At its meeting in Niamey, Niger in July 2019, ministers of the African Union (AU) Executive Council decided that the AU theme of the year for 2020 would be ‘Silencing the guns: creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development’.
As a flagship project of Agenda 2063, ‘Silencing the guns by 2020’ was adopted by the AU heads of state during the 50th anniversary of the OAU/AU in 2013.
Their vision ‘to achieve the goal of a conflict-free Africa, to make peace a reality for all our people and to rid the continent of wars, civil conflicts, human rights violations, humanitarian disasters and violent conflicts and to prevent genocide’ within seven years, was ambitious from the outset.
Nonetheless, the vision underscored that conflict is one of the biggest challenges for the implementation of Agenda 2063 – the continent’s blueprint for a peaceful and prosperous Africa.
The Peace and Security Council (PSC) attempted to translate this grand vision into practical steps by adopting the ‘Master roadmap of practical steps to silence the guns by 2020’ in 2016.
The roadmap acknowledged the nexus between peace and security, governance and development in sustaining peace. It also outlined a comprehensive interpretation of the challenges facing Africa in its efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts. In addition, it assigned focal points for the implementation of actionable steps within set deadlines.
While member states were expected to implement some activities, the PSC, AU Commission (AUC), regional economic communities or regional mechanisms (RECs/RMs), various AU organs and the AU Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) were expected to be the major implementers of the roadmap.
While the roadmap gave a broad outline of long-term goals, it was, however, bound to fail given it only had four years to overcome the plethora of peace and security challenges in Africa.
Taking stock of achievements
Clearly, merely adopting the 2020 theme ‘Silencing the guns: creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development’ will not achieve a conflict-free Africa. It will, however, galvanise stakeholders to take stock of achievements and challenges in implementing the roadmap.
The PSC, as the architect of the roadmap, will consider the feedback from various stakeholders in the coming year when developing a more robust action plan that guides the attainment of a peaceful and prosperous Africa as an ongoing endeavour beyond 2020.
Do the conditions exist for silencing the guns?
The roadmap faces both operational and institutional obstacles. These mainly stem from its underlying assumption that ‘conditions for silencing the guns now exist in the continent’.
The activities of violent extremists and other insurgent groups in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, violence related to political transitions and the unprecedented level of climate change and natural disaster-induced displacement all pose a threat to states’ ability to keep their citizens safe.
A number of countries also lapsed into violent conflict owing to weak state institutions or a lack of sustainable political settlements, such as in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mali and Libya.
In addition, the political will and capacity of member states to implement AU decisions and declarations remain low.
Lack of clarity of the roadmap
Another obstacle to the implementation of the roadmap is the inherent contradictions in and lack of clarity on the sequencing of activities.
For example, it proposes that there should be capacity building and operationalisation of major components of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) such as the Africa Standby Force and Panel of the Wise.
At the same time, the roadmap assigns responsibilities to these APSA organs, with the expectation that they already have the capacity to respond to peace and security challenges. Expecting them to perform even though they have not been fully capacitated sets them up for failure.
Another operational issue is funding for the implementation of the roadmap. Member states and RECs/RMs are in most cases expected to fund the activities to be implemented by themselves, as well as the AUC, the PSC, the PSC Secretariat and various other AU organs and instruments. It is unclear whether their contributions to the Peace Fund suffices or if they will have to undertake additional fundraising and resource mobilisation to implement the roadmap.
Its implementation depends heavily on collaboration and coordination between the AU and RECs/RMs, yet formal discussions on the division of labour between these have just started.
In addition, while the roadmap assumes the integrated nature of governance and peace and security issues, the AUC structure and operation have so far responded to political and governance issues and peace and security issues in silos.
ECOSOCC and civil society organisations (CSOs) have also been included as focal points or implementers of some activities within the roadmap. However, ECOSOCC has never been fully operational and there are few other avenues for the AU to engage CSOs.
Opportunities for revising the roadmap
AU institutional reform, the revitalisation of coordination between the AU and RECs/RMs, and the selection of ‘Silencing the guns’ as the AU’s theme for 2020 all serve – despite the numerous challenges – as opportunities to develop a revised action plan that guides the attainment of a peaceful and prosperous Africa beyond 2020.
The first Mid-Year Coordination Meeting of the AU and RECs/RMs in July 2019 tried to give further clarification on the division of labour between the AU, RECs/RMs and member states in terms of policy formulation, adoption, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of progress. It is expected that further debate around the division of labour between the AU and RECs/RMs will take place during the next AU summit in January 2020 and at the next coordination meeting.
The merger of the AU Peace and Security and Political Affairs departments – part of the AU reforms – could also enhance synergy between APSA and the African Governance Architecture, which are key pillars of the roadmap.
The reform process is also focused on revitalising the AU Peace Fund, which has already secured more funding from member states than ever before. This will enable the implementation of more activities geared towards peace and security issues, some of which will be from the roadmap.
What next for ‘Silencing the guns’?
The AU has established a Silencing the Guns Unit within the Bureau of the Chairperson. This unit, in collaboration with various stakeholders, has developed an action plan for fast-tracking the silencing the guns by 2020, to prioritise actions and interventions until the end of 2020. It will lead the coordination of activities around the theme, assisted by Ramtane Lamamra, AU High Representative for Silencing the Guns in Africa.
The PSC, as the guardian of the roadmap, should in the coming year take stock of achievements and challenges in its implementation by the various stakeholders. The Draft Monitoring and Evaluation Mechanism of the roadmap, which the PSC has asked the AUC to finalise, will be invaluable in this regard.
The monitoring and evaluation of its implementation will have to be finalised before the end of 2020, so that the PSC can incorporate lessons learned and take the lead in the development of a robust action plan for silencing the guns in Africa beyond 2020.