Silencing the Guns: A Personal Reflection

14 December, 2021

Silencing the Guns was born and anchored on the premise that the legacies of armed conflict must not be passed on to future generations. For the present generation, silencing the guns ensures that the aspirations for a peaceful, secure, integrated, and prosperous Africa are attained and sustained.

The Africa Union’s Lusaka Master Roadmap of 2016 notes, “The continuing insecurity, instability, disruption of political harmony, erosion of social cohesion, destruction of the economic fabric and public despondency in various parts of Africa ……  (calls for, my emphasis) spearheading strategic interventions to put this sad situation to an end” (AU, Lusaka Master Roadmap, p.1, 2016). The Roadmap further argues that issues of inequality, marginalization, rights violation, poverty, mismanagement of Africa’s rich ethnic diversity…. “can be overcome, as long as the correct remedies are identified and are applied” (AU, Lusaka Master Roadmap, p.1, 2016).

Although covered in lexicology, ‘Silencing the Guns’ are not empty words. It speaks in larger part to the Africa We Want. It requires all and sundry to make deliberate efforts at the individual, country regional, and continental levels. The Roadmap of Silencing the Guns encapsulates all necessary guidelines for a transformative society. A reality check on our peace and security barometer reveals that Africa is still far from getting to the reality of ‘silencing’ the guns. President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his Handing over Statement, in 2021, noted, “Ours is an African Union that is practically working towards greater peace and security. Conflict and war on the continent remain a grave threat to our development aspirations. We know too well that silencing the guns is Africa’s long and arduous process” (Ramaphosa, 2021). Ramaphosa’s statement is a critical reflection of Africa’s reality and calls to the challenge of meeting the arduous process of realizing silenced guns amid our security challenges.

The nature of the state of peace and security on the continent keeps deteriorating rather than getting better. In its report to the Assembly, the Peace and Security Council of the Africa Union for the period February 2019 to February 2020 noted:

This report is being submitted to the Assembly at a time when the scourge of terrorism, violent extremism, transnational organized crime and trafficking has assumed an unprecedented scale of expansion and intensity within the Continent. Beyond the situations in the Sahel, Lake Chad Basin and the Horn of Africa, terrorism is now outspreading to other parts of Africa hitherto spared by the scourge. Thus, terrorism has now become the primary enemy and threat to the Continent and its people and economy. In this regard, terrorism requires a robust, systematic and comprehensive response by the African Union working in close collaboration with all the stakeholders within the Continent. (Assembly/AU/5(XXXIII,), p. 1, 2020).

 As a flagship project of Africa’s Agenda 2063, Silencing the Guns seeks a peaceful, stable, secure, integrated, and prosperous Africa. Yet, “Conceptually, silencing the guns remains unclear even among the policy actors who are meant to champion its implementation” (Okumu, atta-Asamoah and Shuramo, p.iv, 2020). Okumu et al, further articulate that there is misalignment between existing structures and urgency of goals regarding silencing the guns. They also note a lack of conceptual coherence due to differences in interpretation of silencing the guns. For example, the Silencing the Gun Unit interprets it as a “campaign” while the AUC views it as “a pool of projects”. At the same time, Agenda 2063 approaches it as a “programme” (p. vi,2020).

Equally disturbing, a key mitigating factor is no “evaluation process” to silencing the guns agenda (Okumu, atta-Asamoah and Shuramo, p, vii, 2020). At the political level, there is a dearth of strong institutions and buy-in at the national levels to measure implementation processes. In countries rent by violence and conflicts, the lack of strong institutions has meant that constructive effort to deal with conflict has been ineffective, leading to relapses, a bane to the achievement of silencing the guns. However, if there is no political will and non-existent institutions at country levels, what will there be to evaluate, and how far will rhetoric prevail over practical action? At the continental, institutional and country levels, this remains a question to be answered.

Drawing examples from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region, one observes a region plagued with conflicts. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UN ECA) in July 2018 noted that little progress had been made towards the regional integration in the IGAD region, attributing the reason to intra-state and inter-state conflicts the region is witnessing. The IGAD region is no exception in terms of inter or intra-states conflicts. This is a pervasive development on the entire continent. If conflicts stymie regional integration, how much will this be for silencing the guns and other grand continental agendas such as the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)?

