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Optimism, pessimism and panacea: silencing the gun in Africa by 2020

Silencing guns anchor in ideas around the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts. I emphasize these three elements to make a simple point: the best way of silencing guns is to prevent conflicts, but once conflicts erupt, the challenge shifts from prevention to either management, resolution and /or the transformation of conflicts into peace.

The African Union has targeted silencing the guns and ending conflicts on the continent as one of its 13 flagship projects under the first ten year implementation plan (2014-2023) of AU’s Agenda 2063 which is a strategic framework that AU member states have adopted to advance socio-economic transformation for the next 40 years.

The African Union is devoting 2020 as the year to silence the guns on the continent, through several actions involving member states, regional economic communities and mechanisms, the private sector, civil society and others. The AU has just adopted as its 2020 theme “Silencing the Guns (also known as Vision 2020): creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development”—as the AU theme of the year 2020, at its heads of state and government summit in February here in Addis Ababa.

Achieving the goal of Silencing the Guns in Africa will contribute significantly to saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and further noting that the African Union’s efforts as outlined in its Agenda 2063 to ensure an integrated, peaceful, secure and prosperous Africa and lay a solid foundation for inclusive growth and sustainable development is closely aligned with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Silencing the guns is noble responsibility of the African Union, its member states, its regional economic communities, and regional mechanisms, and indeed all African citizens.

Silencing the guns in Africa is an ambitious yet achievable goal which may be reached through integrated approaches that extend across the nexus of peace and security, governance and development. Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020”, since its adoption, has not remained a mere slogan, notable, progress has been made in preventing, managing and resolving conflicts. For instance many seemingly intractable conflicts in Africa were resolved through negotiations; the historical rapprochement and positive development between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the embarking of the Horn of Africa on an arduous journey of transforming the region, revitalized peace agreements in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, and successful elections held in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be cited as very recent examples.

Striving toward a conflict-free Africa is a clarion call inspired by the Africa Agenda 2063, which is Africa’s long-term development vision, and the Common African Position on the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Within the context of this two-pronged strategic vision of the AU, the opportunities and prospects for silencing the guns in Africa by 2020 lie in the resilience of African societies and states, the galvanization of national initiatives to build functional polities and economies, and a renewed commitment to employing collective energies in the service of regional and continental integration. But I want to make argument on this issue that is with new conflicts emerging and some old ones persisting, the question is whether the guns will be silenced by 2020? My answer is no because silencing the guns as merely a mitigation tool will be meaningless in the absence of good governance and urgent transformation of the structural drivers of conflict. My view is that silencing the guns by 2020 is an urgent imperative given the limited time frame and the enormity of the tasks, the limited time frame does not inspire confidence in African states’ abilities and resilience to marshal the energies that would end conflicts and despite the proliferation of normative frameworks on democratic governance, popular participation, etc. parts of the continent are mired in conflicts stemming from democratic and development deficits. Furthermore, Silencing the Guns is at the nexus of peace and development. It is not just about guns, it is about what drives people to resort to guns.  But, it is possible to say that robust mitigation, including silencing the guns, must be an immediate priority so as to arrest violence and conflict. AU must do more beyond discussing silencing the gun. Apparently indeed, strategies for achieving Vision 2020 have been proposed- Master Roadmap for Silencing the Guns in January 2017. Whilst these strategies were not comprehensive then, they provided the basis from which to build on and implement specific actions. This article highlights additional considerations that should be taken by Africa’s leadership to mobilize, at the highest level, to carry the Silencing the Guns agenda forward.  The considerations are as follows.

Africa’s common continental commitment to democratic governance has flourished over the last two decades, expressed in various instruments and declarations. New efforts are needed to guarantee that these instruments contribute to institutional regeneration through ratifications, domestication, and implementation. The broad articulation of these norms has invariably formed a large body of common African knowledge and experiences that have been encapsulated within the AU shared values agenda. In addition, the establishment of the African Governance Architecture (AGA) which seeks to foster operational linkages by coordinating and harmonizing existing governance institutions and mechanisms, such as the African Peer Review Mechanism; the New Partnership for Africa’s Development; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; the Pan-African Parliament; the African Court of Justice and Human Rights and the Economic, Social and Cultural Council  and the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) AU’s central institution for preventing, managing and resolving conflicts, are visible blueprints and policy approaches that are starting to lend steady institutional standing to these principles. Finding stronger and functional synergies between AGA and APSA must be an ongoing exercise that requires further elaboration and thinking. To silencing the guns, these architectures will need to work together to develop common programs, shared visions, and mutually reinforcing strategies. AGA   should be envisaged as working in tandem with APSA to strengthen the nexus between democratic governance, peace and security and development more than ever before.

In order to silence the guns, AU Member States should  strengthening, good governance, the rule of law, democracy, accountable institutions, access to justice and respect for human rights should be at the core of silencing the guns efforts.  States must promote national unity and diversity.  “This is how legitimacy of States in the eyes of citizens can be strengthened,” Inclusive sustainable development is critical, particularly of food, water, security.  

AU Member States should tackle the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, promoting reconciliation and social cohesion (“all African citizens must be the bringers of a message of peace and national cohesion in both words and deeds,” In the face of eminent and real threats.), curbing illicit resource outflows from countries on the continent, and strengthening security and defense institutions. Silencing guns by 2020 may not require development of new norms. Rather, efforts to silence guns will largely depend on reinvigorating   global and continental institutions supported by shared values, norms, and policy convergence on governance .AU Member States urgently sign, ratify and fully domesticate instruments for instance ascension to and domestication of the Arms Trade Treaty which will help block the uncontrolled inflow and diversion of arms that are later on used in illicit activities across Africa.

“Silencing guns” requires political will to reclaim the priorities and the narration of the continent.  Nations of the continent must have the political space to chart their own development and political paths.  “What Africa needs is less external interventions and more partnerships. The importance of ownership and leadership of peace efforts on the continent. In this regard, AU exerts efforts to underway in the context of revitalization of the AU Peace Fund and encouraged Member States which have not yet done so to more generously contribute to the Fund.

AU Member States should strengthening relevant national governance institutions responsible for conflict prevention, management and transformation and peace building   and the full participation of youth and women, civil society and other partners in fighting gun violence. AU Member States should develop   and implement National Action Plans on silencing the guns. In ending  conflicts, there is a need to draw lessons from how  other regions have created stable governance systems that address political participation, constitutionalism and the rule of law, constructive management of diversity, and equitable, just, and inclusive development.

Finally, the AU, and all other stakeholders including individual States, must take up measures that will provide alternative avenues through which the youth can thrive and grow. As inscribed in the Agenda 2063, these measures should focus on offering basic education, support skills acquisition, create employment and enable equal opportunities for the youth, as well as mainstreaming youth affairs in all relevant spheres.

Ed.’s Note: Getachew Mekonnen is a researcher at the Institute for Strategic Affairs (ISA). The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or The Reporter. The writer can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Getachew Mekonnen