One of the protracted challenges confronting Africa today is violent conflict. Since the independence of most countries in the region, the continent has been a fertile ground for coups, ethnic conflicts, civil wars, organized crimes and terrorism. This trend has been a great impediment to the economic, political and social development of the continent. Realizing this, and willing to make things right, African leaders committed to “Silence the Guns in Africa by 2020” at the 50th Anniversary of the African Union (AU) in 2013, also known as the AU’s 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration (2013). In this declaration, African leaders committed “not to pass the burden of conflict to future generations, so “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020” was adopted as one of the flagship projects of the wider developmental blueprint Agenda 2063” (Africa Renewal, 2019). Following this, the AU held a Fifth High-Level Retreat on the Promotion of Peace, Security and Stability in Africa, in Arusha, Tanzania 2014. It is at this retreat that a framework of action was developed toward achieving a conflict-free Africa by 2020.
The retreat provided a platform for stakeholders to:
1. Deliberate and understand the nexus between underdevelopment and conflict in the continent
2. Assess and understand contemporary security threats to the continent and
3. Proffer long-lasting solutions to these issues.
Africa already has a 50 years plan of socio-economic transformation and a peaceful and secure continent known as Agenda 2063. It’s a mother framework aimed at streamlining old and new initiatives both at national, regional, and international levels towards Africa’s growth and sustainable development. To this end, “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020” is a short term mission of the broader Agenda 2063. The ‘Silencing the Guns’ campaign took off officially on 9th February 2020 at the 33rd African Union summit in Ethiopia’s capital themed “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”. According to the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa who presided at the meeting, he noted that “we will focus our efforts on conflict resolution across the African continent, especially those experiencing protracted conflict.” This is the main objective of the ‘Silencing the Guns’ campaign: to end all conflicts and provide mechanisms for conflict prevention, management, resolution, and ensure sustainable development in Africa. Seven years after initially committing to the ‘Silencing the Guns’ framework, Africa remains the epicentre of conflicts and wars globally.
The Major Concerns
To achieve the aspirations of this campaign (Silencing the Guns), the participants at the Fifth AU High-Level Retreat in Arusha, Tanzania, identified major challenges to be put into the front burner of actions. These include the intractability of conflicts in Africa; the influence of actors, allies and their roles; preventing versus resolving conflict; and commitment and support of AU member states.
The Intractability of Conflicts in Africa was identified as a major challenge. Most conflicts in Africa are merely managed and not resolved. This has led to the relapse of these conflicts. The dimensions of these conflicts are common, thus, bringing back almost the same results. For example, most conflicts in Africa are civil wars and armed struggles caused mainly by religious, ethnic, and regional identities. But at the root of these conflicts are economic and political concerns. So the participants resolve to focus more on conflict resolution by dealing with the root causes of conflicts which most often include but not limited to the structural violence of horizontal inequality, relative deprivation, security needs, recognition, and distributive justice. The case of the Central African Republic is a classic example of this phenomenon. The country has been engulfed in civil unrest since independence. Apart from various coups, authoritarian rulers, the country became polarized along religion line with the formation of militia groups: the Muslim Seleka and the Christian Anti Balaka who have caused so many civilian deaths in the quest to control the seat of power.
Actors, allies and their roles in escalating and resolving conflicts in Africa is a great concern in the implementation of ‘Silencing the Guns’ campaign. Though Africa is the theatre of conflicts and Africans are the perpetrators, the influence and interference of foreign powers in the causes and course of conflicts in the continent cannot be overemphasized. It is based on this context that the mantra of ‘African solutions to African problems’ took centre stage in Vision 2020. However, the participants agreed that, in this interdependent global system, Africa cannot isolate itself, but must work with external powers as partners, particularly in areas the former lacks expertise. The refusal of external powers (especially the USA and NATO) to accept and work with the AU roadmap to peace in the Libyan revolution has left an anarchical post-Ghadafi Libya.
Preventing versus resolving conflict are two different strategies for ending the conflict on the continent. While conflict prevention is a peacebuilding effort aimed at stopping conflict from occurring in the first place, conflict resolution involves strategies aimed at ending the existing or current conflict. In light of this, therefore, experts contend that Vision 2020 must be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to conflict issues. It has been discovered that the AU Peace and Security Council often responds to conflicts at the crisis level when most damages have been done. The conflict between the Anglophone and the Francophone element in Cameroon is a clear example; there has been no concrete effort at resolving it from the AU Peace and Security Council.
Incorporating early warning systems into ‘Silencing the guns’ campaign is very pertinent for its success. Commitment and support of AU member states are crucial in achieving Vision 2020. The main financial source of the AU is the financial commitment from member states. Lack of prompt and constant payment of compulsory and emergency financial commitment has affected the implementation of the AU’s overall mission. There is also the question of political will by member states to sign, ratify and domesticate ‘Silencing the guns’ campaign for it to be more successful.
