Online Discussion: "We Need Partnership, Not Charity"

Scholar Spotlight on John Katunga, from September issue of Centerpoint

Oct 01, 2006

African countries have many priorities: promoting trade and development, addressing poverty and disease—particularly the AIDS pandemic—protecting environmental resources, and resolving conflicts, to name a few, with the ultimate goal of achieving peace, development, and security. John Katunga maintains that these issues and objectives are compatible with American interests and he is examining how to make Africa's peace and security goals relevant to American policymakers.

Katunga, former acting executive director of the Nairobi Peace Initiative and currently a Wilson Center Africa policy scholar, advocates framing African issues in terms of American interests. He said African leaders must convey to American policymakers that they can help America address its highest priorities, particularly the war on terror and energy issues. "We need partnership, not charity," he said.

Katunga is focusing on Africa's Great Lakes region, particularly the core countries of Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A major U.S. government initiative, "Tripartite Plus," focuses on this region, sharing intelligence and implementing joint border surveillance to help end rebel fighting and stop the looting of natural resources to promote confidence and peace, with help from UN peacekeeping forces and the international community.

"But there are concerns of possible U.S. fatigue in the region," said Katunga. Under the Tripartite initiative, U.S. help was intended as a temporary measure but these countries require sustainable help. In addition, he said, "The U.S. process is military and intelligence-oriented but does not deal with capacity building."

One effort that addresses capacity building among different levels and perspectives is the Leadership Training Initiative, operating in Burundi and the DRC, led by the Wilson Center's Howard Wolpe, director of the AFRICA PROGRAM. The initiative aims to foster cohesion among leaders and a positive political and security environment in the region. "It's easy to drift and for mistrust to ensue," Katunga said, "which is why Howard Wolpe's programs are urgent and must run parallel with the U.S. process."

Another initiative in this region, led by the United Nations and African Union—the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region—convenes high-level leaders to design processes toward democracy and good governance, economic and regional integration, peace and security, and humanitarian assistance toward ultimately securing a peace pact. But, Katunga said, it's overly formal and highly publicized. These valuable processes need the involvement of civil society to guarantee broad participation in the decision-making process and a sustainable, locally owned implementation phase.

In the recent past, Africa has endured numerous human and natural calamities. "It's shocking for anyone," Katunga said. "If you look at the damage, humankind must feel revolted about what happened."

In the last 12 years, 6 million people have died and millions more have been displaced in Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC alone. The region has abundant natural resources but its ecosystem has been degraded due to mismanagement of land, forests, and waters and exploitation of minerals. In such conditions, Katunga said, insecurity and lawlessness prevail. But where violence once prevailed as the sole means of accessing or maintaining power, recent direct elections in these countries offer hope for reversing this cycle.

U.S. efforts in Africa have helped quite a bit, Katunga said, "but there's a perception there that the United States is not properly engaging civil society, such as churches, media, grassroots organizations…" He said, "Peace consolidation is needed and U.S. support is paramount." At this phase, the involvement of civil society organizations will be indispensable.

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