50 years after its formation in 2013, the African Union finally decided that continued armed conflict and violence was an “urgent” crisis on the continent. At the 50th anniversary Silencing the guns was adopted as a flagship project of Agenda 2063. 6 years after its adoption as an urgent matter, at a meeting in Niamey, Niger July 2019. Ministers of the African Union executive council decided that the AU theme for 2020 would be, “Silencing the guns: creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development”.
Their goals from the outset were to make peace a reality within 7 years, this included bringing an end to civil conflicts, human rights violations, genocide, violent conflicts, humanitarian disasters, gender-based violence, and wars. The goal was deemed as impractical from the outset, but it has good intentions and is an issue of grave importance and was welcomed with great excitement the world over.
Ever since independence the type of conflict has evolved. Before independence conflict was mainly ideologically driven guerrilla warfare against the colonial powers in a bid to attain independence. Decades post-independence the African continent is still marred by armed conflict. Instead of silencing the guns, new guns are ravaging the African continent. Current conflicts on the continent vary on goals and motivation which include prospects of political power, financial gain (mainly by armed groups seeking to acquire minerals), asserting an ideology, or addressing political grievances. The recruitment for these conflicts is mainly easy because the youth majority on the continent are unemployed therefore already harbor resentment for their governments. Other lines of recruitment include tribal relations, political affiliation, similar grievances, and ideologies that resonate across the board.
The AU Peace and security council in 2016 established a practical roadmap to silence the guns by 2020. This roadmap from the onset proved an almost insurmountable task and the projection of ending decades of conflict within 4 years was over-ambitious although well-intended. In the period between 2013 – 2020 some form of progress was made, and this includes Sudan preliminary peace deal (January 2020), Peace accords in the Central African Republic, and South Sudan (between states and rebel groups), Ethiopia, and Eritrea’s landmark peace accord. This progress is notable because it paused conflicts that were burning over, sad to say the peace could not be maintained for most parts as conflicts have persisted and others are promising to be reignited.
In 2018 there were 21 active civil wars on the continent, this is the highest number of conflicts recorded in Africa since 1946. These conflicts have given rise to very lucrative arms dealing black market. The attainment of peace in the different African countries and successfully silencing the guns will vary from country to country. For the most part it will take engagement with governments because most of the differences spill over to maladministration, undelivered promises by the government amongst others.
African leaders will need to rally together and the same unity that was shown in the Africa free trade agreement will need to be implemented in the aggressive drive to silence the guns across the continent. For most parts, the guns will be silenced by the national implementation of progress policy towards the end of the armed conflict and the political will of the leadership in relevant states in conflict. It is worthy to note that the guns will more likely be silenced from within than without. The leaders know the problems at the fore of the prevailing conflicts within their respective jurisdictions and should make informed and progressive decisions to silence the guns.
The major conflict hot zones have not seen any significant change during the AU’s run to silence the guns. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s war which began in 1998 has claimed over 5 million lives, The South Sudan civil war has taken over 380 000 lives, despite a peace agreement tensions are rising again in CAR, there has been an ongoing conflict in Libya since the fall of Gaddafi, the Boko Haram insurgency has become entrenched in Nigeria and wars are still ongoing in Mali, Somalia amongst others.
The concerted efforts by African leaders to silence the guns are applauded but a more practical and diligent approach should be made. Whenever elections come around the threat of violence is a real reality in most African nations. The African Union would be better served by deploying missions to try and broker peace settlements in different countries, whether concurrently or one nation at a time. Peace and silence will come at a price, big compromises might have to be made, but the circumstances demand they be made to avoid further loss of life. The African Union has barely scratched the surface and the guns are louder than ever and, in more territories, than before.