Evaluation of silencing the guns in Africa


Dr Nicasius Achu Check

Senior Research Specialist

 Africa Institute of South Africa, A Research Institute of the Human Sciences Research Council


The motivation for the project arises from the understanding that there has been robust debate, both at the continental level and among scholars of the global south, for the need to structurally investigate the reoccurrence of conflicts and conflict situations on the African continent.  This debate sharply contrasts the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank’s structural adjustments programmes imposed on many African economies between the 1980s and 90s. Many have equally argued that for Africa to address the continent’s security challenges systematically, there must be a structural transformation of our society. Structural transformation in this regard can be defined as the sustained and massive transfer of resources from one sector of the economy to another due to changes in a particular country’s economic fundamentals and policy. The continent has for decades relied on agriculture and other natural resources to boost foreign currency earnings and revitalise their economies. In essence, the structural transformation would entail the diversification of the economy, the transformation of the people’s mindset towards the state and a renewed focus on the services sector and industrialisation. The political, economic and security challenges the continent continues to face after over six decades of independence suggest that structural transformation failed to take root. An essential variable of the structural transformation paradigm, perhaps overlooked, was the nation-building aspect which is the foundation of any thriving economy in Africa. Fundamental in this regard is to distinguish between nation-building and state-building. The critical question is, has the continent invested enough in nation-building and state-building endeavours? Our project would attempt to investigate these fundamental questions and propose a policy direction the continent needs to adopt to address the precarious security situation in the continent.

However, for over two decades, the continent has been enveloped in many political, economic and security challenges. This has resulted in a massive downturn in its economic fortunes, far from the shining example of the first three decades after independence in 1960. The downward spiral of the continent’s financial, political and security situation can be attributed to, among others, the inability of the political elites to address the double challenges of pervasive poverty and acute unemployment. Fundamental to these challenges is the need for the continent to emerge from the shadow of imperialism and embrace the opportunities globalisation and south-south cooperation offer. A careful understanding of the challenges the continent faces could easily be attributed to how the state was constituted. The fact that the continent is a colonial offshoot whose current make-up can be attributed to the Westphalia concept of the state presupposes that its existing structure is foreign to the continent and the people.   The imposition of the colonial character of a state on the people of the continent created an existential geographic analogy with no significant bearing on the people. Post-colonial state institutions emphasise the person rather than what unites and build the continent. The project seeks to unravel whether the approach to nation building in post-colonial Africa is inclusive enough. Did the approach to nation-building address the fundamental question of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities? These and many others, the proposal holds, may be at the bottom of the recurrence of conflicts on the continent.

A year after celebrating its golden jubilee, the African Union convened a high-level Retreat in Arusha, Tanzania, on promoting Peace, Security and Stability in Africa. The Retreat was attended by the AU Commissioner for Peace and Special Envoys, the African Union Panel of the Wise, Friends of the Panel of the Wise, senior representatives from RECs, the United Nations, European Union, the League of Arab States and Civil Society Organisations. Convened under the theme ‘Silencing the guns – owning the future’, the objective of the Retreat was to provide a platform for delegates to take stock of the paradox that is Africa in terms of unprecedented levels of economic growth on the one hand and rising instability and insecurity on another. Recognising these challenges and building on the already adopted agenda 2063 and the AU’s 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration, which aims to end all wars in Africa by 2020, the Retreat sought to provide a platform for collective multi-stakeholder deliberations on existing and emerging peace and security threats to the continent and the responses required to address these and achieve a war free continent by 2020.

Adopting the Silencing the Guns Framework in Addis Ababa in 2014, African leaders agreed that conflicts remain one of Africa’s biggest challenges. Thus, they see conflicts as one of the biggest impediments to implementing Agenda 2063. While recognising the challenge posed by poverty, inequality, unemployment, climate change, illegal financial flows and corruption, the leaders hold that the need for a conflict-free Africa cannot be transferred to future generations. They noted that efforts should be put in strengthening continental response frameworks and institutions and greater collaboration with the United Nations in addressing the security challenge on the continent. Some of the fundamental progress the continent has made to achieve a conflict-free continent include:

