Great Lakes (Rwanda, Burundi, Congo)

The SDC's activities in the Great Lakes region cover four priority themes: access to basic services for the population (health care, hygiene), the development of a local economy that creates jobs and incomes, the protection of civilians and the strengthening of democratic processes. The SDC coordinates its actions in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo with a regional strategy.

Map of the region Great Lakes Region (Rwanda, Burundi, DRC)

Today, Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC are still affected by poverty. This state of precariousness encourages political instability and recurring conflicts in the cases of Burundi and the DRC. The SDC understands that stabilisation of the whole region is vital for the well-being of the populations concerned: the fates of the three countries are largely interdependent given cross-border trade and rebellions that move from one land to another. Peacebuilding in the region involves strengthening the legitimacy of institutions. In accordance with its mandate for priority intervention in fragile contexts, the SDC seeks to lend a helping hand to the authorities in Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC in ensuring their main duties: offering a maximum amount of security to communities, creating jobs and ensuring good-quality basic services.

Access to basic services

Supporting public health systems

Three programmes to support the health-care system are under way in Rwanda, Burundi and the province of South Kivu in the DRC. The SDC is active in 240 local health facilities in the three countries with a view to helping them improve their governance, their facilities and supply of medicines, and thus the quality of care they may offer the community. In the areas where the SDC operated, the maternal mortality rate has fallen from an average of 120 deaths to 80 in 100,000 live births. Since 2002 the SDC has been backing the introduction of a health insurance scheme in Rwanda which now benefits over 90% of the population.


Psychosocial support

Given acts of past or current daily violence faced by the populations of the Great Lakes region, the SDC has been involved for the past ten years in the provision of psychosocial care for the women and men affected by sexual and psychological violence. The efforts first launched by Swiss Humanitarian Aid now continue within a regional cooperation programme. Since it was set up in 2011, this coordinated intervention by seven partner organisations has provided support to over 15,000 women and men. The community approach it adopted enables victims to restore their mental and physical health and regain their social and economic place in society.

Gender equality – gender and women's rights

Water and sanitation

The SDC maximises communities' opportunities to access quality health care services via an additional programme to rehabilitate health-care structures managed at regional level. This gives patients access to drinking water and infrastructures that guarantee a minimum standard of hygiene.


Economic development

Vocational education and training and diversifying employment

A landlocked country still largely dependent on subsistence agriculture, Rwanda urgently needs to diversify its economy. A combined programme currently operating in Rwanda is improving the quality of the training available to rural populations and developing techniques for the production of sustainable construction materials. As well as minimising the impact of economic development on the environment, new production techniques are creating new career opportunities for Rwandan people that go beyond agricultural activities. Four vocational education and training centres have been built and equipped in Rwanda's Western Province and six new basic curricula have been developed (masonry, electrician, carpentry, welding, plumbing and car mechanics) in close collaboration with the private sector.

Basic education and vocational training

Food security

Alongside this programme, the SDC is seeking to intensify agricultural productivity and promote the development of local markets to boost incomes and improve the nutritional practices of the poorest people. A project supported by the SDC is helping make the business environment more favourable for smallholder farmers. Furthermore, Switzerland provides humanitarian aid to displaced people in the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi by helping fund World Food Programme operations in the region.

Agriculture and food security

Protection of civilians

Swiss Humanitarian Aid works at various levels to ensure protection and access to basic services for vulnerable populations in the Great Lakes region. It pays particular attention to refugees, internally displaced people, host families, women and children. Switzerland helps to fund numerous programmes put in place by partner and international organisations (ICRC, International Organisation for Migration) and UN agencies (World Food Programme, UNHCR, UNICEF, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Experts are seconded from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) when needed. Swiss Humanitarian Aid also co-finances projects carried out by Swiss and international NGOs. One example is the initiative to set up a network of African doctors specialising in plastic and reconstructive surgery in order to care for war victims, which Swiss Humanitarian Aid has been supporting for a number of years.

