Amid the pomp and ceremony, the leaders sat down to reflect and tackle the tough questions: What progress have we made towards the achieving of the objectives set by the AU and looking forward, what is our proposed vision for Africa for the next 50 years? Furthermore, what is the biggest challenge to realizing the aspirations of our people?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, then African Union Commission chairperson, had visited various countries collecting views from governments, civil society and the diaspora, on what they felt was the most pressing issue facing Africa, one the AU should deal with.
Most agreed that conflict remains one of the biggest challenges facing Africa. The AU also sees conflict as one of the biggest impediments to the implementation of Agenda 2063. Of course, there were other challenges facing the continent, including poverty, inequality, unemployment, climate change, illegal financial flows, corruption, etc, yet conflict tops the list.
“Before leaving Addis Ababa, the AU leaders resolved not to pass the burden of conflict to future generations, so they adopted “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020” as one of the flagship projects of the wider developmental blueprint Agenda 2063,” Ms. Aïssatou Hayatou, the AU “Silencing the Guns” operations manager, told Africa Renewal.
She added: “The objective was to achieve peace to allow for development across Africa.”
The initiative was intended to achieve a conflict-free Africa, prevent genocide, make peace a reality for all and rid the continent of wars, violent conflicts, human rights violations, and humanitarian disasters. The leaders hoped to have all the guns silenced by 2020.
Since 2014, Africa has made progress in the quest for peace and security, mostly by strengthening continental response frameworks and institutions, as well as by working with the UN and other organisations on the ground. These initiatives have borne fruit.
Over the past two decades, the guns have been silenced in previous hotspots such as Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Significant strides have been made in difficult cases such as Somalia and Sudan, according to the Addis Ababa-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS), and peace-building initiatives on the continent have also helped quell many potential flare-ups.
However, fighting is still observable in Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Lake Chad Basin, which includes Chad and parts of Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. Violent extremism in the Sahel and parts of the Horn and eastern Africa is also a challenge.
There are also threats from terrorism and transnational crime on the continent. Communal conflicts between herders and farmers over water and pasture; violent urban crime and cultural practices such as cattle rustling, are also of concern because firearms have become the weapons of choice, replacing traditional and less deadly weapons.
A 2017 study by Oxfam, The Human Cost of Uncontrolled Arms in Africa, estimates that at least 500,000 people die every year and millions of others are displaced or abused as a result of armed violence and conflict.
Who has the guns in Africa? Eighty percent of all small arms in Africa are in the hands of civilians, according to the Small Arms Survey (SAS), an independent Geneva-based research centre which generates evidence-based, impartial, and policy-relevant knowledge and analysis on small arms and armed violence issues for governments, policy-makers, researchers, and civil society.