The pledge by African leaders attending the 32nd African Union summit in Addis Ababa to “silence all guns in the continent by 2020” is a very ambitious goal, yet one worth acknowledgement and encouragement. As Egypt assumes the presidency of African Union for the coming round, its president, Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, said in his opening remarks at the summit: “There is a need to identify the sponsors of terrorism and address its root causes while putting counter-terrorism measures in place.”
Al Sissi described the scourge of terrorism as a cancer that continues to affect African nations and destroy important structures. Most of the African leaders echoed the same message in their speeches. Yet, how can wars in Africa be stopped while countries fight terrorism?
Simple: The war on terrorism is part of ending wars in the continent. Look at Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia ... If terrorism is eliminated from these countries, there may be no wars. The goal of ending wars is being achieved by peaceful rapprochement between warring factions and states, like what happened between Ethiopia and Eritrea for example. The pledge to end wars is an acknowledgement of a new Africa where democratic elections and peaceful transitions have replaced political takeovers and turmoil.
Some commentators have gone so far as to describe the situation as an ‘African Spring’, not like the ‘Arab’ one through protests and violence. The rising new generation of young leaders is pushing for the end of the stigma that change in Africa mostly comes through military coups and civil wars. Last year, we witnessed political change through elections in Angola, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, South Africa and other countries. That trend is the beginning of the end of wars in Africa, and an important step on the road to stop terrorism.
Is Al Sissi over-optimistic in putting that goal to stop wars in Africa in a couple of years? Not really. If the political will is there, with the help of genuine partners outside Africa, it is achievable. A genuine pan-African stand against terror, and the African Union is a good venue for this.
The African Union should work to shift the focus from providing “peacekeeping” forces for areas of conflict and start taking matters in African hands to resolve these conflicts. For example, leaving the situation in Libya to external players — including the so-called ‘international community’ with the United Nations as a tool — is aggravating the situation. From Turkey and Qatar to Italy and France no external (non-African) party is keen to pacify the situation in Libya or eradicate terrorists from this important African spot.
Unfortunately, some of those external parties help to embolden terrorists. The summit called for stopping this outside meddling and for elections in war-torn Libya before the end of this year.
Libya is one example of the wars in Africa that should be stopped, and it is up to the Africans themselves to do this. The rest of the world can help Africa achieve this goal by encouraging the countries seeking progress through economic development and political stability. But first the global community needs to stop seeing Africa as a source of ‘poor migrants invading the first world’.
The fact that the continent is rich in natural resources needs to be a bonus, and not an onus for Africa. Also, the fact that the continent has got the highest global percentage of youth among its population should encourage investors from rich countries to go to Africa with projects to make use of this vibrant workforce.
African countries need to also agree that terrorism is a common enemy for them, which requires closer cooperation to combat it. Al Qaida, Boko Haram, Al Shabab and similar groups should be fought collectively. Foreign investors in Africa, such as China and some Gulf countries, ought to focus on supporting the course of change in Africa by directing their investments to projects deemed necessary to guarantee internal stability of African countries. Social responsibility towards Africans needs to go along with guaranteeing interests of those investors. This investment would be welcome as it will ensure stability in these nations. Meanwhile, transparency on the side of the ruling political elite in African states would be helpful in attracting genuine foreign investors from outside the continent. In the end, African people should feel the trickle-down effect of the foreign investment in the continent.
Dr Ahmed Mustafa is an Abu Dhabi-based journalist.