The preparatory work of the conference on peace, security and development in the Kivus was officially opened on Thursday 27 December 2007 in Goma by IEC president and conference coordinator Fr. Malu Malu. It also marked the beginning of a public awareness campaign for the conference which is scheduled from 6-14 January 2008.
Some 500 personalities took part in the official ceremony including National Assembly president Vital Kamerhe, DRC Minister of Interior Denis Kalume Numbi, the Governor ad interim of South Kivu, Bernard Watunakanza and North Kivu governor Julien Paluku.
Also in attendance were many national and provincial elected representatives from both Kivu provinces, as well as representatives of friendly countries of the DRC and regional organisations, and international representatives of the European Union, MONUC and UN agencies.
In his preliminary speech, Fr. Malu Malu explained the reasons for the holding of the conference itself, initially envisaged from 27 December to 5 January. He said that “concerns were expressed in relation to the preparation of this conference.”
“We heard them. A delay was thus decided in order to make it possible to enrich, if necessary, through constructive proposals, the organisational chart of the conference prepared in Kinshasa before the official opening of the conference henceforth envisaged for 6 January 2008.”
This additional period of preparation made it possible to initiate a big sensitisation campaign on the objectives and the expected results of the conference. Fr. Malu Malu, in addition, launched an urgent call to the participants of the preparatory work so that they work together, with the development of concrete strategies and action aiming at ensuring every success of the conference, and the profitable implementation of the resolutions and recommendations which will emanate from it.
“If we want to ensure the success of these talks,” Fr. Malu Malu continued, “it is essential that they are inclusive, and that, in the conduct of our work, we let ourselves be guided by reason, rather than by authority. Each one must be able to express their concerns, with frankness and sincerity and without taboo.”
DRC Minister of Interior Denis Kalume Numbi, recalled that the idea of the conference came from the President of the Republic, and that the latter had been largely supported by the parliament and government, which had decided to allocate a budget of two million dollars to make the event possible.
President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe, recalling the various crucial steps which marked the peace process in the DRC, from the Lusaka Agreements in 2002, to the transition of 2003 to 2006, and the presidential, legislative and provincial elections in 2006, he said that before each one of these stages, pessimistic voices had risen to announce the failure of these processes.
“We crossed these courses successfully. Why not let us pass this one with the same success? Good diplomacy and good policies can stop the war. This conference is a chance which is offered to us. We should not miss this meeting with history. With this intention, there are three prerequisites: the debates must be sincere, we must not refuse to tackle questions under the pretext that they are taboo, and we must listen to the arguments of the other,” he explained.
According to the preparatory document of the conference, the overall objectives are to put an end to the war and the insecurity in the provinces of North and South Kivu. It must also provide the foundations of a durable peace, and an integral development in these two provinces.
Among the “specific” objectives of the conference, are the mobilisation of all notables of the provinces of both Kivus around the objectives of the conference, the evaluation of the damages undergone by these provinces since 1994, the dissipation of the fears, reciprocal mistrust, suspicions, frustration and angers which make cohabitation difficult, and the establishment of bases of true reconciliation between the sons and daughters of the provinces of North and South Kivu.
The delay in the launching of the conference, initially envisaged for December 27 (now 6 January, 2008) was announced on 25 December last, due to its preparatory process, but also around the question of what would be a suitable forum to regulate the current security and humanitarian crisis in the Kivus.
Since the advertisement of the holding of the conference, civil society representatives from North and South Kivu have threatened to boycott the conference.
Reasons given include the rushed organization of the conference, judged impossible as the clashes continued with no cease fire in sight; the outrageous budget allocated to the organisation of the conference, taking into consideration the urgent need of tens of thousands of displaced people who have not received any aid; the lack of consultation of civil society during the preparatory process of the conference, and under representation of civil society in the list of participants presented by the organizers.
Before the official launch of the preparatory work on Thursday December 27, a meeting took place between Fr. Malu Malu and civil society representatives of both Kivus, which was later described as positive.
Afterwards civil society representatives announced that a decision on participation in the conference had not been made, but they had given a schedule of conditions they wanted fulfilled before they took part in the conference.