  • The AU High Representative (AUHR) continued his mobilisation efforts to elicit the contribution of stakeholders for the implementation of the AU Master Roadmap for Silencing the Guns.
  • Following the adoption of the UNSC Resolution 2457 on Silencing the Guns under the chairmanship of Equatorial Guinea in February, the UN Secretary-General established a UN task force to mobilise UN-wide support for the implementation of the Silencing the Guns Roadmap and the AUC Action Plan. The task force has had several technical planning meetings with the Silencing the Guns Unit and bilateral meetings with specific UN agencies to identify key areas of support. These include, amongst others, disarmament, women and youth in peace and security, counterterrorism, peacebuilding and conflict prevention.
  • African UN Security Council members are trying to promote the Silencing the Guns agenda on the international forum.

Despite these successes, the continent is still embroiled in many security challenges. Some primary challenges include inadequate financial and human resources to implement the various frameworks put in place, and there is little visibility on Member States’ programmes for effective implementation of the theme of the year and the AU master roadmap. However, the key question has always been why all the continent’s efforts are still prone to conflicts and instability. A conceptual understanding of conflicts on the continent may be appropriate at this stage.


Our proposal set out to achieve two key things: the first is an evaluation of the ‘Silencing the Guns in Africa’ framework. The key would be to assess why ‘Guns’ have not been silenced on the continent. What are the major stumbling blocks? And what needs to be done to ensure that a workable conflict resolution approach is adopted and adapted on the continent. Moreso, this evaluation would involve the following:

  • A theory of change approach whereby we will investigate the changing conflict context on the continent.
  • Investigate the continued non-resolution of conflicts in the selected countries and places where peace treaties have been signed; why do we have a relapse?
  • More importantly, the team would investigate new forms of conflict emerging in Mali and the Horn of Africa, Mozambique and regional implications. Primarily, the project would investigate the manner and manifestation of new conflicts (asymmetric forms of conflicts) and how such conflicts could be addressed.

The second phase of the project would involve the review of the ‘silencing of the Guns’ framework with particular attention on a more extensive discussion, debates and conversations (Conferences) on the nature of the framework, where the gaps are in the framework and whether the continent would be able to address these challenges before the 2030 target date. Our project set out to investigate these issues and would propose a firm policy trajectory country, subregional organisations, and the African Union must adopt to ensure peace reign on the continent.


An evaluation of the current ‘Silencing the Guns’ initiative is daunting, considering the varied contested political interpretations of the foundation of the state in Africa, its development and operations. Conversely, several variables can explain the persistence of intractable conflicts on the continent. The critical challenge is to look for ways in which to structurally transform the post-colonial state to make it responsive to the current developmental challenges the continent is facing.

Therefore, the scope of our project is two-fold. First is a review of the current methodological approach to the silencing the guns initiative. This would include a larger discussion (conference) that will bring together role players in the conflict resolution framework on the continent. The second part of the evaluation approach would be to critically evaluate all the identified initiatives content in the ‘Silencing the Guns’ strategy. The key would be to identify gaps and how such gaps could be plucked before the 2030 threshold.

Research Methodology

The study would employ a critical qualitative research approach to strategies for resolving conflicts on the continent, as Haas proposed through the functional conflict resolution approach. The critical qualitative research approach aims to reveal and analyse the social, cultural, and psychological assumptions regarding present-day contexts to empower individuals and institutions and enable change for a better world. This is done through the administration of semi-structured interviews with state building and security sector role players such as government officials and civil society organisations. The discussions would be based on intangible variables such as (1) national strategies for reducing poverty, unemployment and inequality, (2) acceptable national conflict prevention strategies, (3) shared and acceptable conflict resolution and management strategies and (4) common cultural points of reference. Using the responses from these intangible variables, the project intends to build a body of data that could be used to stop internecine conflict on the continent.

See for example Africa needs structural transformation not structural adjustment, available at http://www.uneca.org/es-blog/africa-needs-structural-transformation-not-structural-adjustment accessed on 27/07/2016.

See for example https://www.peaceau.org/uploads/arusha-au-high-level-retreat-report-web.pdf accessed on 25/04/2021

https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/december-2019-march-2020/silencing-guns-africa-2020 accessed on 25/04/2021

See for example https://www.nepad.org/agenda-2063/flagship-project/silencing-guns-and-end-wars-africa-year-2020 accessed on 25/04/2021