To discuss the methodology on how to achieve Vision 2020, the African Union Commission (AUC) organized a High-Level Retreat (Durban Retreat) with the title: ‘Silencing the Guns in Africa: Building a roadmap for a conflict-free Continent’ on 28-29 April 2014 in Durban, South Africa. The strategies adopted at this retreat are highlighted below:
1. Tackling the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons
The myriads of civil wars, ethnic strife, trans-border crimes, and terrorism in Africa are made possible or facilitated by easy access to small arms and light weapons (SALW). According to the report, there are an estimated 30 million firearms in Africa and not less than five million fatalities caused by SALW over the last 50 years. To achieve Vision 2020 therefore, the strategy is to ensure that the presence of SALW in the continent is reduced to the barest minimum, and measures must be in place to make access to these arms very difficult or even impossible.
2. Promoting reconciliation and social cohesion
To silence the guns, the root causes of conflict must be dealt with. This can be achieved through promoting reconciliation and social cohesion starting from local communities to national and regional levels. The place of traditional justice mechanisms will feature prominently in the quest to silence the guns. For example, Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts proved the effectiveness of using traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution and transitional justice.
3. Preventing illicit resource outflows from Africa
There can never be positive peace without sustainable development. And there can never be development without the required human and natural resources. According to the report, US$50 billion leaves Africa illegally per annum. African leaders are notoriously known for transferring corrupt funds to private accounts in the Western world. Monies that can be channeled into sustainable developmental activities are wasted on luxuries abroad. It was also discovered that corrupt monies that leave Africa outweigh the Official Development Assistance into Africa.
4. Strengthening security and defense institutions
Many African states are battling with internal conflicts that have taken their attention away from their continental commitment to peace and security. To silence the guns, there must be a collective continental security architecture that puts into consideration the peculiarity of every conflict and its context.
The AU needs to be commended for the bold and giant steps toward ensuring a peaceful and prosperous continent. The concerns and strategies embedded in the ‘Silencing the Guns’ campaign document is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Nonetheless, there are grey areas the proponents did not cover. These aspects that are highlighted below are very crucial and must be included in the overall strategy of silencing the guns.
Youth inclusion in peacebuilding
Africa has often been described as the world’s youngest continent. As of 2019, 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25. While the youth is the demography mostly engaged in wars, terrorism, and transnational crimes in Africa, a lot of Africa’s youth are also at the forefront of conflict prevention initiatives and building social cohesion across the continent. The African Union’s (AU) African Youth Charter (2006) claims that Africa’s youth is its biggest resource but when it comes to official conflict resolution, mediation, negotiation, and overall peacebuilding activities, the major actors (the youth) are mostly sidelined. Young people want to be in the room and also on the table. To this end, silencing the guns campaign must incorporate and specify the role and concerns of youth. Anything less will affect the success of the campaign.
The Place of Women
The role of women has not been spelt out. Since women are one of the most vulnerable groups in times of violent conflicts, it is pertinent therefore to include them in the process of achieving the objectives of silencing the guns campaign. Women are also known as natural peacemakers and soft in diffusing tensions. They must, therefore, be invited to the negotiation table in the quest to silence the guns.
Peace versus Justice Debate
The campaign document is focused on transitional justice which most often emphasizes the need for peace through restorative justice while neglecting the fact that there is no peace without justice. To achieve sustainable peace, silencing the guns campaign must accept and incorporate the place of criminal justice through collaborating with criminal justice institutions like the International Criminal Court (ICC). African dictators and warlords found guilty of committing crimes against humanity must be punished to serve as deterrence.
Tackling Unemployment and Poverty
As we focus on silencing the guns, the push factors for taking up guns must be also addressed. Unemployment, poverty and lack of infrastructure in Africa must be silenced as well. The 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report shows that almost 16 million young Africans, around 13.4% of the total labor force of 15-24-year-olds, are facing unemployment. Silencing the guns under these structural conditions is a daunting task.
Africa is not in dearth of policies and frameworks, one historical challenge confronting the continent since the days of independence is implementation. The silencing the guns campaign is a laudable initiative and one of the smartest in ensuring continental peace and security. This campaign must go beyond 2020 and must be pursued rigorously. The political will to implement is of great concern and African leaders need to rise above self-interest and work for a united, peaceful and prosperous continent. To realize the overall goal of silencing the guns campaign, multi-track diplomacy must be invoked so that all stakeholders can be involved because peacebuilding is not just for governments and multilateral institutions, but for all.
Rafiu Lawal and David Suntai
Building Blocks for Peace Foundation