Silencing the guns to end all wars in Africa by 2020

The 50th anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity/African Union (OAU/AU) served as an opportunity to set various targets meant to move the agenda of the AU substantially forward.

This was contained in the 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration.

One of the most ambitious targets was the pledge of the Heads of State and Government of the AU Assembly ‘not to bequeath the burden of conflicts to the next generation of Africans’ and ‘to end all wars in Africa by 2020’.

In the light of the violent conflicts that continue to affect various parts of the continent, as reflected in the crises in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, there is no illusion that this ambition will be fully realised in the remaining six years.

The value of this target is in mobilising AU member states to make progress towards achieving the end of ‘all wars in Africa’.

However, even this progress will stand a chance of success only with a proper diagnosis of the sources, dynamics and manifestations of armed conflicts in Africa and a road map with clear and time-bound benchmarks.

In an effort to mobilise action on the agenda of ending ‘all wars in Africa by 2020’, the AU Peace and Security Council at its 430th meeting held an open session with the theme ‘Silencing the guns: pre-requisites for realizing a conflict-free Africa by the year 2020’. The PSC acknowledged and stressed the need for coordinated efforts at regional, continental and international level.

At the meeting the PSC also underscored the importance of the responsibility of individual member states in protecting their citizens by addressing the root causes of conflicts. In this regard, it called for deepening the culture of democracy, good governance, respect for human rights, popular participation and inclusivity, and addressing the problem of youth unemployment. It stressed that member states should double their efforts to bring about economic development and ensure that the proceeds from natural resources are utilised to meet the basic needs of all Africans.

To realise a conflict-free Africa, the PSC stressed the need to effectively address both current and emerging threats

To realise a conflict-free Africa, the PSC stressed the need to effectively address both current and emerging threats to peace and security on the continent. For this to happen the PSC needs to enhance its strategic partnership with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). It added that Africa’s partnership with the international community was equally important to address current and emerging threats. Moreover, greater engagement and collaboration with civil society organisations (CSOs), as well as greater synergy within the AU Commission (AUC) and among AU member states, was called for to address the peace and security concerns of the continent in realising a conflict-free Africa.

Participants in the debate and the PSC called for various actions. With regard to conflict prevention, the participants and the Council called for the further strengthening of all the existing preventive mechanisms, including the Panel of the Wise and the Continental Early Warning System, and for the full operationalisation of the African Standby Force and its Rapid Deployment Capability. In order to address the root causes of conflicts, the participants and the Council called for a common understanding and definition of and response to these root causes and to build a consensus on the solution. However, while these are important steps, the Council failed to stipulate who should undertake these exercises and the timeline for such actions.

The PSC also called on member states to sign, ratify and domesticate existing AU legal frameworks and normative instruments on democracy, accountability and good governance and for universal signature and ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty.

Though it is unlikely that the AU will achieve its ambitious deadline to end all wars by 2020, it is worth mobilising AU members towards this goal

One of the important requests in the press statement was for the AUC to undertake a comprehensive study on the flow of illicit weapons into and within Africa and submit the outcome of the study to the PSC. However, no timeframe was set within which this study had to be submitted. On the same issue, participants and the Council called for the naming and shaming of suppliers, financiers, facilitators, transit points and recipients of illicit weapons to stem their proliferation.

The PSC also asked the AUC to prepare a road map to underpin the actions necessary for the attainment of the goal of a conflict-free Africa by 2020.

Around the same time a high-level retreat on the theme ‘Silencing the guns in Africa: building a road map to a conflict-free continent’ was held on 28–29 April 2014 in Durban, South Africa. The retreat was held with the intention of exploring concrete options towards silencing guns in Africa with the objective of laying a foundation for the subsequent elaboration of road map towards a conflict-free Africa. The Chairperson of the AUC in her opening remarks noted that ‘unless we silence the guns and bury the machetes, the AU vision of building an integrated, prosperous and conflict-free Africa remains an abstract goal’.

As a recent article observed, ‘the greatest threat to the AU’s aspiration of eradicating war is that policy objectives and targets are unlikely to be reached without an adequate understanding of the current situation (that is, the baseline), its underlying dynamics and likely future trends. Without that, sensible planning, monitoring and evaluation become impossible.’ Since only six years are left before 2020, these tasks need to be undertaken promptly and a road map with clear and time-bound benchmarks needs to be adopted. One option could be to focus on selected intervention areas, building on those identified in the PSC press statement, such as control of the illicit flow of and trade in weapons. Related issues worth considering in developing the road map include identifying priority areas for action and the roles and responsibilities of various actors, including the PSC, AUC, Regional Economic Communities and individual member states, as well as non-state actors.

Although no timeline has been assigned for following up on this agenda item, it is one of the pending issues.

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