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{UAH} Pojim/Ocen/Bobby/Allan/Ocaya/Gook/WBK: Uhuru-Raila reconciliation offers valuable lessons for troubled Great Lakes

Uhuru-Raila reconciliation offers valuable lessons for troubled Great Lakes region By Deo Hakizimana

Published Fri, April 6th 2018 at 14:06,
Updated April 6th 2018 at 14:10 GMT +3
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The recent move by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his erstwhile political opponent Raila Odinga to set aside their bitter political differences and work together is not only good for Kenya's stability but also sends a powerful signal to the troubled Great Lakes region and the entire African continent.

Having worked for many years in initiatives to promote political and social dialogue in Africa to avert conflicts, I have no doubt that the reconciliation pact offers robust inspiration and lessons for all of Africa, especially for the African Great Lakes Region that is torn apart by instability.

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The absence of meaningful dialogue and reconciliation in the political and social spaces of countries in the region have often caused political differences to fester into violence and state weakening.

The Uhuru-Raila handshake highlights in particular that the two leaders are unanimous in agreeing that the interests of their nation exceed those of their personal rivalries sparked by the political competition of the past few months.

The picture of the handshake is currently still circulating around the world and sending a powerful signal to the region and the rest of Africa about dialogue and peace. Hopefully, that spirit captured in the handshake will be replicated elsewhere in the continent.

The unexpected and historic reconciliation between the two leaders is significant when viewed against the backdrop of the intense and perilous national divisions and polarisation that had accompanied the long election season last year.

Their differences, together with those of their millions of ardent supporters, had seemed to be beyond reconciliation and even dialogue, but this was happily proved wrong by the deal.

For those who had held their breath, fearing that one of the largest African economies would be devastated by post-election violence, the picture shows that what geopolitical specialists call fatuous "proxy wars" can have an honorable end for those protagonists who really seek the love for their country.

The pact demonstrates that other leaders in the region and Africa that are in similar situations like Kenya can be ironed out at the open table of dialogue, no matter how intractable those differences seem to be.

Two conditions appear to drive this situation. On one hand, it is only possible when the winners of an election decide to place themselves above the fray in a context of inclusive, responsible and truthful dialogue. ALSO

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On the other hand, it also means that the losers have been able to notice the harsh reality due to a power struggle that has ruthlessly rocked.

It is noteworthy that competition for power through elections has emerged as one of the existential threats to fragile African nations as political actors seeks to capture or retain power and control of national resources at all costs and at the expense of their rivals.

The deal of the two leaders also shows that strong leadership sometimes has to ignore the hardline positions taken by their advisers and supporters to extend the hand of reconciliation to bitter political opponents.

It certainly took great courage and leadership for President Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga to reach out to each other and agree to work together, even at the risk of disappointing their core support bases.

A similar spirit of courage and dialogue is needed in the region and Africa, where political instability and violence related to competition for political power are the order of the day.

In the Great Lakes Region and Africa, several countries are still facing political and social uncertainties including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and others, partly due to lack of engagements and reconciliation between rival political actors.

For instance, Burundi, dubbed the "the clay-footed glove" or "balcony of the Congo" has been experiencing political turmoil since 2015, amid concerns of escalation with the expected the 2018 referendum process.

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This is despite its capital Bujumbura being the host of the Executive Secretariat of the International Conference on the Great Lakes a Region, an organisation of 12 countries to tackle common issues of interests such as peace and security.

Political opponents continue to take hardline stances towards each other without yielding opportunities for dialogue, with the tragic result being continued polarisation of the populations along sectarian and ethnic lines and violence.

Therefore, there is need to encourage the emergence of a meaningful dialogue between political and social actors in the region including targeted contacts, seminars, conferences or training workshops, occasional exchanges and dialogue.

Following a recent symposium in Dakar, Senegal delegates resolved to lobby the African Union to have an African Day for Dialogue, to further entrench the culture of dialogue.

Mr. Deo Hakizimana, a Burundian, is the President and Founder of the Independent Center for Research and Initiatives for Dialogue (CIRID), a civil society organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland and promotes political and social dialogue to avert conflicts in Africa. He is the founder of the Macky Sall Prize for Dialogue for Africa. Email:

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