On the Road to Disarmament in Africa: Silencing the Guns for Sustainable Peace and Conflict Prevention
By Marina Kumskova and Sarah Werner, WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security Programme
Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
The high-level United Nations Security Council open debate on “Silencing the guns in Africa: cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations” was convened on 27 February 2019.
Held during the UNSC Presidency of Equatorial Guinea, the debate opened with the unanimous adoption of Resolution 2457, which reiterates the need for international cooperation and partnerships to meet the aspirations of the “Silencing the Guns” Initiative and realise the goal of sustaining peace and development in Africa. The ensuing discussions focused on defining the nature of this support in light of ongoing peace and security challenges on the continent.
Member States trust that the “Silencing the Guns” campaign will encourage implementation of the 2030 and 2063 Agendas. However, there was resounding agreement that this path will be rocky. Major threats include the illicit arms trade and proliferation of small arms, the exploitation of natural resources, and social, political and economic instability.
Member States underscored the crucial link between sustainable development and disarmament, with several States calling to move the money from ongoing militarisation to achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda, with specific attention given to building governance and fighting corruption (SDG16). The shared commitment to sustainable development and demilitarisation represents a clear opportunity for advocacy and action.
Many recognised the need for the increased civil and political participation of women, outlining several ways in which the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda can sustain peace on the continent. Though the African Union’s work on the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda and the newly-adopted Prevention Framework provide guidance on how the work of FemWise-Africa and others can be built upon. Few, however, offered tangible commitments or recommendations for improving women’s social, political and economic position.
Acknowledging that the African Union’s Master Roadmap to Silence the Guns by 2020 is ambitious, Member States agreed that it outlines good practices that should be followed. The Member States recognised that it was “bearing fruit,” welcoming concrete achievements in peace and security across the continent, including the peaceful transition of power in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo; peaceful resolution of the post-electoral crisis in Gambia; and peace agreements in South Sudan, among others. Several states specifically recognised the success of early prevention and response systems as tangible and incremental steps towards improving regional security.
The voice of civil society was, as always, crucial. Representatives of ACCORD and the International Committee of Red Cross presented dramatically divergent perspectives (both in tone and content) on the current state of peace and security in Africa. Whereas Member States frequently drifted into self-congratulation surrounding their current level of regional support and passage of UNSCR 2457, the civil society representatives painted a clear picture of the toll of regional conflict and instability, raised specific concerns, and questioned what would be done beyond the resolution’s passage.
Indeed, disarmament and the focus on sustainable development can be important tools for addressing the conflict prevention gap and moving from political economies of war to political economies of peace and gender justice. Member States are in agreement that this shift requires more than just improving policies on small arms proliferation; it requires rebuilding societies and building capacity to thrive. As pointed out by Mexico, it will require the recognition of the extra-territorial accountability of countries outside of the African continent for their arms transfers and exploitation of natural resources, (especially conflict minerals in Africa). Further, the UN should not try to enforce their agenda upon Africa. Instead, they should contribute to building peacebuilding capacity of countries through the Peacebuilding Fund and by other means. Finally, conflict prevention requires the partnership building with local women’s groups and regional networks to ensure that women have capacity and forums to engage with impact.
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