<>Switzerland has been present in the Great Lakes region since the 1960s. It has since engaged in diverse development activities in accordance with the evolution of the situation.
Between 1963 and 1994, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) implemented several projects of development cooperation in Rwanda. Then, following the Genocide, Switzerland provided humanitarian aid to Rwanda from 1994 to 1997. More broadly, Swiss humanitarian aid services participated in the national and international emergency aid and reconstruction efforts in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Northern Uganda as several conflicts and outstanding refugee crises had shaken the region during the 1990s.
From 1998, SDC resumed its cooperation with Rwanda to gradually incorporate its actions into a regional programme for Rwanda, Burundi and the Kivu provinces of Eastern DRC.At the same time, funding to several post-conflict efforts continued in the region. Finally, from 1998, Swiss diplomacy worked to support and facilitate the peace process of Burundi and Congo who signed the Arusha Accord in 2000 and Pretoria in 2002.
Today, the Swiss cooperation in the Great Lakes is coordinated as partof a comprehensive "Great Lakes 2009-2012 Strategy" developed by the (Swiss) Federal Departement of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).
The goal is to promote the role of peace, stability and security in Rwanda, Burundi and DRC in contributing to regional integration as well as institutional and social development.
Switzerland’s two priority action areas the Great Lakes are defined as:
"Consolidation of peace and good governance": Rwanda (1994), Burundi (1993-2005) and DRC (1996-2002) have recently been ravaged by wars. It is imperative to offer the populations of the region sustainable peace based on democratic and participatory governance;Improvement of basic "Health" for all: Despite recent progress, Rwandais still situated below the African average of health indicators in: maternal mortality, life expectancy, reproductive health, etc. Burundi and the DRC must as quickly as possible rebuild their health systems damaged by conflicts. Thus, support within the sector is neccesary.
In the Great Lakes, Switzerland has three types of action: development cooperation, humanitarian aid and peace promotion.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) runs the development cooperation and humanitarian aid programmes. To coordinate its Great Lakes Programme, SDC has a regional cooperation office in Kigali and two country programme offices, one in Bujumbura (Burundi) and the other in Bukavu (Southern Kivu).
The SDC currently runs six development cooperation programmes in Rwanda, Burundi and DRC in the areas of decentralization, land security and health. It also funds a media Programme across the Great Lakes along with several other regional initiatives. In addition to beneficial effects in each of the individual countries where it operates, SDC hopes that its action in the Great Lakes will help develop the region as a whole. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation believes that the increasing prosperity of Rwanda, Burundi and DRC will allow for the establishment of sustainable peace in the region and beyond its borders.
The SDC supports current State institutions by building authorities’ organizational capacities and strengthening decentralized structures. Using a comprehensive and participatory development model, the SDC cares for the integration of all the stakeholders in the planning, implementation and monitoring of cooperation programmes. The SDC encourages the authorities to discuss issues among themselves and with their populations. In areas like decentralization or health access, it strives to bring lessons from the provinces and districts to the national level.
While the intensity of conflicts has declined in recent years in the Great Lakes, the Swiss humanitarian aid continues to work to link the emergency interventions of the past and the current development cooperation programmes. Victims of conflicts and natural disasters, refugees and displaced families as well as populations that suffer directly or indirectly from migratory movements are at the center of the Swiss humanitarian focus. The humanitarian aid specially targets minorities and marginalized populations, by definition, those less able to cope with distress.
Despite the restoration of a fragile peace in the region, several indicators remain alarming. Twenty-five million individuals remain vulnerable due to the massive population movements of recent years. Lack of access to arable land due to political instability has led to a critical food situation for more than 3.3 million people who still remain dependent on direct food aid.
Faced with this reality, Switzerland continues its support to victims of conflicts and involves itself, using a transitional approach, in the promotion of humanitarian rights. It understands that humanitarian and reconstruction assistance remain essential in the current regional context. However, the political, social and economic stability needed for sustainable peace in the region will only be reached if instruments of development cooperation and peace promotion are put into place immediately and simultaneously.
It is in this way that services and experts of the Swiss Federal Agency for Foreign Affairs support peace promotion initiatives in the areas of political mediation, human security and human rights promotion. To this end, an advisor at the Political Division IV of the Political Department of the Swiss Federal Agency for Foreign Affairs is based in Bujumbura. The Swiss Embassies in Nairobi (Kenya) and Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) equally contribute to the dialogue with national authorities and various stakeholders.
Finally, a series of other initiatives run by various federal agencies of the Swiss Government are directed to Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC: funding a project of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in Burundi, multilateral financial contribution and personnel provided to the Mission of the United Nations Organization in Congo (MONUC), aid for returning refugees granted by the (Swiss) Federal Office for Migration, training in legal assistance and repatriation of misappropriated funds (DRC), certification for the raw materials trade.
Through continued dialogue and joint decision-making, all the Swiss stakeholders involved in the Great Lakes make sure that all of their activities are harmonized in a manner that will reach the targeted objectives.
Above all, the Swiss cooperation in the Great Lakes seeks to anchor its activities in a regional perspective. The interdependence of Rwanda, Burundi and the Kivu provinces in DRC is evident historically, geopolitically and commercially. Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all suffered through serious conflicts and which have resulted in poverty. The geographical proximity of Rwanda, Burundi and the Kivu provinces and the regular exchanges between them mean that the economic and social development of Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC can, and must, take place across the region.
The establishment of sustainable peace in the Great Lakes depends on maintaining a dialogue between authorities and their populations. Numerous still are the post-conflict problems that spread beyond the borders of the three countries: refugees, internal displacements, fugitives, delocalized armed militias, etc. All of this is why, for several years, Switzerland has been implementing its development cooperation, humanitarian aid and peace promotion programmes in the Great Lakes in a harmonized and regionally coordinated manner.