ANALYSIS | International Peace Day: Guns still fire in Africa

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Niger's soldiers stand at Bosso military camp on June 17, 2016 following attacks by Boko Haram fighters in the Diffa region.
Niger's soldiers stand at Bosso military camp on June 17, 2016 following attacks by Boko Haram fighters in the Diffa region.
Issouf Sanogo/AFP

Continued militarisation of Africa jeopardises the aspirations for peace included in Agenda 2063, leaving the continent nowhere close to silencing the guns, writes Craig Bailie.


In 1981, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared the annual opening day of its regular sessions, 21 September, as International Day of Peace ("Peace Day").

This is a day, "devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples".

Furthermore, in 2001, the UNGA declared that Peace Day, "shall henceforth be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day".

In 2020, Peace Day coincides with the African Union's (AU's) theme of the year, "Silencing the Guns".

An ambitious agenda for peace 

On the 50th anniversary of the Organisation of Unity (OAU/AU), in May 2013, the Assembly of the AU tasked the AU Commission with preparing an agenda for Africa's development over the next 50 years. The proceeding work culminated in Agenda 2063 – a framework for Africa's integration and development, recognised and supported by the UN.   

The Agenda outlines seven aspirations, "for the Africa we want" – one of these being "a peaceful and secure Africa".

In accordance with this aspiration, by 2063, "Africa shall be free from armed conflict, terrorism, extremism, intolerance, and gender-based violence, which are major threats to human security, peace and development".

More ambitiously, the Assembly of the AU commits in the Agenda to speeding up actions to, "[s]ilence the guns by 2020, through enhanced dialogue-centred conflict prevention and resolution".

The prospects for success

Unfortunately, as we approach the 39th International Day of Peace (first observed in 1982), and the deadline for silencing guns and "ending all wars in Africa", the continent is very much still one marked by violent conflict. Hostilities of different forms persist in a number of African countries.  

Africa also hosts the largest number of the most fragile states in the world. The governments of these counties are unable to provide or facilitate the conditions needed for minimum human development. This increases the likelihood of violent conflict.

Furthermore, some regions in Africa are undergoing democratic decline. Democratic regression can have a negative impact on opportunities for conflict resolution. With the existing conditions in mind, one commentator has rightfully said, "it will take a miracle to silence the guns in Africa". 

Ongoing conflict, state fragility and democratic decline are realities that the coronavirus pandemic will potentially exacerbate. For example, the virus has already had a negative impact on the continent's peace operations.  

Peace operations in Africa

Conflict prevention, peacemaking, peace enforcement, peacebuilding and peacekeeping are all variants of the peace operations deemed crucial for Africa's stability.    

Africa has and continues to play host to the majority of UN peace operations. As a result, the UN has been the most prominent actor in peace initiatives on the continent.

However, under the banner of "African solutions for African problems", and especially since the operationalisation of the AU's Peace and Security Council in 2004, the AU has become increasingly involved in Africa's conflict management initiatives.

The military institution and peace in Africa

UN and AU peace operations depend on troop contributions from their respective member states.

Due to its possession of arms and specialised training in the exercise and management of violence, the military is an essential component of peace operations, which involve many security-related tasks, including the protection of civilians, often in hostile environments. However, that which makes the military an essential actor for peace in peace operations also makes it a conduit for violence in other contexts.  

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan declared, "we will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights".

Of the varied obstacles to peace, security, development and human freedoms in Africa, Africa's armed forces have historically been among the most prominent, especially in their own countries. This is partly a legacy of colonialism and partly a result of poor leadership in post-colonial Africa.

Since 1952, the majority of military coup attempts across the world have occurred in Africa.

Where militaries have ruled, they have often proven to govern worse than their civilian predecessors. Human rights abuses and involvement in civil wars are more likely under military rule than under civilian dictatorships.

Where Africa's militaries have remained under civilian control, governing elites who prioritise regime security over the cultivation of national cohesion, human security and peace, have overseen the abuse of military power against civilians.

Among the many contemporary examples are those in countries that rank among the top African recipients of foreign military aid provided by the United States (US).

Africa's reinvigorated militarisation

The US is not the only donor of foreign military aid to African states. Among the world's more powerful countries, other patrons include China and Russia. Military aid can include, for example, funding for peace operations, the provision of military equipment and the training of African military personnel.

At least 13 foreign militaries have a presence on the continent – evidence of what many have termed, "the new scramble for Africa". Very recently, military affairs scholar Theo Neethling documented the scramble to set up military bases in Africa.

Foreign motivations behind the building of military bases include counter-terrorism, anti-piracy, protection of commercial interests and increasing power in the midst of rising global competition. Moreover, private military and security companies are playing an increasing role on the continent.   

These developments amount to a reinvigorated militarisation of Africa, beginning after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Militarisation prioritises the use of military-oriented solutions to problems of governance – an especially attractive option for African regimes who are unwilling to practice inclusive governance and who have willing sponsors. 

In the midst of ongoing abuses by many of Africa's armed forces, the continued militarisation of Africa is concerning for the continent's peace and security, further jeopardising the aspirations for peace included in Agenda 2063, and commemorated on International Peace Day.  

*Craig Bailie is a lecturer in Political Science at the Stellenbosch University School for Security and Africa Studies.

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