106. Time is running out for SA to help silence the guns in Africa

Author: Adekeye Adebajo
Date: 31 May 2020
Publication: Business Day
Image courtesy of: Botana via Pixabay

Amidst the disruption of the Corona virus that has forced the United Nations (UN) to conduct most of its business remotely, South Africa is now in the last seven months of its two-year tenure on the UN Security Council. It has actively promoted the African Union’s (AU) aspirations of “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020.” About 70,000 (85%) of the UN’s 82,000 peacekeepers are currently deployed in Africa. South Africa has 1,153 troops in three UN missions, 98% of which are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while others are in Darfur and South Sudan.

As AU chair this year, president Cyril Ramaphosa has identified the DRC, Central African Republic (CAR), and Libya as key priorities for silencing the guns. Tshwane has pursued “The African Agenda”, but has yet – unlike Germany and Indonesia – to draft Security Council resolutions which are currently dominated by France, Britain, and the US in 15 of 16 African cases.

South Africa has, alongside Beijing and Moscow, insisted on support for the Congo’s sovereignty in the face of meddling by France and Belgium. Despite the presence of 20,000 UN peacekeepers in the vast country, over 3 million people have been killed and 6 million displaced. The situation in the East – especially in Ituri and the Kivus – remains dire, with 250,000 people displaced in Ituri since January. Tshwane has thus argued for a continuing focus on UN peacekeeping in the East, and increased peacebuilding efforts in the rest of the country where there is greater stability.

In neighbouring Burundi where 436,000 people have been displaced, South Africa has maintained a similar approach to the DRC in urging that the country’s sovereignty be respected. Burundi’s ruling party has announced victory in recent presidential elections controversially held amidst a COVID/19 crisis. More broadly, Burundi and Rwanda continue to accuse each other of backing armed elements against the other’s territory. In the CAR, both the AU and the UN have praised the country’s Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation. However, even with 11,000 UN peacekeepers, rival Christian and Muslim militias roam across 80% of the country in a conflict which has displaced 1.2 million people, and also involves farmers, herders, merchants, and reportedly Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries.

In Sudan’s Darfur region, the UN – led by South African diplomat, Kingsley Mamabolo – is set to draw down peacekeeping and establish a much smaller political mission. While Western powers have pushed for a strong follow-on mission with a police force that can protect civilians and monitor human rights, South Africa, along with Russia and China, has supported the government of Khartoum’s position of having a limited UN presence in the territory. Sudanese security forces, however, continue to be accused of committing human rights abuses, while Western Darfur remains unstable.

In neighbouring South Sudan, Tshwane has worked to support the country’s transitional government, installed in February. Along with Tunisia, Niger, Russia, and China; South Africa has opposed Western efforts to continue to impose sanctions on the belligerents which they feel could damage the political process. Tshwane has instead argued for benchmarking the easing of sanctions to progress in the peace process.  In neighbouring Abyei, South Africa – backed again by Beijing and Moscow – has pushed back against American efforts to reduce the number of troops in the Ethiopian-led UN peacekeeping mission.

As AU chair, Cyril Ramaphosa is trying to reverse the continental body’s diplomatic marginalisation in Libya amidst continued meddling by Egypt, Turkey, Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. About 150,000 people have been internally displaced, while thousands of trapped African migrants continue to be maltreated.

Amidst these continuing conflicts, Tshwane will clearly struggle to meet the impossible 2020 deadline for the guns to fall silent in Africa.

Professor Adekeye Adebajo is the Director of the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation.