Talking shop: The irony of Africa's peace talks as strife proliferates

Senegal President and AU Chairperson Macky Sall gives a keynote address during the opening ceremony of the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa in Dakar, Senegal. [Betty Njeru, Standard]

Decades after independence from colonial powers, one would have hoped Africa's post-independence regimes would by now have outgrown the curse of mercenaries, sponsored coups, and foreign-powered civil strife.

But as the recently staged Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security established, African nations are still wallowing in the miasma of externally powered internal aggressions, with peace nowhere in sight.

Peacekeeping operations have assumed run-of-the-mill acclaim, as the African Union (AU) and regional blocs come to terms with their longevity and as the pool of respected continental statesmen who can broker peace continues to dwindle. 

Pounding on the sides and adding fuel to the fire, are the pangs of climate change, biting poverty, and hopelessness of a fast-growing population. There is no respite for African leaders.  

It is this search for a long-lasting and sustainable solution that occasioned the Dakar International Forum on peace and security held in Senegal’s capital, Dakar. Now in its eighth edition, the Seminar brought together Heads of State and Governments, ministers, and professionals but turned out to be more of a whining session.

Chairperson of the African Union, president of Senegal Macky Sall, played host to the international forum.

Joao Lourenco (President of Angola), Jose Maria Neves (President of Cape Verde), and Soares Sambu (Vice-Prime Minister of Guinea Bissau). Foreign delegations included representation from Saudi Arabia and France.

In his keynote address during the opening ceremony of the forum held at the Abdou Diouf International Conference Centre (CICAD) in Dakar, Sall pointed out the need for African countries to maintain peace and cut over-dependence on international funding.

“How can you maintain peace when peace itself is not established?” he posed.

Senegal President Macky Sall (centre) with other Heads of State and Governments and ministers at the Dakar International Forum in Dakar, Senegal. [File, Standard]

Fight Against Terrorism

The AU chairperson prioritised the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, saying it was a global threat.

“If the continent has today become one of the epicentres of terrorism, it is because the scourge is fueled by cross-border crime, the illegal proliferation of weapons, financial flows and illicit trafficking of all kinds, and the participation of foreign fighters,” the president said.

Sall also questioned the intention of the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (currently operating in twelve countries across the world), saying it needs to be updated to fully integrate the fight against terrorism, including in Africa. His sentiments come on the back of ongoing criticism of UN missions across the region and other peace-support missions in various parts of the continent.  

“In the face of terrorism, the United Nations Classic Peace Operations have shown their limits.  Blue helmets attacked even on their own bases, without significant response capabilities, certainly cannot protect populations threatened by terrorist groups.”

“The inertia of the Security Council in the fight against terrorism in Africa carries with it the failure of the multilateral system,” the AU Chair added.

Cape Verde President Jose Maria Neves acknowledged that the wave of terrorism in the SAHEL region also places a huge burden and challenge on the African continent. “There is a need for countries to mobilise all our forces and energies and place them at the service and development of our continent.”

Terror groups have set sights and solidified operations in Africa, with concerns rising on the insurgency of Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda groups to the east and the Horn of Africa and Boko Haram and Muslim Islamic violence to the west.

According to the Global Terrorism Index 2022, Africa emerged as the global epicenter of terrorism, with 48 per cent of global deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa owed to terrorist activities.

Just days after the Dakar forum, where solutions to end terrorism took center stage, more than 100 people were killed in twin-car bomb explosions in Mogadishu, Somalia.

It was the second deadliest attack in Somalia’s history, after the October 2017 attack in the capital that left 587 people dead and hundreds more injured. The Al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for both explosions.

In his message, Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud condemned the attacks as “a cruel and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent people by the morally bankrupt and criminal Al-Shabab group.”

The African Union (AU) mission in Somalia (Amisom) said the attacks underline the urgency and critical importance of the ongoing military offensive to further degrade Al-Shabaab.

Somalia Ambassador to Senegal Mohammed Hussein Abukar who spoke to The Standard on the sidelines of the Dakar forum averred that other countries need not cut off Somalia, lest it will be a losing battle.

“The Somalia National army is capable of managing the fight but with a bit of help from AU and neighbouring countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the rest of the world. Losing this battle will be a danger to the whole continent. The Gambia, Senegal, and West Africa shouldn’t watch what happened to East Africa. It’s a wakeup call for them,” said Abukar.

