The initiative “Silencing the Guns” was declared the theme of the African Union in 2020 and a roadmap to African peace and security. The announcement was made by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi during the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development.
The forum, held last week in the Upper Egyptian city of Aswan, is yet another attempt to terminate conflicts, counter the expansion of terrorist organisations in Africa and give back to people who suffer from terrorism and harsh living conditions that violence and conflicts have taken away from their fortunes.
Achieving sustainable development in Africa and confronting armed groups in Egypt and sub-Saharan countries are needed, Al-Sisi said at the forum, stressing that collective efforts are required to combat terrorism and deal decisively with countries nurturing it, since terrorist organisations derive their power from the financial, military and moral support they receive.
Attending the forum were a number of heads of state, heads of African governments, representatives of international bodies and European officials. They discussed peace and security in Africa, especially in the Sahel, where the threat of terrorist organisations escalated, as well as strategies to confront them, end conflicts and boost mechanisms for sustaining peace. Peace, security and sustainable development go hand in hand, forum participants agreed.
Terrorism has escalated in Africa, from Libya in the north to Somalia in the east and from the Sahel to the southeast in Mozambique, claiming countless lives, mostly civilians, and destroying whatever humble infrastructure these countries had as a nucleus for development. In this case, terrorism stands in the way of millions of people trying to improve their living conditions because they can’t construct development projects nor attract foreign investments.
Of the recent terrorist operations is the attack the Islamic State (IS) in the Greater Sahara claimed responsibility for. The operation targeted a Niger army camp, killing 71 people. The attack was branded the bloodiest the army had suffered from since the beginning of terrorist operations in the poor country of Niger more than five years ago.
In early December, 14 people were killed in an attack on a Protestant church in eastern Burkina Faso. Days earlier, 37 people were killed in a terrorist attack by gunmen on a convoy of a Canadian mining company in the northeast of Burkina Faso. In early November, IS claimed responsibility for an attack on the army in northeastern Mali that killed 53 soldiers. And a month earlier, the Malian government announced that 25 soldiers were killed and 60 reported missing after extremists attacked two army camps.
Terrorist groups in the Sahel reinforced their proliferation and began to infiltrate areas in the Gulf of Guinea, such as the north of Benin, causing the 15 West African countries to prepare a regional plan to combat terrorism that will cost them $1 billion. West African leaders had pledged in September to dedicate $1 billion, starting 2020, to fight Islamic extremist groups.
However, some observers doubt that this will improve security due to the lack of funding, training, and the necessary weapons and equipment. The extremists intensified their attacks on the Sahel, especially in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, despite the deployment of 4,500 French soldiers in the Sahel. French Minister of Defence Florence Barley announced that the battle waged by France against terrorists in the region will take “a long time”.
Barley told Le Journal du Dimanche on the eve of honouring the 13 French soldiers killed in a military operation in Mali: “When I visited the region in early November, I concluded that the situation was deteriorating, as evidenced by the losses incurred by the armies of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. I warned, ‘This area lies at the gateway to Europe and there must be more Europeans standing on the frontlines with France and Sahel countries, or else there will be vast neglected lands in those countries that will become shelters for terrorist groups affiliated with IS and Al-Qaeda.’”
Barley’s statements to the French newspaper came amid reports that Paris wants to establish a European special force next year to support local African forces in their battles.
As for other African regions, terrorist influence in Libya is increasing with the help of Turkey and Qatar. The IS horrendously slaughtered several Libyan citizens, including government officials, whom they kidnapped from Al-Foqahaa village in the south. Ali Al-Qatrani, a former member of the Libyan Transitional Presidency Council who resigned, said it is certain the agreement signed last month between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and president of the Libyan Transitional Presidency Council, Fayez Al-Sarraj, to demarcate maritime borders and boost security and military cooperation may include arrangements for the transfer of IS and terrorists from Syria’s Idlib via the Turkish border to Libya by sea and air. Al-Qatrani’s reference to this viewpoint is what Bashar Al-Jaafari, Syria’s representative to the United Nations, said about Turkish authorities currently transferring terrorists from Idlib to Libya to fight the Libyan army.
In Somalia, police announced that five people were killed and 11 wounded in an attack by five terrorists on a hotel in the capital, Mogadishu. Ethiopia said in September it had arrested Al-Qaeda terrorists, the majority of whom were foreigners from Syria and Yemen, in provinces close to the borders with Somalia and Kenya. And in early December Sudanese forces announced they had arrested six Boko Haram terrorists with Chadian nationality in Sudan, thanks to the security cooperation protocol signed between Sudan, Libya, Niger and Chad.
Moroccan authorities announced the dismantling of a cell loyal to IS that was planning to carry out attacks and intensify calls inciting revenge for the death of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the former IS leader. The Moroccan operation was conducted jointly with Spanish police and resulted in the arrest of three suspects in Morocco and the arrest of their leader in Spain. No doubt cooperation between Sudan, Chad, Libya and Niger, as well as that between Morocco and Spain, are examples of what President Al-Sisi has called for.
Regarding sustainable development that requires peace and security and the termination of terrorist groups, the Aswan Forum derives its importance from several worrying facts.
While the 2005 AU summit declared a conflict-free Africa by 2010, armed conflicts are still erupting in many countries due to the policy and mismanagement of many governments that provoke tribal, ethnic and religious conflicts for power and wealth, or because of armed groups such as Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda and IS.
As for the 2003 AU summit resolution to deploy 15,000 soldiers in regional bases by 2005 and then expanding their scope to include the corners of Africa by 2010, it didn’t see the light of day.
Sixteen years have passed and nothing besides promises have been made despite the fact that Article 4 of the AU charter gives it the right to intervene militarily when war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide occur in a member state.
There are 26 million homeless people due to wars and conflicts in Africa, according to a 2009 report by the International Red Cross, in addition to 3.1 million refugees outside their home countries. Africans make up 50 per cent of the world’s refugees.
At the 2004 AU summit, leaders approved a plan to provide new job opportunities and develop rural areas. Half of all youth remain unemployed, and in some countries they reach 75 per cent. Some 56 per cent of scientifically competent youth required for development projects are fleeing abroad due to the lack of appropriate conditions for their work. UNESCO said half of youth aged between 15 and 17 in sub-Saharan countries are out of school and at least 15 million will not set foot on their lands.
African women are still denied the right to own lands, or inherit their fathers and husbands. The majority of parents don’t care about their daughters’ education, and African girls are married off at an early age, despite their disapproval of the marriage or marrying according to the traditions of sub-Saharan tribes.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.