Small arms are enablers of armed violence and a serious threat to peace, security, and stability. Use this September Africa Amnesty Month to reduce illicit flows of weapons, strengthen ties between communities and law enforcement and further peace and security.
The 29th Summit of the African Union (AU) held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July 2017, declared the month of September of each year, until 2020, as ‘Africa Amnesty Month for the surrender and collection of illicit small arms and light weapons’.
Early this year, the AU Summit held in Addis Ababa adopted the theme of the Year 2020 as ‘Silencing the Guns — Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development’. The year 2020 was, therefore, intended to give greater emphasis to efforts at national, regional and continental levels on ‘Silencing the Guns’, and also a culmination for the Africa Amnesty Month.
However, 2020, so far, has been a year of unprecedented challenges but also opportunities for Africa in its march towards sustainable peace and development, as envisioned in the 2017 Master Road Map of Practical Steps to Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic has compounded efforts of the AU Member States for greater economic and social progress. It has also compromised and slowed efforts for revamped peace initiatives on the continent, from Libya to Mali, the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel regions where violent extremism and terrorism have continued unabated. Badly needed access to conflict and crisis areas by humanitarian actors has severely been affected.
The peacebuilding efforts and reach of support and relief efforts to the affected Member States has been limited. Hence, the dual impact of the conflict and the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic on the most vulnerable, namely refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and migrants, as well as youth, women, children and the elderly, has been exacerbated.
Yet, in the face of these challenges, windows of opportunity have opened up: The thirty-third AU Summit re-energized collective political will for Member States to forge ahead and silence the guns on the continent. The Summit recommended that in implementing activities under the theme of the year, special attention is paid by the AU, regional economic communities and regional mechanisms for conflict prevention, management and resolution, and Member States to hardcore security issues and challenges, whose resolution is expected to generate more dividends to the African efforts to silence the guns and promote a conflict-free Africa.
In March 2020, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, called for all belligerents to observe ceasefires throughout the COVID-19 period in order to allow unimpeded humanitarian access to conflict areas and to free up resources for addressing the global pandemic.
Building on the momentum and commitment boldly expressed by the Heads of State and Government of the AU through the ‘Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020’ initiative, the international community, through UN Security Council resolution 2457 (2019), has underscored the importance of the two joint United Nations-African Union partnership frameworks in galvanizing concrete and practical system and commission-wide support to help Africa make tangible progress towards achieving its goal of creating a conflict-free continent. The resolution is, indeed, an expression of the readiness of the international community to support the implementation of the AU Master Road Map of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa by year 2020.
The resolution also creates an opportunity that should be seized by countries and all entities working for peace and security in Africa. There is no doubt that sustained political will and resources are important factors for translating into reality the vision of an Africa in which guns are silent, armed conflicts are a thing of the past and peace, security and economic progress are the order of the day.
Activities in 7 countries
It is in this spirit that, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and the AU Commission, with financial contributions from Germany and Japan, have launched a project to support the Amnesty Month activities in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya in 2020.
The project is supporting these countries in sensitization and awareness campaigns on illegal gun-ownership and illicit flows of weapons, collection and destruction of illicit small arms and light weapons and their ammunition, and training of law enforcement officials.
While it is understood that illegal gun ownership by civilian populations and illicit trafficking and procurement of weapons by armed groups is often a symptom of a much deeper governance problem, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is a central problem in efforts to ‘Silencing the Guns’.
In 2017, the Assembly of the Union adopted a strategic document known as the “AU Master Roadmap (AUMR) of Practical Steps to Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020. Since the adoption of the Master Roadmap, the AU Peace & Security Council has led efforts in the implementation of the AUMR in collaborative efforts with AU Member States, Regional Economic Communities/Regional Mechanisms, the African Union Commission, UN, African institutions/organisations, CSOs and partners. Download the AU Master Road Map of Practical Steps to Silencing the Guns in Africa.
A holistic approach to addressing the issue effectively demands sustained efforts by all segments of society. It is not a government affair alone. Civil society organizations and grass-roots communities have a role to play. The inclusion of these actors in government‑dedicated institutions, such as the national commissions or national focal points for combating illicit flows of weapons, is a valid proposition.
Perceived from this angle, the AU Master Road Map for Practical Steps of Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020, together with its September Africa Amnesty Month, constitute concrete policy responses to the Sustainable Development Goal target 16.4 which calls for significant reduction in illicit arms flows by 2030.
African countries have made headway in recent years, partly by establishing national commissions, national focal points and points of contact in their governments to tackle illicit arms flows. These institutions are vital in achieving coordinated national efforts for the implementation of national, regional and global policies and instruments on illicit trade and trafficking in small arms and light weapons.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has set back some efforts, the UN and the AU Commission have invigorated their partnership under Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter, and will continue to work together towards ‘Silencing the Guns’ in Africa and related peace and security issues.
Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu is the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, while Mr. Ramtane Lamamra is the African Union High Representative for Silencing the Guns.