Democratic processes

Securing land tenure

In the north of Burundi and in the province of South Kivu in the DRC, the SDC offers support to the communal land registry authorities. The affected citizens now find it easier to obtain land tenure; where necessary, village groups are invited to participate directly in the settlement of conflicts over land. Its experience on the ground has enabled the SDC to advise provincial and national authorities on the establishment of policies on land tenure. For example, in 2011 Burundi adopted a new land tenure code inspired by a decentralised model of land management promoted by the SDC.

State and Economic Reforms

Democratic dialogue

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) coordinates its efforts in the Great Lakes between the SDC and staff members and resources of the Directorate of Political Affairs. Since 2006, the FDFA has been working through its Human Security Division (HSD) to build peace, prevent conflicts and ensure respect for human rights in the region. The HSD works together with governments, civil society and international organisations. Two advisers based in Bujumbura and Kinshasa monitor the programme on the ground. The focus is promoting dialogue as a tool for democratic governance. The Swiss chairmanship of the Burundi Configuration of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission provides another channel for supporting peace in Burundi.

Engagement in fragile contexts and prevention of violent conflicts

History of cooperation

Steadfast commitment in a volatile context

Switzerland has been present in the Great Lakes region since 1963, starting in Rwanda where Switzerland offered technical assistance following Rwanda's accession to independence. The first representatives of Swiss cooperation helped through their presence on the ground to ensure the success of a local transport cooperative and assisted in the setting up of a major network of cooperative banks inspired by the Swiss Raiffeisen banks. The SDC also encouraged Rwanda's agricultural and forestry potential.

During the 1990s, the succession of armed conflicts that devastated Rwanda (1990-1994), Burundi (1993-2000) and the DRC (1996-2001) made it necessary for Switzerland to convert its contributions into humanitarian aid. The humanitarian aid is ongoing, but the majority of funding Switzerland allocates to the Great Lakes region is today once again used for development projects in favour of the creation and strengthening of lasting peace.

Private Sector Development and financial services



Current projects

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Healthcare in the Great Lakes region: taking healthcare to the people

A baby being weighed in a consultation room.

01.02.2013 - 31.12.2017

Despite the political and humanitarian crisis Burundi is experiencing, the SDC remains committed to providing help directly to the people. In the health sector it aims to strengthen treatment capacity in health centres and district hospitals so that these can provide accessible, good-quality care. The SDC programme covers both Burundi and Rwanda.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
The Great Lakes Region
Health system strengthening
Primary health care
Drinking water and basic sanitation (WASH - Water for people)
Primary health care
Sexual and reproductive health (including mother and child health, family planning)
Health policy and administrative management
Basic health care
Basic health care
Basic drinking water supply and basic sanitation
Reproductive health care

01.02.2013 - 31.12.2017

CHF 9'970'000

Planned project

Multi-Donor Civil Society Support Programme in Rwanda

01.01.2019 - 31.12.2022

The present programme is a multi-donor initiative aiming at supporting civil society strengthening and specific civil society initiatives in Rwanda. The overall goal is to enable civil society to become more effective at influencing the government on key policy issues and supporting social cohesion, reconciliation, good governance and human rights. The main development partners financing the programme include the United Kingdom (UK), USA, Sweden and Switzerland.

Programme d’Appui aux systèmes de santé des Grands Lacs

01.10.2017 - 31.03.2019

This phasing-Out stage shall focus on managing local knowledge-transfer processes revolving around medial and non-medical determinants of health. To do this is relevant in a stage of phasing-out because it capitalizes on the efforts made by Switzerland in a systemic support to the public health system over the last 15 years.  Monitoring the stunting path among children’s under 2yo - as good proxy of wellbeing and of social learning processes - will be undertaken with the cooperation of parents, Community Health Workers (CHWs) and Local Governments. Therein lays the potential for successful replicating of good health practices, locally, and as a basis for upscaling to the Western Province and beyond.

