The 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) was held from 9th to 10th February 2020 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The theme was, “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”.
In his opening address, the newly elected Chairperson of the African Union H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa of the Republic of South Africa outlined key priority areas that will drive Africa’s growth within the framework of Agenda 2063. The Chairperson’s address focused on: deepening unity in Africa, advancing inclusive economic growth and sustainable development, ensuring political and economic unity, good governance and peace, supporting integration, industrialization, economic development, trade and investment, development of an appropriate strategy for the fourth industrial revolution, economic and financial inclusion for women and mainstreaming the interests of women, conflict resolution and championing the position of Africa as a strong and influential player in the global arena.
However, what stood out was the unprecedented attention on “conflict resolution” that resonated with the theme of the day. The Chairperson noted that Africa must take charge of its peace and security agenda by finding solutions to African problems. He underscored the need to urgently deal with the action of countries outside the African continent that are fighting proxy wars and fueling existing conflicts in Africa.
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Addressing the Session on the implementation of the flagship project on silencing the guns under the 2020 theme, AU’s High Representative for “Silencing the Guns” Amb. Ramtane Lamamra quipped, “Looking at the achievements made in promoting peace and security in the continent, in recent decades, particularly since 2004, with the operationalization of the AU Peace and Security Council, the noble objective of silencing the guns and ending wars in the continent is achievable”.
Peace and stability have been elusive in Africa yet these are key ingredients for socio-economic development. When there is peaceful co-existence between citizens and nations, the opportunities for social, cultural and economic interaction and integration increase immensely. Sadly, nowhere in the world have conflicts between citizens or nations been as frequent or as violent over the past half a century as in Africa.
There has been remarkable progress in dealing with the scourge of violent conflicts since the African Heads of State and Government made a Solemn Declaration at the 50th OAU/AU Anniversary that was adopted by the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly on 26th May 2013 in Addis Ababa. Since 2014, Africa has made great progress in search of peace and security by strengthening conflict resolution mechanisms and rapid response framework and institutions through bilateral and multilateral engagements in conflict zones. The last two decades have witnessed silenced guns in areas which were initially regarded as hotspots like Angola, Côde d’ Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Somalia and Sudan (including South Sudan) previously seen as bedrocks of violent conflicts have equally made significant strides in efforts to find a lasting solution. Prior to the official opening of the Session, President Ramaphosa met separately South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar in an effort to kick-start mediation efforts aimed at forming a power-sharing government as part of the AU’s efforts to “silence guns” in South Sudan. On ending the conflict in Libya, the AU’s involvement has been visible with consistent calls on the need for broader participation of African nations in finding a lasting solution under the stewardship of the United Nations.
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No wonder, speaking at the same venue, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated on the significance of an inclusive process that puts women and youth in Africa’s peace initiatives. He commended the “1 million by 2021 Initiative” spearheaded by the AU whose objective is to reach out to millions of youth in Africa with opportunities and stressed the UN’s unwavering support in silencing guns in Africa. These are part of the AU’s peace-building initiatives aimed at quelling many potential flare-ups in Africa.
Even though remarkable progress has been made in silencing the guns, the journey has encountered its fair share of bottlenecks which have neutered, slowed or prevented the silencing of guns. Some of the challenges are AU’s lack of institutional reforms and a clear roadmap on silencing of guns that guides the attainment of a peaceful and prosperous Africa beyond 2020. There are also threats from terrorism and transnational crime, communal conflicts over resources, violent crime, illegal trafficking of guns and cultural practices.
Despite the challenges, there is no option to silencing the guns – the violent conflict adversely affects the continent’s economic progress and costs billions of dollars. Sadly, the cost of “noisy” guns in Africa is staggering. A study by World Bank on the economic cost of conflict estimates that violent conflict adversely affects a country’s economic progress through loss of between 2% to 8.4% in annual gross GDP growth. The report further stated that countries that border conflict zones also suffer 1.4% decline in annual GDP and 1.7% rise in inflation. It also pointed out that prevention of conflicts on the continent is a cost-effective measure that besides saving millions of lives is economically beneficial to countries since by averting conflicts, a cost saving of between $5 billion to $70 billion per year is realized. This is money that would be ploughed back into the economy to build infrastructure, create jobs and fight poverty.
Benard Ayieko is an economist and a commentator on trade and investment.
Twitter: @BenShawAyieko Email: [email protected]