African Coups and Silencing the Guns Agenda in 2021

The goal of Silencing the Guns (STG) was to achieve a conflict-free Africa and rid the continent of all wars and conflicts. Conflicts have persisted, resulting in the STG agenda being extended to 2030, in the hope that by then Africa will have cured itself of the plague of conflict.

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ACCORD COVID-19 Conflict & Resilience Monitor
AMISOM Photo/Ilyas Ahmed

The goal of Silencing the Guns (STG) was to achieve a conflict-free Africa and rid the continent of all wars and conflicts.  The STG agenda was given greater emphasis for the year 2020, when the AU declared the theme of the year as Silencing the Guns – Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development. Despite the initiative and roadmaps that have been produced by the AU to realise this goal, conflicts have persisted, resulting in the STG agenda being extended to 2030, in the hope that by then Africa will have cured itself of the plague of conflict.

While the STG agenda stalled in its initial task of producing a conflict-free Africa by 2020, it does indicate a clear focus of the continent on ridding itself of conflict.

Despite 2021 being the expected start of the first year of a conflict-free Africa, there have been a number of coups d’état and an entrenchment of conflicts.  In Ethiopia, the conflict between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has only worsened during the course of the year, drawing in forces from Eritrea and groups such as the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).  The conflict began as what Prime Minister Abiy described as a law and order operation to the Tigray region, with accusations of war crimes and human rights violations being attributed to both sides.  This conflict has shown the limitations that the AU has in conflict intervention, as the continental body has not yet succeeded in negotiating a cease-fire, after initial efforts to mediate by the AU were rejected by Ethiopia. As South Africa’s Former President Thabo Mbeki recently pointed out, the AU has an express mandate to intervene in conflicts and ensure peace on the continent, which it has not yet managed to achieve in this instance. 

In the Great Lakes Region, there has also been an escalation in military operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with Uganda sending troops across the border to assist the DRC government in the conflict against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).  The Eastern DRC region has been in a ‘state of siege’ for a number of months, as the military ramped up activities in the region to combat the ADF, who have been blamed for a number of attacks in the region.  The ADF has its origins in Uganda, and more recently, Uganda has attributed two suicide bombings in November 2021 to this group, prompting their decision to deploy troops to the DRC.  While this is not the first time Uganda has sent troops to the DRC, this recent move from Kampala does indicate a ramping up of military activity to combat the ADF.

The southern African region has experienced a similar situation in that attacks in Mozambique’s northern region of Cabo Delgado prompted military intervention by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Rwanda.  The conflict in Cabo Delgado has been taking place for a number of years, but really came to prominence this year following the attacks on the city of Palma that made news around the world.  The attack, claimed by the Islamic State, killed dozens of people, both locals and foreign nationals, which also led to the French oil and gas company Total suspending its LNG project in Cabo Delgado.  The responses to the conflict in Cabo Delgado first saw the deployment of Rwandan troops to the region, which was followed by troops from SADC’s mission to Mozambique.  

2021 was also not short of political instability that was resolved by military interventions.  In Sudan there was both an attempted coup and a successful one, with the latter seeing the Head of the Sudanese Armed Forces Abdel Fattah al-Burhan relieving Prime Minister Hamdok of his duties.  Prime Minister Hamdok was later reinstated, although it appears that his power within the state is weak and his position tenuous.  The October coup in Sudan also kicked off protests in Sudan, with people coming out to both support the coup and oppose it

In West Africa, both Mali and Guinea found themselves victims of coups.  In the case of Mali it was the second coup in 9 months, both of which were led by Col Assimi Goïta.  Col Goïta took up the position of vice-president of the transition government following months of talks after the first coup.  However, in 2021, Goïta had the President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane arrested and placed himself at the head of government. Goïta has committed Mali to producing an election timetable by latest 2022 for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), an entity from which Mali has been suspended due to the recent coups.  Thus far it remains to be seen if Mali will be in a position to host elections in the near future, although what is clear is that the political instability is having an effect on the state, as Mali finds itself the subject of sanctions.  Resolving the political tensions in the state will be key to ensuring a conflict-free state.

In Guinea, Col Mamady Doumbouya became president after leading a coup to oust leader Alpha Condé.  Alpha Conde was Guinea’s first democratically elected president and had been in power for 10 years, with constructional amendments in the works that would allow him to serve a 3rd term as president.  However, in September 2021 the news broke that Conde had been ousted.  The news of the coup was welcomed on the streets of Conakry, as the people of Guinea felt betrayed by their president who was not able to improve the quality of life in Guinea despite the rich natural resources that the country possesses.  The new president has promised to redevelop the state by writing a new constitution, tackling corruption and ensuring free and fair elections.

While the STG agenda stalled in its initial task of producing a conflict-free Africa by 2020, it does indicate a clear focus of the continent on ridding itself of conflict.  When the agenda was launched in 2013 it was not clear why 2020 was chosen as the year by which all conflicts should end, nor was it clear that a conflict-free Africa by 2020 was feasible.  The same can be said of the selection of the year 2030 as the new target for silencing the guns.  If the AU and the continent hopes to see the silencing of the guns come to fruition then it requires more than just political will on the part of the AU.  The AU and its Member States need to work together at the local level, to prevent communal conflicts, at the national level and at the international level to stop the flow of arms and trans-national conflicts in Africa.  However, the agenda does still indicate that the AU is well aware of the issue of conflicts on the continent and that it is prepared to put in the requisite effort to produce a conflict-free Africa. 

Katharine Bebington is a Programme Officer and Halima Ahmed is Research Fellow at ACCORD.

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