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Libya, DRC, Somalia, Sahel: Can the AU really Silence the Guns?

Ovigwe Eguegu
By Ovigwe Eguegu

Geopolitical analyst based in Abuja, Nigeria. His work focuses on the interplay of geopolitics and security in international relations.

Posted on Tuesday, 11 February 2020 13:12

libya african union attacks
Libyan security members carry a coffin during the funeral of people who were killed in an attack on a military academy in Tripoli, Libya January 5, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Given conflict in Libya, the cycle of militant attacks in the East of the DRC, and regular attacks across the Sahel and in Somalia, the guns are far from quiet.

Does the African Union have the political skills to silence them?

African heads of state are at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia for the 33rd AU summit. The theme of the two-day summit is “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development.”

But a closer look at the conflict dynamics in Africa may cause anyone to question the AU’s capacity to silence the guns.

The “Silence the Guns by 2020” initiative was launched back in 2013 to achieve a conflict-free Africa, prevent genocide, make peace a reality for all, and rid the continent of wars, violent conflicts, and human rights violations by 2020.

During the summit, leaders will review the progress made so far and identify areas for improvement.

Some of the progresses made include:

  • the African Union sponsored peace agreement between the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and rebels sign early last year,
  • the the landmark Maputo Peace and Reconciliation Agreement between Renamo and the government of Mozambique in August 2019,
  • the recent Rome Declaration on the Peace Process in South Sudan, which was signed by all political parties last month.

However, with the ongoing civil war in Libya, the incessant militia attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and an upsurge in violent attacks by Islamist militant groups in Somalia and across the Sahel, clearly, the guns in Africa are anything but silent.

READ “There is no military solution to the conflict in Libya” – UN Sec-Gen António Guterres

In the lead up to the summit, the AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat addressed African Foreign Ministers, during which he painted a bleak picture of the continent’s security situation citing extremist threats stretching from the Sahel to Somalia. According to Mr Faki, the “missed deadline” to silence the guns, he said, “reveals the complexity of the security situation in Africa.”

Although ambitious, some factors have made the 2020 deadline set by the AU impossible, and these obstacles will continue to stifle the bloc’s effort to rid the continent of violent conflicts currently proliferating across the continent.

The absence of political solutions to Africa’s evolving conflicts.

Islamist militant groups in the Sahel and Somalia represent a clear and growing threat to security. Despite the enormous effort from regional security forces and partners like France, the United State, and the United Nations both on and off the battlefield, there seem to be no end in sight. Rather, the situation has made a turn for the worse in the last couple of months, with attacks becoming more frequent and more deadly.

READ African Union: behind-the-scenes battle for leadership of the AfCFTA

Clearly, conventional warfare strategies is failing to wipe out these groups because terrorism is based on ideology and ideology can not be killed and as seen in other regions, terrorism doesn’t follow the traditional patterns of escalation, stalemate, deescalation and negotiation. The fragmented nature of these non-State armed groups adds an extra layer of complexity to the conflict.

As the counterterrorism war rages on its Northern border, a deep feeling of political and social exclusion has fueled separatism and insurgency in South Cameroon, where anglophone Cameroonians have taken up arms against the government. After years of violent clashes, there is no clear political solution to end the crisis.

The AU lacks the clout to drive the process of finding political solutions to conflicts.

While the AU has a commendable record in strengthening peace and security in Africa. It’s ability to shape Africa’s subnational, inter-state and transnational conflicts and the parties to these conflicts is weak; clearly, there is room for improvement.

Time and time again, the AU conflict resolution mechanisms has been overlooked by parties in a conflict in favour of other institutions they seem to have greater faith in, this was seen in Kenya-Somalia conflict over their maritime territories, where Somalia prefered the International Court of Justice, while Kenya approached the African Union for an out of court settlement.

One explanation for this is the AU’s inability to muster the political power to coerce member states to commit to AU conflict and dispute resolution process and to the outcome of the process. It could also be that the AU isn’t seen as an impartial mediator or that parties question the AU’s competence to handle the highly contentious conflicts.

Recently, the AU Commission Chairman, Moussa Faki travelled to Berlin, Germany for the Libyan conference which some observers found a bit odd and a clear confirmation the AU is taking a backseat concerning one of its member states.

The sidelining of the AU in the Libyan peace process hasn’t gone unnoticed, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said during a news conference at the AU on Saturday that he understood the AU’s “frustration” at having “been put aside” when it comes to Libya, and endorsed a more influential role for the body going forward.

This is not to say that the AU shouldn’t seek assistance technical or otherwise in conflict management and resolution, but it is telling that a 55 member organisation lacks the capacity to dominate conflict resolution and peace-building in its own sphere, whether it is a question of weak political influence, credibility or competence, this has to change going forward to avoid conflicts in Africa being politicised and exploited by foreign actors masquerading as mediators.

Unsolicited Foreign intervention and interference

Perhaps one of the greatest act of destabilisation in Africa in recent times was the 2011 NATO-led regime change operation in Libya to oust Muamar Gaddaf, this had a direct hand in the proliferation of terrorism in the Sahel, and fueled insurgency and separatism in Mali.

It is noteworthy that The African Union warned against NATO’s intervention in Libya citing that further escalation will lead to a spillover of violence into neighbouring countries. As such, the AU called for dialogue and negotiation. Considering the risks and the fact that the AU had access to Gaddafi, while NATO held substantial influence over Libyan rebel TNC (Transitional National Council) it is shocking how dialogue was explored.

Foriegn intervention can be positive, especially when solicited and done in collaboration all s Russia played a constructive role in the peace agreement between the government of CAR and rebels.

The AU “must be more proactive” in responding to conflicts instead of leaving the job to outside powers, Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s international relations minister, told AFP.

“The fact that anyone can step in means a gap has been allowed by us, and so I think we have to act faster, be more responsive when matters are affecting our continent,” she said.

Silencing the Guns Beyond 2020

Going forward there is a need for greater African ownership of the problems and efforts aimed at finding solutions especially in the area of conflict and peace. Silencing the guns and keeping the silence will require African leaders to address social and development problems also, with a special focus on historically marginalised and vulnerable communities.

“For me, I see silencing the guns in two ways. It’s the physical dropping of the guns, which is very important. But I believe that we must also focus on development, let us invest in our people to be able to silence the guns.” Said Ms. Bience Gawanas, UN Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser on Africa.

Johanne Galtung, one of the pioneers of the discipline of peace and conflict studies asserts: “You will never reach peace through security, you will reach security through peace”.

This translates to greater emphasis on peace-building in regional and national security policymaking, so that security policy includes tools that doesn’t just address threats (military and non military), but also builds peace. With peace being not just the absence of violence, but the presence of justice.

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