The UN's 'peace railway' project for Central Africa: The UN, with the personal backing of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has produced a rail-and-ferry programme to link the various Central African economies together. This will not only result in higher growth but is likely to ensure peace and stability in the region. But who will fund this project, asks Neil Ford.

Author:Ford, Neil

Behind the headlines generated by peacekeeping operations in the Mano River states, the war in Iraq and the Iranian nuclear question, one of the UN's biggest challenges over the next decade and longer is to bring long-term peace and stability to the Great Lakes region.

Dealing with the aftermath of civil war in one country is difficult enough but the scale of the task increases tenfold when conflicts in a number of countries become interlinked. Now, however, the UN has proposed a series of rail projects to help bind the troubled area back into the fabric of the international political economy and provide a support for the level of economic growth that is the only real solution to the region's problems.

The 20th century did not end on a high note for the Great Lakes. Largely ignored during the colonial period, the early years of independence saw terrible conflicts in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda and the emergence of dictatorial rule in Congo-Kinshasa. Yet even more blood was shed during the massacres of the 1990s, which ultimately helped to fuel the Congolese civil war that cost an estimated four million lives.

Allied to the human cost of all these catastrophes, there was a political and economic price to pay. Even a prosperous and secure country would struggle to make progress within a region of widespread political instability, so difficulties in some countries helped to create problems in neighbouring states.

The entire regional economy has suffered as a result, although Uganda and to some extent Rwanda have managed to make up for much of the economic collapse of the past through impressive growth figures, at least on paper.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has also made some faltering progress towards improving national security and strengthening national cohesion. Yet it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it would not take too much to tip the whole region back into conflict. The stark truth is that many people have reasons to resume fighting. As always after so much conflict, there are plenty of reasons to seek revenge and many vested interests that are threatened by peace.


The core principles that have governed peace making since the end of the Second World War are interlinked: making sure that people have too much to lose by going to war and interlocking the economies of neighbouring states or neighbouring ethnic groups so closely that it becomes virtually impossible for them to go to war.


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