The African Union Summit on July 1-2 in Mauritania is a golden chance for African heads of state and government to take a significant step towards fulfilling the AU’s oath to silence the guns in Africa by 2020.
Nowhere in Africa is their attention needed as in South Sudan, which will be on their agenda.
This year, the country marks five years of civil war. Theirs is a war that has gone on for too long, devastating too many innocent lives.
In Mauritania, African leaders can unlock a series of decisions to aid the region in finally putting an end to this war. The people of South Sudan can wait no longer; it is a now or never moment.
The recent attempts by Uganda’s President Museveni, together with the leaders of Ethiopia and Sudan, to reconcile South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar, deserve everyone’s support.
Their efforts notwithstanding, the AU must not leave it only to the region to support our brothers and sisters in South Sudan. Rather, the AU must use the occasion of the summit to complement what regional leaders are doing by agreeing to a potent mix of incentives to encourage and support those in South Sudan who want to wage peace and punitive measures to make the costs too high for those perpetuating the civil war.
We all need to roll up our sleeves and commit to the hard work of peacemaking.
Why must the AU act if the region is already engaged in peacemaking? Because what is happening in South Sudan should enrage all of us who live on the continent.
Because seven years into its independence, rather than prospering from its natural resource wealth, the aspirations of South Sudan’s citizens are buried under the enormous weight of their leaders’ failure.
Because South Sudan’s leaders – a coterie of corrupt warlords, government officials, and military generals – have become prosperous at the expense of their people by misusing money from the country’s coffers and blocking and stealing precious humanitarian aid.
It’s a complete failure of leadership and poor governance in every respect. South Sudanese people will be looking to the summit to marshal clear and decisive leadership from the entire African Union.
How AU can support peacemaking
First, the AU must do all it can to silence the guns in South Sudan this year. This it can do by delivering on the punitive measures it and IGAD have already decided to apply in order to disincentivise those who are obstructing peace and violating the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in December last year.
How many more African lives must be lost before these promises are fulfilled?
Second, the AU must hold accountable and punish South Sudanese leaders who have perpetuated the war and committed atrocities including sexual gender-based violence.
AU leaders can do this in Mauritania by making demonstrable progress on the creation of a Hybrid Court for South Sudan. Much evidence already exists on who is responsible for the worst crimes, from the AU’s own Commission of Inquiry in 2015, to numerous UN investigations and reports by CTSAMM, the official ceasefire monitoring body. But it takes political leadership to see this evidence serving the cause of justice.
Third, AU leaders can use the occasion of the summit to commit to championing the participation of South Sudanese women in the peace process.
South Sudan’s women have borne the brunt of the suffering and violence. Peace must not be left only in the hands of the men with the guns. If South Sudan is to take the path of peace, it needs to be guided by its women, too.
In Mauritania, AU leaders, including those in IGAD, must commit to ensuring that South Sudanese women are proportionally represented in all peace efforts, and holding South Sudan’s leaders accountable to that high standard.
Finally, we must all work alongside the AU to maximise the collective power of Africans to build a movement for peace in South Sudan.
It already started on Africa Day this year at the Sawa South Sudan summit joined by myself and dozens of other inspirational brothers and sisters from across the continent. In solidarity with South Sudan’s people, we can all be a shining force for peace and hope.
AU leaders can, and must, do much for South Sudan at their summit in Mauritania.
But it’s not all up to them. It’s up to all of us too, in Africa, to link arms with South Sudan’s people so they can stand up and overcome.
Veronica Isala Eragu Bichetero is a Ugandan Member of Parliament for Kaberamaido.