Fresh from a visit to Kenya to push for peace in neighbouring Sudan, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan moved south today with a call to solidify stability in Africa's Great Lakes region, an area that he said had "been blighted by an appalling toll of death and destruction for as long as most of us can remember."
"What is at stake is nothing less than a new era for many millions of African men, women and children, who have been through a lot, who have buried too many relatives, who look to us not to waver in this effort," he told a regional summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania."We cannot afford to have them write this process off as a theoretical exercise."
Noting the striking extent to which the security and stability of its countries are interlinked, with genocide, ethnic wars and other conflicts in one nation spilling over into its neighbours, Mr. Annan declared: "Our task now is to reverse that dynamic, and make peace, instead of conflict, contagious and mutually reinforcing."
Although the Great Lakes region has the potential to be an African powerhouse, it has for decades remained largely impoverished, its political and economic development stunted, its peoples' talents repressed, with misrule often denying its peoples their freedoms and spreading mistrust among them, he said.
"Finally, genocide plunged the region into absolute horror, the repercussions of which are still very much with us," he added, referring to the massacres of hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda and Burundi, with its spill-over into neighbouring countries with a torrent of refugees and further ethnic and other strife.
"Leadership - sustained and exercised in good-faith, in partnership with the international community - can make all the difference," he told the meeting, officially called The International Conference on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development in the Great Lakes Region.
"I assure you of my full support for this cause - the cause of peace, development and human rights throughout the Great Lakes region."
In the conference margins, the Secretary-General held meetings with several of the African leaders in attendance, including the Presidents of South Africa, Burundi and Sudan.
After he met with South African President Thabo Mbeki, Mr. Annan discussed the transitional process in Burundi with that country's President, Domitien Ndayizeye. The Secretary-General reinforced UN support for that process, and he also stressed the need for increased donor support for Burundi's rebuilding process.
The Secretary-General then met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and told him, as he told the Security Council a day earlier in Nairobi, about the urgent need to complete the peace process being negotiated in Naivasha, Kenya.
A successful conclusion of the Naivasha process would not only benefit north and south Sudan, Mr. Annan said, but would also be an essential step in moving forward the peace process in Darfur.
They also discussed the situation on the ground in Darfur.