African leaders have agreed to the implementation of the AfCFTA. The AfCFTA is an ambitious continental project to integrate African economies to form the largest trading bloc with the potential of boosting intra-African trade by 52.3 percent (Tana Forum, 2020). Noting with the benefit of hindsight, the Tana Forum has discussed that artificial borders and the several constraints it imposes have become recurrent sources of conflict and a major barrier to the full achievement of the Pan-African agenda.

As the world’s second-largest, Africa as a continent is extremely fragmented continent where 21 of its 55 countries have a GDP that is less than USD 10 billion. The AfCFTA, therefore, seeks a broader, bolder, and ambitious quest to recalibrate the ideals of Pan-Africanism that political, socioeconomic, and security exegeses had allowed to wane since its peak days in the 1960s. The AfCFTA, among its other ideals, is borne out of the growing consensus around the urgent need to reboot and marshal the ideals of Pan-Africanism as the first step towards continental integration, sustainable development, peace, and security (Tana Forum, 2020). Here again, one sees the interwoven linkages of silencing the guns and the AfCFTA, just as other continental agendas such as the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the African Governance Architecture (AGA).

Africa has just enough frameworks for its growth and development. However, coordination and implementation remain a challenge. President Paul Kagami’s clarion call for better coordination and synchronization of effort in achieving peace and security – silencing the guns – is instructive. He notes:

Peace and Security in Africa will only be achieved through effective and committed leadership, and greater local and global cooperation, better coordination and synchronization of efforts by stakeholders to avoid slide efforts and duplication, and the threats of reversing the gains accumulated are equally as important.

(Statement by African Union Chairperson, President Paul Kagame 2017).

There can be no better coordination and synchronization if there is no unity of purpose. So again, President Kagame’s heed to unity is imperative, noting that “unity must be our starting point, as we do the necessary work of re-defining our plans and ambitions in continental terms” (President Kagame, 2018). Nkrumah’s insight six decades ago couldn’t have been more forceful. It is so relevant in contemporary times, too, when he stated: “There is no time to waste. We must unite now or perish… No sporadic act nor pious resolution can resolve our present problems. Nothing will be of avail, except the united act of a united Africa” (Kwame Nkrumah, 1963). Unity of purpose in silencing the guns, be it at the country, the regional or continental level, is necessary if we are to make strides in its achievement.

Silencing the guns is an ideal that is not farfetched. It is achievable. It has all the relevant blueprints and guidelines – silencing the guns roadmap – which, if implemented, will culminate in its actualization. However, the question remains: to what extent are governments, our continental institutions, and civil societies prepared to buy-in and see to its full implementation? There is no need for further promulgations of roadmaps. Instead, there is the need to start implementation. Today’s Africa faces a structural and systemic crisis of governance that runs deep. Addressing these governance deficits requires primary and fundamental shifts in attitude at individual and institutional levels.

The process of change and transformation can never be devoid of the individual. Yet, in most academic and policy discourses, the individual’s primary role is never raised or questioned. We seem stuck in the mechanistic and Newtonian dictum of; institute the right policies, and everything will just be fine. This approach works well but has limits. Institutional reforms and transformation are invoked and approached as if these institutions are entities of their own without individual human beings. It will be essential to broaden and begin to inculcate and accept the need for a paradigmatic turn in addressing our governance deficiencies. Since individuals are and will remain at the heart of every institution, any change must start with the individual human being acting in concert with others to create the Africa We Want.

Africa’s “transformative agenda “requires an equally “transformative approach” at the individual and institutional level (Gawanas, 2018). There is a need for tinkering and relentless reflectivity, aiming to improve ourselves as individuals and the institutions we work and stand for. Silencing the guns has been extended to another ten years – to 2030. Will African states and governments and our continental institutions marshal the necessary political will and work assiduously to see to its full realization, or will we resort to excuses and render silencing the guns to a myth remains to be seen. But we have a choice, as a people and of governments: we can choose to fail and deny our current and future generations the benefits of prosperity and development, or succeed, thereby upholding the sovereignty of our people, now and into the future.

 Author: Ambassador, James Morgan


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