A Conference of Dominicans of the countries of the Great Lakes of Africa (Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda ) was organized from 13-17 July 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya to explore how the Dominican Order can contribute more towards building peace in the region that has suffered wars for many decades. The Coordinator of the meeting, Fr. Mike Deeb (The Dominican Delegate to the UN and the Order’s General Promoter of Justice & Peace) reminded the delegates that this meeting was the materialization of one of the resolutions made during the first meeting of the Dominican Promoters for Justice and Peace of the whole Dominican Family in October 2013 in Johannesburg (South Africa). The meeting was warmly hosted by the brothers, sisters and lay Dominicans based in Nairobi and it was facilitated by Mr. John Katunga of CRS (Catholic Relief Services).

Of the 37 participants (26 men and 11 women), 16 were leaders or representatives of the Dominican entities present in Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda (8 friars, 5 sisters and 3 lay Dominicans), 8 were coordinators of Dominican mission and Justice and Peace at the global and African levels (5 sisters, 2 friars and 1 lay Dominican), 4 were Church leaders (including 2 bishops) from Rwanda, Tanzania, DRC and Burundi, 3 were Civil Society representatives involved in peace-building initiatives at the local level (from DRC, Rwanda and Uganda), 2 were local experts (one Jesuit and one Dominican) with one expert from the United Nations (UN), along with the facilitator and two interpreters. 6 of these also constituted the local organizing committee.

This three-day conference provided an opportunity for the Dominicans of the region to share what they are already doing to build peace, to deepen their analysis of the causes of the conflicts together, and to identify mechanisms to develop common or concerted actions for peace that would complement what others are already doing in the region.

In a context of great complexity with the presence of many different armed groups (more than 60 in the Eastern DRC alone), the root causes identified were: the struggle for control of land and resources; poor and undemocratic political leadership at all levels which does not respond to local issues (rooted in self centred interests as well as colonial models and postcolonial support for “friendly elites”); and the manipulation of ethnic divisions and nationalist prejudices to justify military action and assert dominance. The supply of mineral resources in the region that are vital to the economic interests of the USA, countries of the EU, China and an increasing number of other countries, including those of the Global South, results in a proxy war being waged to ensure access to these resources. The ongoing acceptance of impunity for criminal leadership, the lack of political space for discussion and healing, and increasing poverty and inequality are key obstacles to a peaceful solution.

There are many positive Church and Dominican initiatives to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace in this context, through peace-building and reconciliation training and actions, support for refugees, civic education and the promotion of economic development and capacity building. However, our Dominican brothers and sisters have limited communication amongst themselves, are often restricted to traditional apostolates (in parishes, schools, health care and prisons), and lack the necessary expertise to engage in justice, peace, healing of memories and human rights advocacy.

Priorities identified for future Dominican action to promote peace-building were: Coordination of the peace-building efforts of all Dominicans in the region; the need to network and collaborate closely with other groups in the Church and Civil Society engaged in peace-building initiatives; to take advantage of our presence in many areas by providing regular information of what is happening on the ground, through documenting stories of actual events and diffusing this information through our Dominican network at all levels; and to provide formation to Dominicans in peace-building to enable them to play a more effective role in the region.

The following decisions were made to ensure that the process is taken forward

1. A structure of coordination is to be established.

    a. Fr. Emmanuel Ntakarutimana from Burundi was unanimously chosen to be the focal person to coordinate Dominicans for Justice and Peace in the Great Lakes Region. This election was confirmed by the Dominican Superiors and Coordinators present (Friars, Sisters and Laity) and accepted by Fr. Ntakarutimana.

    b. A focal person will be chosen for each country who in turn will establish a team consisting of a Dominican Friar, a Dominican Sister, a Dominican Laity and a Dominican Youth.

2. A meeting of the focal people will be called as soon as possible to define a clear vision and methodology and a plan of action to implement this vision.

3. The Coordinator will initiate a mapping process of what is concretely being done: internally amongst Dominicans in the region, and externally amongst potential partners in the region.

In this sad situation of perpetual war and conflict, the participants left the meeting with a sense that, as Dominicans together, we can contribute in offering some new hope to the region.


(31 August 2015)