Unemployment, poverty, climate change, conflict over natural resources and bad governance are some of the challenges Africa must overcome if it is to meet the goal of silencing the guns by December 2020.
The African Union — which launched the Silencing the Guns 2020 initiative seven years ago — is optimistic that there has been notable progress in ending the many civil wars across the continent, but there are doubts whether all of them will come to a stop by December.
Continued conflicts in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Libya, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan’s Darfur region, and war against terrorists in Somalia, Mali and Niger still remain the main challenges to the initiative.
According to the AU Master Roadmap for Silencing the Guns, most crises and violent conflicts are being driven by poverty, economic hardships, violation or manipulation of constitutions, violation of human rights, exclusion, inequalities, marginalisation and mismanagement of the continent’s rich ethnic diversity, as well as external interference in African affairs.
As part of the AU Agenda 2063, the continent’s Heads of State and government adopted the Silencing the Guns by 2020 initiative in 2013 as a flagship project.
Brig Gen (Rtd) Ahamed Mohammed senior adviser for Defence and Security at the Horn International Institute for Strategies, said that while progress has been made in reducing state-driven conflicts, ethno-religious, resource and politically-driven conflicts continue, especially in fragile regions, and remain one of the biggest threats to African peace and security.
Further, there are still many long-drawn and protracted conflicts that have defied political solutions for years.
“The challenge is that although the number of conflicts has been reduced or brought under control, fragility and mistrust remain high in many post-conflict countries with a high possibility of relapse back to conflict,” said Gen Muhammed.
Transnational crimes such as terrorism; the proliferation of small arms and light weapons due to corruption and illicit financial flows, which facilitate funding for illicit weapons and conflicts; and the illegal exploitation of natural resources, which contribute to funding insurgencies and rebellions, remain key challenges to silencing the guns.
There is also the issue of governance and leadership, which remain a major source of instability and conflict in Africa due to election-related violence and disputes, which promote new conflicts.
Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union High Representative for Silencing the Guns in Africa said that the continental body has been trying to address the root causes of the conflicts, and that there is notable progress in preventing, managing and resolving conflicts in the continent.
However, Mr Lamamra, who is a former foreign minister of Algeria, said that a number of countries still remain trapped in a vicious cycle of violent conflict and its deadly consequences.
But, he remains optimistic that collective and concerted efforts will bear fruit, giving the examples of the efforts to resolve the conflict in South Sudan and CAR. Other positive developments are the successful democratic elections in Madagascar and in the DR Congo, as well as the historic new spirit of co-operation in the Horn of Africa involving Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti.
According to the Addis Ababa-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS), official military expenditure in Africa stood at around $40.2 billion in 2018, with North Africa spending $22.2 billion and sub-Saharan Africa $18.8 billion, according to the ISS.
As per the Silencing the Guns 2020 programme, AU member states were supposed to have developed National Action Plans on silencing the guns, but not only ending conflict within their jurisdictions, but also mopping up small arms and light weapons that are in the wrong hands.
The AU declared the month of September from 2013 to 2020, the Africa Amnesty Month for the voluntary surrender and collection of illicit small arms and light weapons. However, the disarmament of civilians in countries in the region whether coercive or voluntary have often fallen short of the targets. By the close of the year, there were still 39 million illegal arms in the hands of civilians, of which 7.8 are found in eastern Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes region.
According to a recent report by the Africa Peace Zones — an organisation involved in campaigns for disarmament — armed violence in Africa has claimed two million lives in the past decade, meaning a life is lost every three minutes totalling 480 a day.
The 2018 Geneva Small Arms Survey stated that there are 7.8 million small arms in the wrong hands in a region where almost 50 per cent of the countries are in or recovering from conflict — Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, DR Congo and Burundi.
The region is also experiencing inflows of small arms from the conflict in Yemen through Somalia to the borders with Kenya and Ethiopia, and the war in Libya through Sudan to South Sudan, and by extension Kenya and Uganda.
According to the director of International Development and Capacity Building, Gen (Rtd) Christo Fataki, there is increasing recognition that human security and sustainable development will not be achieved in the continent unless more is done to reduce proliferation of small arms and promote security.
Most of the instruments that address the supply and management of illegal small weapons include national and regional legislation for preventing diversion, stockpile management procedures, and marking and tracing programmes.
“There are procedures that meant to prevent the weapons from being diverted to illicit markets. However, these instruments have proven insufficient for restricting or reducing the supply of weapons for they only address the symptoms and not the root causes of the problem,” said Gen Fataki.
Some of the factors that fuel possession of small arms include intercommunal conflicts, borders disputes, cattle rustling and poaching, the rise of organised crimes, terrorist activities, drug and human trafficking.
CHALLENGES TO ACHIEVING THE GOAL
Implementation of outstanding components of the African Peace and Security Architecture. Non-compliance with AU instruments on peace, security, democracy, elections and governance.
Lack of or weak implementation of post-conflict reconstruction and development programmes. Ineffective disarmament, demobilisation.
Porous borders and poor border control/security systems. Lack of resources to implement conflict prevention strategies
Illicit financial flows; financing of terrorism and external political interference