SDC Grands Lacs: Gender mainstreaming

01.07.2017 - 30.06.2021

Les inégalités de genre sont très ancrées dans les coutumes et les pratiques des populations de la région des Grands Lacs. Elles sont accentuées par le contexte en ébullition, particulièrement au Burundi et en RDC, qui contribue au taux élevé de viol et de violences basées sur le genre. La présente intervention contribuera à leur réduction en améliorant le niveau de l’expertise liée aux inégalités et à la Violence Basée sur le Genre (VBG) dans la région, en promouvant les réformes adéquates et favorisant l’empowerment des femmes avec l’implication des hommes.

Food security in the Great Lakes Region - Nutrition

01.07.2017 - 30.06.2020

Multidisciplinary partnerships and multi-stakeholder alliances wrought by One UN agencies and the Governments of Burundi, Rwanda and DRC develop practical solutions to deliver activities in support of the institutionalization of nutrition strategies in the respective countries. The activities take place at the provincial level, in locations where food insecurity and poverty are at highest level; they feed-back to the respective coordination secretariat, thus ensuring an appropriate political steering of the strategies.

Trans-Border Dialogue for Peace in the Great Lakes Region

01.01.2017 - 31.12.2020

Jointly with the Swedish Embassy, Switzerland supports a trans-border dialogue for peace in the Great Lakes region, a program run by Interpeace with 6 local NGOs. This second phase will continue using research and dialogue to address stereotypes and lack of trust behind recurrent conflicts in the Great Lakes region. Research and dialogue constitute the basis to engage decision makers, to promote good governance and concrete consensus-based solutions taking into account local populations’ concerns and recommendations.

RDC, Alliance Globale du Vaccin (GAVI): Approvisionnement en médicaments

02.12.2016 - 31.12.2018

La contribution ciblée à GAVI présentée dans cette proposition de crédit est la mise en pratique de la stratégie de coopération : elle vise non seulement l’appui stratégique et vital du circuit des médicaments et vaccins en RDC, en particulier au Sud-Kivu, mais convole aussi l’agenda du programme global Santé, du travail diplomatique de la représentation Suisse à Kinshasa et du programme de la coopération Sud.

Support to the DPCG (Development Partners’ Coordination Group) Secretariat in Rwanda

15.09.2016 - 15.09.2019

Switzerland and the UK, in an effort to facilitate a broad and fruitful development policy dialogue in Rwanda, will dedicate financial resources towards a UNDP support to the line ministry in charge of aid coordination. It entails, on the one hand, carrying out analytical research leading to evidence-based policy decision, and, on the other hand, the efficient management of the Development Partners’ Coordination Group (DPCG) Secretariat.

Promoting off-farm employment and income in the Great Lakes Region through climate responsive construction material production

01.07.2016 - 31.12.2019

High demographic growth in the Great Lakes increases the competition for scarce natural resources and boosts the demand for affordable housing. The project aims at triggering local economic development, improving working conditions and increasing off-farm employment through climate responsive building material production. Results of the first phase allow for a technology transfer adjusted to local needs and scaling up of the brick production value chains in the region.

Grands Lacs: Fonds régional Actions urgentes

05.05.2016 - 31.03.2018

A small action is a one-off contribution to a humanitarian endeavour with no following phase that has to be operationally completed within a maximum period of 12 months. It is a flexible, efficient and transparent tool for SDC HA to support small humanitarian activities, including emergency response.

Promoting Market Oriented Skills Training in the Great Lakes region (PROMOST) : phase 2

01.02.2016 - 31.01.2019

PROMOST is a program promoting Market Oriented Skills Training in the Great Lakes region by improving the access to quality and market-relevant vocational training. In a first phase, the program improved access and quality of formal and informal vocational training in Rwanda. The second phase will consolidate results in Rwanda, develop alternative vocational training options in Burundi and South Kivu, and further regional networking on TVET.

Multi-Donor civil society support programme in Rwanda

01.01.2016 - 31.12.2018

The program aims at strengthening the capacity of Rwanda civil society to engage constructively on policy, planning and monitoring issues in order to contribute to improved development results and to promote social cohesion, good governance and human rights. It strengthens dialogue and accountability platforms between civil society and Rwandan authorities, including at local level, in conformity with Rwanda’s objectives of accountable governance.

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