The African Union’s 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration of 26 May 2013 revealed important insights into the continental body’s current posture as well as its envisioned future agenda. More ambitiously the solemn declaration expressed the AU’s determination to achieve the goal of a conflict-free Africa, to make peace a reality for all of the continent’s people and to rid the continent of wars, civil conflicts, human rights violations, humanitarian disasters and violent conflicts and to prevent genocide. The declaration further pledged not to bequeath the burden of conflicts to the next generation of Africans and undertook to end all wars in Africa by 2020.
There has been considerable consultation and interaction with regards to the African Union's highly publicized Agenda 2063. The guiding vision for Agenda 2063 is the AU Vision of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”. It is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. It builds on, and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development.
Not surprisingly the 50-year timeframe elicited comments vis-à-vis its long development planning horizon. In operational terms however the AU has divided this 50-year plan into shorter-term action plans. One of the most salient flagship projects and initiatives is 'Silencing the Guns by 2020'.
The AU has continued to make impressive strides in developing a series of actionable roadmaps en route towards Silencing the Guns since the publication of its 2014 report ‘Silencing The Guns, Owning The Future: Realising a Conflict-Free Africa’. In 2016 the Peace and Security Council convened a retreat that was dedicated to the theme: Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa by Year 2020, from 7 to 9 November 2016, in Lusaka, Zambia. This led to the AU PSC developing a Master Roadmap of realistic, practical, time-bound implementable steps to silence the guns in Africa by 2020. The Master Roadmap included a focus on political, economic, social, environmental and legal aspects. The AU Assembly formally adopted the AU Master Roadmap of Practical Steps for Silencing the Guns in Africa by the Year 2020 in January 2017. The AU Assembly requested the PSC to submit a report on the status of the implementation of the Master Roadmap (AUMR) to each ordinary session of the Assembly till December 2020, to enable the Assembly have a clear perspective on the implementation process and therefore provide guidance.
Notably, the year 2020, by December, is the deadline set by the Assembly for ending wars/silencing the guns in Africa in the Solemn Declaration adopted during the 50th OAU/AU Anniversary held in Addis Ababa, on 25 May 2013. A fundamental question that must be posed is whether the AU can achieve the end of all wars on the African continent, and even if achieved, how long will the guns truly remain silent in the face of persistent crises that continue to beset the continent?
The adoption of the Road Map was lauded by all stakeholders for its ambitious, yet practicable aims and projected implementation outcomes. As always ambition will be tempered with a serious reality check vis-à-vis the AU’s creation of yet another policy instrument and the extent to which words will be translated into concrete action. The year 2020 is nearly over and was largely overshadowed by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which arguably redirected African attention and resources towards battling a scourge of an entirely different nature. The African continent and the AU remain entrapped by the age-old implementation deficit that has led to policy paralysis on far too many occasions. The AU furthermore operates within a highly complex political and socio-economic environment. On all fronts identified in the Roadmap, serious obstacles remain. In the enhancement of democracy and governance realm the continent continues to face the threat of full-on democratic recession and the proliferation of military coups which are making a comeback, despite AU efforts to banish all unconstitutional changes of government (see the Mali coup executed on 18 August 2020). Incumbents refusing the relinquish power also bedevil the AU’s best intentions at democracy promotion too.
Attempts to fast-track the African Standby Force and critical components thereof have also been challenged by slow implementation efforts, which do not bode well for the AU’s attempts to rapidly intervene in conflict and crisis hotspots. The strengthening of the foundations of the African Peace and Security Architecture have also been undertaken, yet remains a project that is continuously under construction, at times finding it difficult to adapt to several disruptors emerging on all fronts of the African continent. An additional Achilles Heel towards Silencing the Guns is the imperfect (if somewhat defective) attempts at successfully achieving conflict prevention on the part of the AU and its member states. In particular early warning mechanisms remain constrained and in several instances there has been more reaction to, as opposed to genuine prevention, of Africa’s conflicts. The continental body also faces the mammoth task of curbing the influx of illegal arms and ammunition, which is central to its objective of truly silencing the guns. It remains highly unlikely that the guns will be silenced, given that a multiple swathe of rebels, terrorists and extremist groups continue to brandish arms, act with impunity and destroy the lives of African citizenry on a daily basis. These groups’ survival depends on remaining armed and relinquishing these tools to the AU will never materialize on a voluntary basis either.
Silencing the guns by 2020 will require a herculean effort on the part of the AU Peace and Security Council and will place the African Peace and Security Architecture under considerable strain, given that pivotal parts thereof remain under construction. Amidst the multiplicity of the security threats it must respond to, this structure could buckle under pressure. The worst-case scenario is its full-on implosion. The continental body has an unenviable task ahead of it. There has in fact been an unprecedented expansion of terrorism on the continent with Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, Mozambique – and so on – coming under attack by extremists. Several other African states, such as the DRC, Burundi, Central African Republic, Libya, and South Sudan remain restive, repeatedly teetering on the precipice of renewed all-out conflict and war.
A further grave concern is the dearth of political tolerance apparent in several AU member states’ domestic politics, creating a permissive environment in which political debate and dissent is being smothered. This is not a situation reserved for the usual suspects, and indeed even South Africa is no longer immune to this continent-wide pandemic. This undoubtedly sows the seeds for future conflict. Perhaps the most important contribution towards achieving the conflict-free Africa is for leaders-that have been incumbent in perpetuity-to transfer the reins of power to Africa’s next generation of leaders, instead of indefinitely clinging on to the 'Political Kingdom'. The continent has the potential to become a genuine superpower, providing it roots out the serial abuses of power that have been witnessed across the continent.
To genuinely achieve Agenda 2063’s noble objectives, the AU should invest in proactive prevention of conflict as opposed to reactive intervention, which has proven considerably more difficult for the AU to achieve – the slow progress on the African Standby Force being a case in point. The AU Peace and Security Council should ensure that punitive measures are effectivelyenforced against member states violating peace and security norms.
The AU should further provide conclusive clarity on its purported stance of 'non-indifference', which in the face of the onslaught presented by Africa's conflict situations, seems somewhat weak and inconsequential. This has contributed towards the AU frequently being undermined in asserting its authority in the realm of peace and security, and if the AU is to maintain any genuine credibility, it should avoid that this salient function and role be usurped by foreign actors. Getting Africa to, not only speak with one voice, but also to act in unison in this critical realm will be crucial. Dialogue-centred conflict prevention and resolution will be salient, and including citizens more proactively vital to its enduring success.
The year 2063 is still a considerable time away. The continent should accept that it has a flawed past, an imperfect present, and a tense, uncertain future ahead. The continent's leadership should furthermore not simply continue to assign blame upon the multitude of exogenous shocks for its plethora of woes, but indeed acknowledge and address the several endogenous shocks that has repeatedly weakened African states. With 2020 almost over and 2023 fast approaching amidst the turmoil, insecurity and instability still evident in far too many African states, the AU, despite its impressive record of statements, documents, declarations, decisions commitments and communiqués is still left wanting in this watershed moment for Africa.
If the AU does not resolve and eliminate all recurring conflict situations that continually flare up on its watch, and furthermore falters in decisively acting to prevent potentially violent and destructive conflict from erupting in the first place, the Africa we want will remain an elusive grand ambition.