, BUJUMBURA, Burundi Nov 13 – The challenge posed by terrorism in East Africa took center stage at a regional Peace and Security conference organised by the East African Community (EAC) in the Burundian capital Bujumbura on Wednesday where delegates called for unity in fighting the threat.
Top government officials and delegates drawn from all the five EAC partner states were unanimous that unless there are concerted efforts across the region to fight terrorism, east African nations are bound to face more challenges in future.
Other threats discussed, and which need urgent attention, include piracy, sectarian or tribal confrontations, resource based-conflicts, drug and human trafficking among others.
“The region is facing new and emerging threats: home-grown terrorism with strong external ties,” Burundi’s First Vice President Bernard Busokoza told the conference, while calling for “urgent solutions which can only succeed through unity.”
He also singled out money laundering, cybercrime and light weapons as some of the challenges which are threatening peace in the region.
“Despite a lot of community, national, regional and international initiatives to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts, they continue to emerge, escalate and many of them turn violent,” Busokoza said at the meeting attended by over 150 delegates, mainly peace ambassadors and development partners.
He cited the September 21 terror attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, where over 70 people were killed, which he said threatens economic development in the region. Kenya has charged four men in court for supporting Al Shabaab attackers who perpetrated the attack which devastated the nation and shocked the world.
Delegates were constantly reminded that peace and security are pre-requisites to social and economic development within East African Community at large, and EAC partner states in particular, with Busokoza calling for a concerted effort in fighting cross-border crime.
“We do have a tradition of sharing experience bilaterally, especially with regards to cross border crimes,” he said. “In view of emerging challenges including terrorism, there is urgent need to broaden our horizons and utilize existing tools regionally and globally to enhance our capacities in the region.”
Leontine Nzeyimane, Burundi’s Minister for EAC Affairs told the conference of the need to strengthen their intelligence gathering mechanisms in the war against cross-border crime.
“We are informed about the way terrorism is becoming unbearable and is continuing to shake the stability of some regional integration, leave aside some economic issues that arise from the global economic recession,” she said.
The three-day conference themed ‘Promoting a Culture of Dialogue and Tolerance for Conflict Prevention and Peaceful Co-Existence’ is also seeking solutions geared towards strengthening regional integration, to avoid a fall-out after Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete complained that he was not invited to a meeting of EAC heads of state held in Kigali, Rwanda two weeks ago.
It follows a five-day training for editors from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi on challenges EAC is facing in the integration process and sensitization on conflict sensitive journalism.