It was meant to be a day of achievement: the deadline for the African Union’s goal of “silencing the guns” and ending armed conflicts on the African continent.
Instead, as African leaders dined with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the terrace of a former imperial palace on Sunday night, they were reflecting on a day of gloomy warnings about intractable wars and expanding insurrection.
At the opening session of the annual African Union summit in Addis Ababa, while Mr. Trudeau pursued votes for Canada’s bid for a United Nations Security Council seat, senior African officials were reciting a litany of disaster: escalating violence and terrorist attacks across the continent, from Mozambique in the south to Nigeria in the west and Congo in the centre.
“This cancer is far from being eradicated,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission, in his speech to the summit. “The hydra is always there, actively awakening, threatening the collapse of some countries.”
Seven year ago, as they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the African Union, the bloc’s 55 member states pledged to “end all wars” on the continent by a deadline of 2020.
However, the number of armed conflicts and extremist insurrections has grown in recent years, expanding into new battlefields in places such as Burkina Faso, northern Mozambique, the Libyan capital Tripoli, northern Kenya and the anglophone regions of Cameroon.
“The deteriorating of existing conflicts and the emergence of new ones means that the continent is in a more-violent situation than a decade ago,” said Solomon Dersso, a legal scholar who heads the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in a commentary last week.
“The guns seem to be growing louder at the beginning of 2020,” he said. “This situation seems to make a mockery of the theme of the year.”
At its summit this weekend, the African Union again adopted the theme of “Silencing the Guns” – but now as a renewed goal for an unspecified date the future.
In a speech on the eve of the summit, Mr. Mahamat acknowledged that the AU had missed the 2020 deadline for ending wars. He blamed “the complex nature of the security problem in Africa.”
Mr. Trudeau, at a series of appearances at AU events this weekend, spoke mostly of his long-standing goals in trade and investment, gender equality and climate change. His private meetings with African leaders at the summit have allowed him to seek support for the Canadian bid for a Security Council seat, with the UN election approaching in June.
But in his bilateral meetings, he also acknowledged the devastating impact of wars in several regions of Africa.
At a meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday, for example, Mr. Trudeau “expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in northeastern Nigeria and the plight of the civilian population affected by ongoing insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin,” according to a statement by his office.
At another meeting on Sunday, this time with Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, the two leaders discussed “regional peace and security challenges” and “counterterrorism efforts.”
At several of his meetings, Mr. Trudeau talked of UN peacekeeping efforts in Africa, noting that Canada is the chair of the UN Peacebuilding Commission this year.
Mr. Trudeau will also travel to the West African country of Senegal during his African visit this week. On Monday, he will visit Canadian troops at an air base in Kuwait and hold meetings with Kuwait’s Prime Minister, Sheik Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah, before continuing to Senegal on Tuesday.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who assumed the rotating leadership of the AU on Sunday, told the summit that AU leaders need to “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 now spreading to other parts of Southern Africa as well.”
Africa must also deal with non-African countries that are “fighting proxy wars and fuelling the ongoing conflicts,” Mr. Ramaphosa said.
Mr. Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would play host to a special summit in May under the “Silencing the Guns” theme to respond to the growing security threats in the continent.
Mr. Mahamat, in his speech, complained of a lack of “solidarity” by African governments to tackle the worsening conflicts in West Africa and the Sahel region.
The International Crisis Group, an independent research organization, said the African leaders seem “increasingly less committed to collective peacemaking.” With the exception of its efforts in Sudan and the Central African Republic, the AU has been largely a bystander in several other conflicts, the Crisis Group said in a report on the eve of the AU summit.