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Little silencing of guns in Africa’s Killing Fields

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Picture: RSF / AFP / Taken on April, 23, 2023 – In this image grab taken from handout video footage released by the Sudanese paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on April 23, 2023, fighters wave assault rifles as they cross a street in the East Nile district of greater Khartoum. Thousands of innocent citizens have been injured, and more than 700 – including at least 200 children – have been killed in violent clashes between warring government factions, the writer says.

By Kim Heller

With armed conflicts across so much of the Continent today, the once-upon-a-time peaceful and prosperous land of Africa has turned into a savage killing field. Many parts of the Continent resemble horror movie war-scenes. The violent, ongoing plot of control and plunder of Africa by gluttonous foreign powers, the lustful pursuit of power by political elites, and dire economic conditions has turned African into a battle zone.

While the nature, cause and outcome of battles may differ from nation to nation, what is true across all the warring African countries is that ordinary, innocent citizens are collateral damage.

“Guns. Bombs. Fighter jets. Soldiers. Blood. Screams. Deaths. Rapes. Sudan is bleeding and it needs our help. The streets are deserted and, in its place, taken over by soldiers with tankers and guns and all that is left is blood and death”. This chilling real-time report from the Soko Directory Team describes the desperate plight of Sudan.

The death toll in Sudan is estimated to be above 700, two hundred of which are said to be children. Thousands of innocent citizens have been injured in violent clashes between warring government factions which began on 15 April 2023.

The Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index 2022 shows that five of the ten least-peaceful countries in the world are in Africa; the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Somalia features in the top ten countries in the world most impacted by terrorism. The 2023 Human Rights Watch World Report cites how African leaders have failed to protect citizens from abuses by state security forces and non-state armed groups.

In a noble and necessary quest to ensure a peaceful, prosperous, and integrated Continent, the African Union developed the Silencing the Guns initiative in 2013, as a central component of its Agenda 2063. The aim of Silencing the Guns was to root out the trafficking and presence of illegal weapons in Africa, which are ripping the Continent apart and threatening the peace and stability of citizens.

The UN recognises that ongoing violence in Africa is a huge impediment to the sustainable development of the Continent. Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, who was appointed as the African Union High Representative for Silencing the Guns in 2023 has spoken of how the initiative was “motivated by the desire to bequeath future generations of Africans a Continent free of wars and conflicts” and “to work toward an Africa at peace with itself and with the rest of the world”.

The initial target of Silencing the Guns in 2023 was not met due to lingering and newly fuelled conflicts, increasingly dire economic conditions, climate change, and the legacy of historical underdevelopment. Chambas has spoken of how the Covid-19 pandemic “pushed 55 million Africans into poverty in 2020 and reversed more than two decades of progress in poverty reduction on the Continent”.

The AU has extended the target date of Silencing the Guns to 2030. An additional seven years is unlikely to be sufficient to silence or even lull the sound of war. The spate and fervour of widespread conflict, gravity of economic hardships across much of the Continent, and fraught political power struggles are unlikely to abate.

Acclaimed journalist and author, Chika Onyeani, writes about the brutal legacy of colonialism which lies heavily on present day Africa. “The Europeans divided Africa in their little spheres of influence, with Britain and France taking the lion’s share of the continental pie. They called it the ‘balkanisation’ of Africa. Within the more than hundred years from the period of balkanisation, Africans were mere peons in the chess game of European politics.”

He continues. “During the so-called Cold War, Africa was also a mere pawn in the chess game between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Now that the so-called Cold War is over, Africa has become everybody’s mere pawn – China, Japan, India, Korean and of course Europe, Russia, and America.”

He writes how current day Africa is incapable of sustaining itself economically or defending itself militarily. The root causes of the conflict must be unpacked without fear or favour. The structural economic fault-lines and weaknesses due to centuries long plunder in the colonial scramble for Africa need to be rooted out as firmly as weapons themselves. The rampant poverty, food insecurity and lack of true sovereignty which are all contributing to conflict and instability need urgent remedy.

The pattern of plunder in the new scramble for Africa, requires disruption, before there is nothing left in Africa for its own people. The role of foreign nations in sparking and sponsoring conflict cannot be ignored or downscaled. The complicity of African leaders cannot be left unchallenged. Without dealing with these macro-economic and geo-political matters, the objectives of the Silencing the Guns initiative will never be truly realised.

The Silencing of Guns initiative will only work if it is fully embraced by African leaders and ordinary citizens, Africa cannot count on international players to end the war, as war is often good for business. For those sponsoring arms, there is no hand of friendship or humanity. African life is cheap.

There is an African proverb that says, “War is a poor chisel with which to carve out tomorrow”. For now, the rage of war across the Continent is threatening the current and future wellbeing of African nations and citizens. For now, the prospect of sustainable, lasting peace is dismal as war lingers on in many nations, killing hopes for a prosperous Africa. Peace and prosperity in Africa are a faraway land.

Wracked by violence and insecurity, plagued by terrorism, coups, and conflict, Africa is in a poor state. And the future is unlikely to be much better unless the Silencing of the Gun becomes the marching order of the Continent, and peace rather than war becomes the business of prosperity.

Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.