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A.U. seeks new ways of 'silencing the guns'

A.U. leaders pledged to devote more resources to mediating an end to regional violence from a surge in civil wars and conflicts among warring groups.

African Union leaders concluded their annual summit on Monday pledging to devote more resources to mediating an end to regional violence from a surge in civil wars and countries mired in conflicts among warring groups.

Heads of state and government officials huddled for two days of talks at the A.U.'s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, focused on the continental organization's theme of "Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development."

Libya's civil war — with its intensifying violence between two main warring factions that have ignored a United Nations-led peace process — topped the summit's agenda. A.U. leaders vowed to make greater efforts to mediate a cease-fire there, as part of the 55-nation bloc's ambition to play a larger mediation role.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa, who assumed the one-year role of A.U. Assembly chair at the summit, has said the civil wars in Libya and South Sudan are the two main conflicts he wants to focus on while leading the organization.

As a result, the A.U. will hold "an intra-Libyan Conference to promote cease-fire and dialogue," he said, and will work to resolve "outstanding issues" to end the bloody conflict in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation.

"The summit must come up with real actions we as Africans must take to end conflicts, and deal with acts of terrorism that are raging in many countries and regions such as the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and now spreading to other parts of Southern Africa as well," Ramaphosa said in his acceptance speech.

"We must also deal with the actions of other countries outside our continent that are fighting proxy wars and fueling the ongoing conflicts," he said. "The principle of finding African solutions for African problems must be our overriding theme in addressing all the conflicts on our continent as we work within the frameworks of the A.U. and the U.N."

Human Rights Watch urged Ramaphosa to use his new leadership to promote human rights and justice for violations across the continent.

“Ramaphosa’s leadership of the A.U. will be more meaningful if he uses the opportunity to focus the African foreign policy agenda on promoting human rights. Many of the continent’s conflicts have been triggered by widespread atrocities, coupled with impunity for the violators,” Carine Kaneza Nantulya, HRW's Africa advocacy director, said in a statement.

“‘Silencing the guns,’ also known as Vision 2020, is an important statement on the A.U.’s commitment to ending conflicts on the African continent,” said Kaneza Nantulya. “However, without paying due attention to the abuses and injustices that drive conflicts and violence, the A.U.’s vision may remain an un-actualized dream for years to come.”

Peace through inclusivity

In 2018, Africa's civil wars increased to 21, up from 18 a year earlier, according to a June 2019 report from Peace Research Institute Oslo, or PRIO, which said that tied 2018 with 2016 and 2015 for the highest number of such conflicts on the continent since 1946.

"Further, there has been an increase in countries with conflict on their territory," PRIO reported. "While non-state conflict in Africa has been on the rise over the past five years, this trend stabilized in 2018; for the first time in ten years, the number of non-state conflicts did not increase."

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the outgoing A.U. chair, emphasized that Africa's main challenges are its bloody, prolonged conflicts and rising risks of terrorism and extremism.

The Arab League's secretary general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, called Libya's escalating violence a serious crisis involving clear-cut foreign military intervention, requiring the assistance of international organizations to help bring about a permanent cease-fire agreement with monitoring.

Algerian diplomat Smaїl Chergui, the African Union Commission's top official for peace and security, said it was "time to bring this situation to an end" in Libya through A.U. and U.N. joint efforts.

"The two organizations should work hand in hand for that goal," he said. The A.U. headquarters is located in a diplomatic compound shared by U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, one of five U.N. regional economic commissions, and the regional headquarters for other U.N.-affiliated organizations.

At the summit, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the U.N.-A.U. strategic partnership was “of paramount importance” and African leadership is essential to solve the continent's conflicts. He said the three challenges most important to address are fighting poverty through the U.N.'s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, tackling the climate crisis and resolving regional conflicts.

"Ultimately, Silencing the Guns is not just about peace and security but also inclusive sustainable development and human rights," Guterres said in his prepared remarks. "Peace, social cohesion and sustainable development require women's contribution and leadership. It is our joint responsibility to ensure that women are not excluded from critical decision-making in peace processes and post-conflict governance."