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The insider's guide to Africa's Great Lakes

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(CNN) -- As a U.N.-backed conference on Africa's volatile Great Lakes region concludes on Friday, we offer a guide to the troubled area and its chances for lasting stability.

Where is it?

Based around the lakes in eastern Africa and the Great Rift Valley, Lake Victoria being the biggest in the area and the second largest freshwater lake in the world. The countries that border the lakes include Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

What has been happening there recently?

Tanzania and Kenya aside, much of the recent history of these countries reads like a depressing catalogue of the worst atrocities -- genocide, inter-state war, internal conflicts, chronic poverty.

However, there have been encouraging shoots of stability among the political and social rubble. Since the genocide in Rwanda of the minority Tutsi group in 1994, the country has been witness to the second highest economic growth of any African nation and an annual rise in GDP of 5.3 percent.

More recently the Democratic Republic of Congo elected Joseph Kabila as its first freely elected president in 40 years and Burundi, a country wracked by ethnic conflict, has witnessed its first extended period of calm in around 50 years since a peace treaty was signed in 2000 and the country's democratic election last year.

What are the chances for long-term development?

Six African leaders have met this week in Nairobi, Kenya, to try and develop a strategy that will nurture peace and development in the region. The U.N.-backed meeting aims to build on a deal agreed in November 2004 outlining measures to disarm rebels, tackle arms trafficking and foster cooperation to help millions of refugees. African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Omar Konare urged the leaders to focus on ending conflicts ranging from Sudan and Chad to the Central African Republic and Somalia.

"The writing is on the wall," Konare said. "Countries are helping armed groups in violation of our rules (that power cannot be taken by force). They know very well that the African Union cannot carry out an investigation, but we need the political will to deal with these methods that defy our very basic principles," he told Reuters.

In response there has been plenty of encouraging talk from the African heads of state at the conference and a pact will be signed on Friday that spells out a five-year action plan including a $225 million security package and programs that focus on nurturing good governance and economic integration.

Will the program be successful?

Only time will tell and that depends as much on finding the money and political will, but it is a start and certainly a good sign for those who believe that inter-state cooperation is the only way to achieve lasting peace in the area. There is still plenty to do across the region with armed groups still at large in the east of the DRC, not to mention the huge effort of reintegrating ex-combatants. Regional analysts have also begun to worry about the authoritarian behavior of the governments of Burundi and Rwanda, but it's hoped the mood of reconciliation and development will continue.

"There is great optimism about the achievements the region has recorded. I believe it is possible to bring to a close a very sad chapter in the history of our region characterized by conflict, insecurity and missed economic opportunities... Good things are now happening. We must seize the moment," said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete at a two-day summit in Nairobi on Thursday.


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Uganda's President Museveni (L) and Democratic Republic of Congo President Kabila at the conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

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