Analysis: Africa’s perennial problems

Attia Essawi , Thursday 13 Feb 2020

Al-Ahram Weekly examines the dilemmas that plague the continent and what AU summits have done to address them

File photo: In another attempt to reach Europe, migrants wait to be picked up off the coast of Libya (photo: Reuters)

The African Union (AU) has taken two inseparable and seemingly intractable issues as the focus of its work in 2020. The Silencing the Guns initiative is a drive to end the incessant conflicts that plague the continent and is essential to creating conditions conducive to development. The second issue concerns refugees and the displaced. Africa has more refugees and displaced persons due to war, conflict and drought than any other continent. Remedying the problem requires constant and intensive action.

In his address to the Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development held in Aswan in December President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced that Silencing the Guns would be the main theme of the AU’s 2020 summit. The initiative will serve as a roadmap to African peace and security, providing new mechanisms to bring an end to conflict, halt the spread of terrorist groups and stem the attrition that violence and bloodshed wreak on lives, societies and resources.

Al-Sisi told the forum that sustainable development is an essential component of efforts to combat militant groups in Egypt and elsewhere. He stressed that terrorism can only be confronted through collective action and a resolute stand against countries that fund and sponsor it. Terrorist groups would not survive without the material and moral support they receive from such states.

Sustainable development is impossible without peace and security. An estimated $150 billion per year is needed to fund the infrastructure projects for development. African nations combined can furnish at most $90 billion. The rest must come in the form of outside aid and investments.

The 2020 AU Summit held earlier this week in Addis Ababa is not the first to address the urgent need to rid the continent of conflict. Previous summits have also tried to grapple with the problem but failed to attain their desired goal for a number of reasons, some of them outside the control of African states.

The 2005 African Summit set the goal of making Africa a conflict-free continent by 2010 yet tribal, ethnic and sectarian conflicts continue to rage in many countries due to unresolved struggles over power and wealth and the predations of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates. Little progress has been made towards meeting the oft-repeated promise to end conflict even though Article 4 of the AU Charter grants the AU the right to intervene in member states in cases that involve war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Relieving the conditions faced by refugees and displaced persons, including those able to return to post-conflict regions, demands concerted and urgent efforts given the complex and multifaceted nature of the problems. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Africa has the lion’s share of the world’s 69 million displaced people. In a May 2019 study the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), part of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), reported that in 2018 10.8 million people had been displaced by conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Syria and by sectarian/ethnic tensions in Ethiopia, Cameroon and Nigeria.

According to the report in Ethiopia 2.9 million people were forced to leave their homes due to ethnic/sectarian strife, mostly sparked by disputes over land. In the DRC 1.8 million people were displaced. The report added that the number of internally displaced is now far greater than the 25 million cross-border refugees.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan (OCHA-Sudan) reported that, in 2018, the number of internally displaced in Sudan topped two million, of which 1.6 million live in camps in the five Darfur states. Only 386,000 people have been able to return to their original towns and villages in Darfur since 2015.

According to NRC 50,000 people were driven from their homes in central and northern Mali during the first eight months of 2018 due to ethnic/sectarian strife and military operations against the extremist groups and militias. The breakdown in security in northern Mali has generated waves of displacement in the direction of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Increasing migration rates in Africa are also driven by other factors. A survey conducted by Afrobarometer in 34 African countries from 2016 to 2018 found that one out of three Africans has contemplated migration and young adults and highly educated people are more inclined than others to leave their countries. The search for jobs was the main incentive for 44 per cent of those polled. Twenty nine per cent said they wanted to escape poverty and economic hardship. The study concluded that if African governments do not do more to create job opportunities in their countries they risk losing the most educated, innovative and motivated among their youth.

In October 2018 UNHCR reported that more than 600,000 illegal migrants of 41 different nationalities were in Libya. The number included 40,000 illegal migrants with Sudanese nationality waiting for an opportunity to migrate to Europe.

There are 47,000 African migrants currently in Israel. Ninety per cent of these are from Eritrea, Sudan and DRC. Most have applied for asylum but Israel has approved less than one per cent of applications. In 2017 the Knesset passed a bill approving the expulsion to Rwanda and Uganda of rejected asylum seekers.  

Since 2000 thousands of Africans have died while attempting to migrate. According to some statistics more migrants died in the Sahara than in the Mediterranean. One out of every 14 migrants from Libya to Europe died in 2018 compared to one out of every 38 in 2017.

According to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), 119,000 Africans were apprehended in 2017 while attempting to reach Europe on migrant boats from Libya. Some 23,000 were arrested on their way to Spain from Algeria and Morocco.

African leaders agreed on a plan to promote job creation and rural development at the AU Summit in 2004. More than 15 years later half of Africa’s young people are out of work. In some countries the figure is as high as 75 per cent.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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