Kenya was among several countries telling the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday about obstacles to the African Union's goal of “Silencing the Guns by 2020.”
Arms trafficking, deficiencies in governance, high unemployment rates and marginalisation of social groups “have played their part to ensure the guns are not silenced,” ambassador Lazarus Ombai Amayo told the Security Council at a day-long debate.
These and other factors form a “not very rosy picture,” the Kenyan envoy said. More resources are needed to address the root causes of conflict in Africa, Mr Amayo added.
The US also cited arms trafficking as an impediment to peace in Africa, with acting UN ambassador Jonathan Cohen noting that his government is helping Kenya and other East African countries secure their weapons stockpiles.
Successes in quelling conflicts are “generating optimism about a continent emerging from the shadows and moving steadily to restore peace and stability,” declared Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, the co-ordinator of the AU’s “Silencing the Guns” campaign, which was launched in 2013.
Speakers at the Council session pointed to peace agreements in West Africa, as well as to more recent efforts to ease tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea and to halt fighting in the Central African Republic.
But, Mr Lamamra added, many African countries remain “trapped in a vicious cycle of violent conflict.”
Ungoverned spaces, corruption and illegal exploitation of natural resources compound the challenges in meeting the AU's goal, he noted.
The 15-member Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Wednesday welcoming the AU's initiative and pledging support for “African solutions to African problems.”
But passing a resolution is not a sufficient Security Council response to the issues fuelling wars in Africa, warned Vasu Gounden, director of a South Africa-based think tank focused on dispute resolution.
Member-states must block the illicit flow of arms, most of which are manufactured outside Africa, he said, while presenting a strongly negative assessment of the near-term prospects for peace on the continent.
“The answer is a resounding ‘no’ to the question of whether the guns can be silenced by next year,” Mr Gounden said.
Required transformations in governance will take between 20 and 40 years to achieve, he predicted, warning that “many parts of Africa are reaching a dangerous tipping point and we are currently in a race against time.”
Failure to make progress in addressing the structural causes of conflict “will result in the gradual collapse of law and order and a deterioration into civil war that will push Africa’s transformation even further back,” Mr Gounden said.
Many African countries have failed to substantially reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality, added the director of the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes. Their economies remain largely based on subsistence agriculture, with little development of the industrial or services sectors, he said.
“Introduce guns into this equation and you light the proverbial ‘time bomb’,” Mr Gounden told the council.