and co-authored by Jean Ping, chairperson of the African Union Commission
On September 21, the United Nations will celebrate the International Day of Peace (Peace Day). Every year since 1982 this day has provided a rallying point for member states and individuals to join forces to end conflict.
September 21 has a special meaning for Africans this year. While declaring 2010 the Year of Peace and Security at a special session in Tripoli last year, African heads of state and government said:"...We are determined to deal once and for all with the scourge of conflicts and violence on our continent, acknowledging our shortcomings and errors, committing our resources and our best people, and missing no opportunity to push forward the agenda of conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction. We, as leaders, simply cannot bequeath the burden of conflicts to the next generation of Africans."
Accelerated efforts to make peace happen in Africa in 2010 come on the back of some undeniable advances. Violent conflicts have significantly reduced since the mid-90s. Many of the most protracted and violent conflicts that beset the continent have now been resolved. Notable victories for peace have been recorded.
That said, conflict still remains a painful reality on the continent today, and it is not just combatants who are suffering. More people, especially women and children, are dying from the consequences of conflict than from direct conflict-related violence. The economic toll is also devastating. With an average annual loss of around $18bn as a result of wars, civil wars, and insurgencies in Africa, armed conflict shrinks a nation's economy on average by 15 per cent according to an estimate considered conservative.
Conflict is the greatest impediment to sustainable development in Africa. Addressing the scourge of conflict is therefore critical to the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Put simply, if we cannot bring conflict to an end, we will not eliminate poverty. Peace sustains development. Development sustains peace.
For these reasons, both our institutions, the United Nations and the African Union, are determined to leave no stone unturned to end conflict and sustain peace in Africa. As Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, the respected Indian diplomat, stated: 'the more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war'.
We have already notched up some important achievements working together. Nothing illustrates this partnership better than the unprecedented hybrid AU-UN operation deployed in the Darfur region of the Sudan and the support extended by the UN to the AU peace support mission in Somalia.
Elsewhere on the continent, the AU and the UN are combining their respective comparative advantages to resolve conflicts and build new bridges between communities and countries that once saw themselves as irreconcilable enemies. Beyond the immediate task of grappling with current crises, the AU and UN are also engaged in both the critical, yet often invisible, work of preventing the occurrence of conflicts in the first place, and long-term efforts to address the underlying causes of violence and conflicts.
Furthermore, the two organisations are working closely together to build strong institutions and tools to provide the continent with the capacity required to meet the complex challenges facing it in the area of peace and security.
Ever since its creation, less than a decade ago, the African Union has been proactively working towards the resolution of existing crises and the prevention of conflicts, placing particular emphasis on the entrenchment of democracy, rule of law, governance and human rights. The African Union has successfully intervened to restore democracy on several occasions during this period.
The African Union draws strength from the collective resolve of African leaders to bring peace to their continent. Without political commitment there can be no peace. But the pursuit of peace should not only be the preserve of political leaders, national governments and international organisations. Peace cannot be imposed from above; it must simultaneously be fostered from below, through the efforts of ordinary women and men, civil society and private sector; all of whom stand to gain from the achievement of peace.
September 21 is an opportunity to involve every individual in the quest to make peace happen. That is why this year the African Union has engaged models and role models, sportsmen and women, the young and the elderly, musicians, artists, authors and spiritual leaders to inspire and mobilise Africans to make peace happen. On Peace Day these persons will all them of them take practical steps towards the total mobilization of an entire continent for peace.
September 21 provides an opportunity to bring the call for peace out of the chambers of the UN and AU Security Councils, and on to the streets of Africa - to give voice to the most vulnerable, those who bear the brunt of violence, who are often left scarred physically, emotionally and socially.
Their cries, their celebrations and their protestations will echo back to political leaders meeting in New York for the review of the MDGs, and to every corner of the African continent. The people's cry for peace should convince those at war that the commitment to peace cannot be reversed, and that the guns must be permanently silenced, the refugee camps emptied by people voluntarily returning home, and the classrooms filled by children determined to learn and fulfil their limitless potential.