Somalia Ambassador to Senegal Mohammed Hussein Abukar at the eighth edition of the Dakar Intl Forum in Dakar, Senegal. [File, Standard]

Border Conflicts

Closer home, as powers that be met behind closed doors in the protection of gun-wielding security officers to firm up solutions, tensions and violence in the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are threatening the safety of its citizens, and a two-year conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia that has left nearly 500,000 people dead from the war and famine.

Kenya’s former President and peace envoy to the Great Lakes region Uhuru Kenyatta was in South Africa a fortnight ago, leading peace talks together with former Nigeria President and AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo.

The nine-day discussions culminated in an agreement on Wednesday, November 2, by the Ethiopian government and Tigray regional forces to cease hostilities.

“The two parties in the Ethiopian conflict have formally agreed to the cessation of hostilities as well as to systematic, orderly, smooth, and coordinated disarmament," said Obasanjo, adding that implementation of the peace agreement would be supervised and monitored by a high-level AU panel.

Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed gratitude upon the conclusion of the peace talks, saying that the government is committed to the implementation of the agreement.

“The agreement signed in South Africa is monumental in moving Ethiopia forward on the path of the reforms we embarked upon four and half years ago. Our commitment to peace remains steadfast,” Abiy said in a statement Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also welcomed the decision saying: “We welcome the signing of a cessation of hostilities between the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and commend the African Union for its extraordinary efforts to bring peace to northern Ethiopia.”

The Ethiopian conflict began in November 2020, less than a year after PM Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Abiy’s government has since declared the Tigray authorities, who ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades before he [Abiy] took office, a terrorist organisation.

At the Dakar forum, Angola President Lourenco said dialogue is crucial in the ongoing peace talks, to restore confidence, order, and the security necessary for the development of the continent. “The armed conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region should continue to be at the centre of our agenda. We encourage all mediation efforts seeking a peaceful ending of the conflict,” the Head of State said.

Elsewhere, some 1,800km to the South West of Kenya, an escalating war between the DRC army and rebel group M23 has resulted in deaths and forced thousands to flee the country.

Caught in the middle of the violence, are civilians.

Kenya on Wednesday, November 2, deployed troops to the troubled DRC, hours after the UN peacekeeping mission withdrew troops from the eastern military base of Rumangabo.

“Every society deserves the opportunity to experience peace and safety. Without peace, human freedom Is in jeopardy, and without security, opportunities remain a mirage and unattainable,” President William Ruto said during the handover of the national flag to Colonel Kenneth Rotich, Commander of the Kenyan contingent that will be part of defence forces forming the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF).

Kinshasa has also accused Rwanda of supporting M23, a claim Kigali has denied. Last week, Kinshasa expelled Rwanda’s ambassador to DRC.

The AU has since called for a ceasefire and negotiations to promote peace.

Should the violence in the DRC continue, security experts argue that it could spill over into neighbouring Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, threatening the stability of the region.  

Colonel Babacan Diouf, a researcher of geopolitics, peace, and security at the University of Dakar says it is time for citizens to keep the people in power accountable and end the cross-border conflicts.  

“The uncivilisation and barbarianism need to end. We are adults now,” Col. Diouf told The Standard.

Senegal Foreign Affairs Minister Aisatta Tall Sall during the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa in Dakar, Senegal. [Betty Njeru, Standard]

UN Security Council seat

Calls for Africa to have a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council also topped discussions at the forum, with AU chairperson Macky Sall denouncing the unfair representation of the continent at the council.

Senegal’s Foreign Affairs Minister Aisatta Tall Sall said this was no time for Africa to bury its head in the sand.

“How can we purport to discuss African problems while African countries are not represented? She posed. “We should be sitting right where they discuss our own issues but we will keep on fighting and do what needs to be done to correct the injustices,” Tall said.

“What is certain is that it is unfair that the African continent, with 54 countries, is not represented as a permanent member of the Security Council,” AU Chair Sall said.

The UN Security Council is made up of 15 member countries. Only five countries are permanent members. They are the US, China, Russia, France, and Britain. The other ten seats rotate between nonpermanent members who serve two-year terms. ​​​​​​​Kenya served as a non-permanent member in 2021.

More than 1,000 participants and 30 ministerial delegations took part in the eighth edition of the Dakar International Forum on peace and security in Africa.

[email protected]