Can African Leaders Silence the Guns in 2020 as Promised?

  • SEVEN UNAVOIDABLE PREREQUISITES

By Désiré Assogbavi*

ADDIS ABEBA – The Heads of State of the African Union will soon meet for their 33rd Ordinary Session scheduled for the 9th and 10th February 2020 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The theme of the year 2020 is “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”. I have had the honor to contribute to this debate from the beginning at the African Union when the Peace and Security Council of the Union invited me several times as a guest speaker to its sessions on the issue.

In their Solemn Declaration of the 50th Anniversary of the African Union, African Heads of State and Government have committed themselves “to achieve the goal of a conflict-free Africa, to make peace a reality for all our people and to rid the continent of wars, civil conflicts, human rights violations, humanitarian disasters, and violent conflicts and to prevent genocide.” They further pledged “not to bequeath the burden of conflicts to the next generation of Africans and undertake to end all wars by 2020”.

In November 2017, the Peace and Security Council adopted a Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to silencing the guns by 2020. The Roadmap has been also endorsed by the Assembly of Heads of State. The Roadmap recognizes that, beyond the ongoing political and military efforts, there is a need for structural interventions in the area of socio-economic development, to allow for issues of governance, youth and women, employment and education, climate change and other pertinent factors to play constructive roles in the efforts to silencing the guns in Africa.

Why are people holding and trusting the guns?

Only 1/3 of all small arms in circulation today are in the hands of legally constituted security forces. The remaining 2/3 are held illegally by non-state groups or individuals and this is cause for concern because, the use of these weapons, directly and indirectly, affects hundreds of thousands of people and severely undermines our commitments for sustainable development.

Every year, the African Union Commission presents a report on the state of peace and security in the continent to the Assembly of Heads of State, and decisions are made accordingly but peace is still not happening. People are holding, keeping and trusting the guns, mostly because their various recurrent problems remain unsolved by power holders.

African institutions must do business differently

Illegal weapon bearers in our continent do not consider their own actions as illegal but rather legitimate against issues like the inequitable sharing of national resources, the confiscation of state power and state resources by an individual or group of individuals, modern forms of unconstitutional change of government manifested today by fraudulent or “cosmetic elections” to sustain unlimited terms on power, often with the hidden blessing of some of our regional and continental bodies through election observation that mostly look at just the voting operations, always “declared free and fair”.

If we stick to the current way of doing business, I am afraid we will come back here at the end of 2020 or even 2030 or later, only to realize that guns are not silenced in our continent. This means that the journey to our Agenda 2063 will become longer than planned and the promises contained in the Agenda 2030 will remain beautiful dreams. As a result, the mistrust of our populations – especially the youth – and in our institutions, regional and continental bodies, will rather increase. Affected and marginalized populations will continue trusting nothing else but the guns.

I should insist that changing national constitutions in order to ensure additional or unlimited presidential terms, reinforced by unfair elections constitute a real risk for fragility that will not help to silence the guns. So, for the “Silencing the Guns” Campaign to happen, we must do things differently. We must do something courageous and probably painful if we want to see different results.

Our continental and regional bodies should be given power and authority to objectively monitor member states’ performance in implementing our adopted shared values contained in the numerous progressive decisions, frameworks, treaties etc. There should be a serious sanction mechanism to be used in case of violation of our values. I see no other ways to change Africa and ensure peace and security.

Curiously, the Assembly of the Union in its last decision taken in Niger in July 2019 on the “Year of Silencing the Guns” underscored the nexus between good governance, peace, stability and development and recognized that these concepts are thoroughly intertwined and cannot be considered exclusive of each other.

It does not necessarily start with the guns

The availability of arms does not necessarily create conflicts. But their proliferation and their uncontrolled circulation can lead to a more rapid spread of violence and, magnify their devastating effects. Of course, countries are less safe if weapons are easily available. However, conflicts that are going on in Africa have not started just because arms were available. In fact, arms come in later in most of the cases because problems are not resolved. So silencing or collecting the guns can only succeed with a holistic approach.

7 Prerequisites to silence the guns in Africa

Here are some key prerequisites that the African Union, member states, regional bodies, citizens and their formations, as well as partners, should look after if we truly want to silence the guns:

1. Constitutions and laws of all member states of the African Union guaranty all civil and political rights for all citizens with no discrimination. This also means that peaceful demonstrations can be held whenever citizens are not happy about the conduct of public affairs, without intimidation or violence against citizens.

2. Justice Systems of all member states are made independent and free of undue pressure from the executive in their functioning. Human rights violators and criminals are effectively prosecuted regardless of their social and political status and reparation for victims is ensured at the national level… If this happens constantly, the International Criminal Court will have nothing else to do… Let us remember that without justice and accountability people will lose their trust in everything except for the guns.

3. State institutions set up socio-economic and legal mechanisms to tackle inequality and extreme poverty and to combat corruption at all levels. Illicit Financial Flows are significantly reduced and stopped… Heavy investments are made from national resources, supported by international south-south and north-south cooperation, to ensure essential services, mainly, quality education, infrastructures, and health care are accessible for all citizens.

4. Credible elections are normally held and managed by independent electoral boards with no interference… and the results of the pools reflect the true choice of the people… but, minorities are respected, deliberately protected and given the opportunity to participate in public affairs through different other institutions, by the law and affirmative actions… This naturally will lead to a situation where elections are influenced more by political agendas and not by ethnic origins. Losers of elections including former Heads of state or opposition leaders are treated with dignity, respect and enjoy state protection, but they are held accountable if they are responsible for crimes.

5. Innovative programs create diverse and quality education and training opportunities for the youth. The private sector is regulated, accompanied and encouraged to create increased job opportunities. State institutions ensure equal opportunity to citizens with no discrimination, to be employed and engaged in public affairs.

6. The African Union Treaty on Free Movements of people and goods is universally ratified and fully implemented all over the continent… The Pan African Passport or even an African standardized ID is delivered promptly upon request to citizens. So, Interaction between peoples of different nationalities and regions of the continent catalyzes strong opportunities for learning, creates synergy, and boosts our economic integration. Young people feel no need to immigrate. No death is recorded in the Mediterranean Sea or in the Sahara Desert and, a good part of the diaspora comes back home to take part in the reconstruction of the continent.

7. The African Union gains trust from its citizens and becomes a truly people-driven body, and effective to ensure the implementation of its decisions by member states… A genuine and effective space is provided for citizens and their formations to be part of the decision-making process. But this means that the AU has declared illegal, all draconian laws against CSOs in member states, and pushed countries to abolish them, and replace them by provisions that respect universally agreed freedom of association principles while ensuring accountability of NGOs.

If we do these, guns will be surely silenced in Africa.

Watch this Space!!!

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* Désiré Y. Assogbavi is a Jurist, Policy & Political Analyst, International Development Strategist. You can contact him via email to Desire.Assogbavi@assodesire.com or what’s App/Telegram to +19172160155