegrated into society.