'Silencing the guns': African Union to extend deadline for peace on continent by another 10 years
- SA is hosting two African Union summits – on silencing the guns, as well as free trade on the continent.
- AU member states will extend their deadline for peace on the continent from the end of this year, to 2030.
- Civil society actors say they should be consulted ahead of summits on this matter.
African Union (AU) member states look set to extend their year-end deadline for peace on the continent by another decade, when leaders gather via Zoom this weekend for two back-to-back summits hosted by AU chairperson, President Cyril Ramaphosa.
They are also expected to call on the AU's Peace and Security Council to name and shame those who pose a threat to security on the continent.
The extraordinary summit on "silencing the guns" is due to take place on Sunday and is expected to adopt a Johannesburg Declaration to "reaffirm their commitment to contributing to an Africa free of conflict and wars", Ramaphosa's office said in a statement.
The preceding summit on Saturday laid the legal basis for the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area on New Year's Day. The summits were originally planned for the end of May and were supposed to have marked one of the highlights of Ramaphosa's year-long tenure as AU chairperson, but they had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 lockdowns at the time.
Rachel Morake, a director in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), told an Institute for Security Studies (ISS) webinar on Thursday that the AU had acknowledged its aim of silencing the guns could not be realised by the end of this year.
Already, some of the practical steps that were supposed to be carried out during the course of 2020 were inhibited by the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. The AU has resolved to extend the goal for silencing the guns to 2030.
The continental body will also take stock of how the process is going every two years, starting in 2021.
Africa Amnesty Month in September, which provides a window for the collection and disposal of illegal arms, will also be extended for another 10 years.
Morake said cybercrime, organised crime, money laundering, illicit financial flows and human trafficking also affected the AU's goals to attain peace in Africa. At the beginning of the year, Ramaphosa announced that he would prioritise the conflicts in Libya and South Sudan while at the helm of the AU.
His tenure this year also coincided with South Africa's second and final year on the United Nations Security Council. Other than naming and shaming, however, the African Union lacks teeth to sanction those who contribute to conflict on the continent.
There is also concern within the AU about foreign influences in African peace and security matters, including foreign military bases in a number of countries on the continent. The summit is expected to encourage member states to consult with their regional neighbours before agreeing to host such bases, to ensure that these are serving the interests of the continent.
News24 has reliably learnt that the summit is expected to consider mandating the AU Peace and Security Council to name and shame those states which deny a growing crisis within their borders, as well as foreign entities which interfere in the internal affairs of AU member states, or who sponsor illegal weapons and provide covert military support to armed groups on the continent.
Mozambique has, for instance, refused to acknowledge that the conflict in its northern Cabo Delgado province is a crisis, which has made it difficult for other countries to get involved to help.
The summit has, however, already come in for criticism from academics and civil society players who want to give greater inputs.
'Negative peace, rather than positive peace'
Wafula Okumu, from the Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, told the ISS webinar it wasn't entirely clear what the AU meant by "silencing the guns". He also said the body's peace and security agenda "is geared towards achievement of negative peace, rather than positive peace".
He said most AU member states failed to honour their pledges for peace, while others either maintained or increased high military and security expenditure. Okumo said there were 40 million firearms in civilian hands in Africa, half the number of that in Europe, yet the latter was more peaceful.
Most of the weapons used in Africa come from outside the continent, with Russia (at 49%) being the biggest supplier.
Okumu said South Africa was the top arms manufacturer and exporter in Africa, but that in 26 countries there was a "thriving production of homemade guns, mostly used in robberies, pastoralist farmer violence, intercommunal violence and conflicts, political banditry and other criminal activities".
Doris Mpoumou, from Save the Children International, said civil society should have been given a chance to take part in a pre-summit ahead of Sunday to give their inputs. She said access to information was also a problem.
"There are many blocks and hurdles to access information to collaborate with the AU. Because we know what is happening in the communities, we can actually provide information that we get from the communities to decision-makers," she said.