African Great Lakes
The Western Albertine Rift Valley bordering Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Tanzania and Rwanda is emerging from years of misrule and civil war. The region has a long history of violations of political, social, economic and environmental rights and is one of the most visible examples of the so-called “natural resources curse” contributing to the destruction of peoples’ lives and natural habitats and impeding any chances for sustainable development scenarios.
The factors of conflict in the region are multiple and complex and fuelled by the never ending disputes over land access and further aggravated by continuous bad governance. There are also other problems such as failure of governments to allow and facilitate citizens both within borders and across borders to participate in decision making processes as well as weak implementation of those decisions regarding natural resources exploitation and benefit sharing. These challenges have made it impossible to eliminate mistrust and suspicion between governments to governments, communities to governments and communities to communities.
Moreover, water scarcity, climate change, increased human population pressure and the recent exploration and discovery of oil in some of the lakes and other protected areas quite likely creates another set of potential conflicts between communities and their governments. The situation in the region in recent years clearly illustrates, more than ever before, how natural resources, governance issues and conflicts are strongly interrelated.
The Western Great Rift Valley comprises some of the oldest and deepest lakes of the whole Rift Valley,: Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, Lake Edward, Lake Kivu and Lake Tanganyika. Lake Edward’s ecosystem falls partly within the Virunga NP, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and borders Queen Elisabeth National Park in Uganda (UNESCO MAB). The Ugandan part of the rift valley is host to 7 of the country’s 10 national parks. The region is home to the highest number of endemic species in Africa and the lakes are freshwater reservoirs for millions of people, playing a crucial role in the delivery of many ecosystem services including freshwater, protein and climate regulatory services. Another positive keynote is the ongoing collaboration between the three countries and conservation agencies that share the Virunga, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda within the Great Virunga Transboundary collaboration. A number of promising initiatives are being developed, for instance the Congolese Wildlife Authority (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, ICCN) has started introducing eco-tourism within the framework of conservation around Lake Edward, and is trying to contribute to the sustainable development of the local population living around the protected areas.