Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has called for more coordinated action to deal with militants in Africa’s Great Lakes region. Meanwhile, the United Nations has urged countries to address the root causes of conflicts in the region that have created over 4 million refugees and displaced millions more.
At a Great Lakes security conference Thursday in Kampala, Museveni said he wanted more active cooperation in confronting the region’s militants.
“Like the problem of Eastern Congo, I’m sure, if the countries of this area acted together, that problem could be solved. It’s not such a big problem. Even the problem of Somalia, if it was not for this theater in which we are engaged, we could solve that problem by having enough action,” Museveni said.
Uganda has deployed more than 6,000 troops to Somalia under the African Union Mission to fight the al-Shabab terrorist group.
Meanwhile, conflict in Great Lakes countries like Burundi, the Central African Republic and South Sudan has created over 4 million refugees in recent years and displaced millions more.
Uganda has been praised for hosting an estimated 1.1 million refugees — the largest number for any country in Africa. However, Uganda’s minister for relief and refugees, Hillary Onek, warned that the country would not be exploited.
“We shall continue to be hospitable, but we should not be used by other people to solve their problems. Refugees have come, we shall look after them. And when your country is peaceful, they can return. But people want to exploit the situation to become refugees but, whereas they don’t really have problems in their country, so, they want to use our hospitality for wrong reasons,” she said.
Speaking at the conference Thursday, United Nations Special Envoy Said Djinnit urged the Great Lakes countries to address the root cause of conflicts in the region.
Djinnit blamed conflict over land, resources, corruption and poor governance for fueling the fighting. He cited Uganda’s repatriation of 57 former M23 rebels to the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example of cross-border cooperation to help end conflict.
“When there’s determination, we brought together the leaders of the countries, they took the decision, they established the mechanism and, therefore, relieved this country from this burden,” he said. “And remove that problem between Uganda and the DRC. Because as long as the M23 are in Uganda, there is still that impression that [they] may have some kind of support in Uganda.”
The M23 fighters crossed into Uganda in 2013 after intense fighting with DRC-backed U.N. forces.