On Sunday the 9th of February, the annual African Union (AU) summit commenced at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The two-day summit, themed “Silencing the Guns, began with the AU’s promise to play a more prominent role in resolving conflicts proliferating across the continent.
The focus on conflict marks a departure from years of debate centred on reforming the AU, including its funding structure and the implementation of a continent-wide free trade area.
In his opening speech, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the Commission commented on Africa’s current challenges of insecurity resulting from terrorism, intercommunal conflict and pre- and post-election crises. While some progress has been made recently in dealing with the situation in the Central African Republic and Sudan, there has been long-term conflict in places like Libya and South Sudan with new crises arising from Cameroon and Mozambique.
Faki further emphasized that it would take more than military action to address the “root causes” of African conflicts, namely poverty and social exclusion. Following the statement made by the chairman. African leaders pointed out the AU’s failure to achieve the goal adopted in 2013 of ending “all wars in Africa by 2020”. The missed deadline by the AU shows the complexity of the security situation in Africa.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is taking over from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as AU chairman, announced his plans to host two summits in May one focused on conflict resolution and the other on the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area. He also promised to prioritize the conflict situation in South Sudan and Libya, focusing on a resolution across Africa’s conflicted regions.
South Sudan’s civil war began in 2013, leaving over 380,000 people dead and millions more in dire poverty. President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar currently face a two-week deadline to form a power-sharing government after missing two previous deadlines. South Sudanese Information Minister, Michael Makuei said that the meeting amounted to no progress on the question of the number of regional states in South Sudan and their borders, a crucial stumbling block in negotiations.
Focusing on Libya, the AU has consistently complained about being sidelined during peace processes led primarily by the United Nation(UN). The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres validated this sentiment at a news conference at the AU on Saturday, saying he understood the AU’s “frustration” at having “been put aside” when it comes to Libya. He assured the AU that “a new framework of cooperation” between the AU and the UN had been established for Libya.
A report by the International Crisis Group said the AU should prioritize the finalization of an agreement that would see the UN finance 75 percent of peacekeeping missions backed by the UN Security Council.
Furthermore, Ramaphosa said the AU’s goal of “silencing the guns” underpinned his other ambitions for economic development and combating gender-based violence. He also highlighted eight areas for the AU to focus on in the course of the year. They are:
- Seeking a compromise with the UN over co-funding of peace operations.
- Supporting pivotal elections in Ethiopia and standing ready to mediate in the event of disputes over results.
- Deterring leaders in Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea from using constitutional amendments to hold onto power.
- Helping calm Burkina Faso’s insurgency and avert election violence.
- Pressing Yaoundé and separatists toward more inclusive dialogue to help end the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions.
- Pushing the Somali government and regional leaders toward a compromise ahead of Somalia’s elections.
- Pressing East African heads of state to step up their efforts to keep South Sudan’s peace process on track.
- Supporting Sudan’s transition by offering to act as a guarantor of the deal between the security forces and civilian leaders.
The AU will have to overcome internal disputes and insufficient financing for peacekeeping missions if it wants to become a major player in conflict resolution. It has to consciously participate in the peacemaking process in Africa.
By Faith Ikade