The 33rd African Union summit opened on Sunday in Addis Ababa, with leaders vowing that the AU would play a more significant role in resolving conflicts proliferating across the continent.
The two-day summit, running under the theme “Silencing the Guns” comes seven years after the continent’s heads of state declared they would "end all wars in Africa by 2020".
The focus on conflicts comes after years of debate centred on reforming the AU - including its funding structure and the implementation of a continent-wide free trade area.
In his opening remarks on Sunday, AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, painted a 'dark' picture of the continent’s security situation, highlighting “terrorism, intercommunal conflict and pre and post-election crisis”.
Some success has been achieved in Central African Republic and Sudan, but long-running conflicts in places like Libya and South Sudan have been joined by new setbacks from the fringe of the Sahara to Mozambique.
Faki stressed that it would take more than military action to address the “root causes” of African conflicts, namely poverty and social exclusion. However, stated that the AU was determined to find “African solutions to African problems”.
He also added that the “missed deadline” to silence the guns, “reveals the complexity of the security situation in Africa.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is taking over from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as AU chair, announced that he planned to host two summits in May - one focused on conflict resolution and the other on implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
Ramaphosa said the AU’s goal of “silencing the guns” underpinned his other ambitions for economic development and combating gender-based violence.
Ramaphosa also added that the focus would be on conflict resolution across Africa, especially those experiencing protracted conflict.
Ramaphosa, in his speech,identified South Sudan and Libya as two conflicts he wants to prioritise.
South Sudan’s civil war began in 2013 and has left 380,000 people dead and approximately 7 million in dire poverty.
In 2017, famine was declared in two counties in South Sudan, and famine has remained a persistent threat since.
South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar are under pressure to form a power-sharing government by 22 February, but they have already missed two previous deadlines to settle their differences.
Ramaphosa, in an effort to kick-start mediation, met both of them separately. The two leaders then met face-to-face on Sunday, but made no progress on the question of the number of regional states in South Sudan and their borders, which has been a barrier in negotiations.
On Libya, the AU has consistently complained about being sidelined during peace processes led primarily by the UN.
At a summit in Congo-Brazzaville in late January, African leaders vowed to hold a reconciliation forum for Libya’s hostile parties.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres endorsed this initiative at a news conference at the AU on Saturday, saying he understood the AU’s “frustration” at having “been put aside” when it comes to Libya.
In a speech on Sunday, Guterres said “a new framework of cooperation” between the AU and the UN had been established for Libya.
Guterres also added that the world body's partnership with the AU was "of paramount importance" and stressed the UN's full support for the AU's "landmark initiative" of silencing guns.
"Ultimately, silencing the guns is not just about peace and security, but also inclusive sustainable development and human rights," he said.
The AU summit also comes amid a dispute between Egypt and Sudan on one side and Ethiopia on the other over a dam built by the latter on the Blue Nile, which Cairo fears will reduce its supply of water.
After several meetings hosted by Washington, the three states said a final agreement will be signed in late February.
Meanwhile, it was announced at the summit that the Democratic Republic of Congo will replace South Africa as AU chair in 2021.