Africa needs to silence her guns, says Mbeki

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki has called for peace talks in Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region, where an ongoing civil war has claimed the lives of thousands since November 2020. Picture: Dimpho Maja/African News Agency (ANA).

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki has called for peace talks in Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region, where an ongoing civil war has claimed the lives of thousands since November 2020. Picture: Dimpho Maja/African News Agency (ANA).

Published Oct 17, 2021


Cape Town – The failure to manage diversity is often at the root of conflict on the African continent, like we are seeing in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, former South African president Thabo Mbeki said.

Mbeki made the remarks during a UN High-Level Open Debate on Diversity and State Building held at the UN headquarters in New York last week.

According to the UN, the meeting, chaired by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, was held because it was found that most situations on the Security Council’s agenda arose from internal conflicts in which identity issues, whether ethnic, racial, religious or socio-economic, play a part.

Kenya prepared a concept note ahead of the debate.

The concept note said that most of the situations on the Council’s agenda stem from domestic conflicts in which issues relating to identity, whether ethnic, racial, religious, partisan or socio-economic, are often a cause of conflict or exploited to fuel it.

It noted that throughout history, such forms of identity have been “manipulated and turned into instruments for mobilisation to compete for economic resources and political power”.

Moreover, it observed that the real or perceived marginalisation and exclusion of groups from political processes and economic resources have been a source of violence and the formation of separatist movements.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, as well as the first woman Deputy Speaker of Afghanistan’s Parliament, Fawzia Koofi, were among those at the briefing.

Kagame and Mbeki briefed the delegates virtually.

In his opening statement, Mbeki said that a few years ago, the African Union AU took the bold decision to silence the guns by 2020.

This meant that the continent’s political leadership came to the view that, finally, Africa must rid herself of the scourge of war and violent conflict, which had persisted for almost all the years of independence, said Mbeki.

“In this context, the African Heads of State and Government were fully conscious of the critical need for Africa of the Sustainable Peace which the Security Council has convened to discuss.”

“As Council knows, over the years, more or less standard procedures have been followed to resolve conflicts which had broken out in Africa.”

Mbeki said that the international community would intervene to ensure that the belligerents conclude a ceasefire agreement. Peacekeepers would then be deployed to ensure the observance of the ceasefire.

Interim government arrangements would be put in place, and a new constitution negotiated. Elections to constitute a new government would be held, after which the Peacekeeping Mission would be wound up, peace having been achieved.

“However, and quite legitimately, the question would arise: will this be sustainable peace?”

“Five years ago, the World Peace Foundation produced an important report titled “African Politics, African Peace”, acting on a request from within the AU Peace Architecture that the foundation should reflect on the matter of the future of Peace Missions in Africa.

Among others the report said:

“Centralising the ‘primacy of the political’ within all AU responses is essential” and insisted on “the primary role of politics in the design and implementation of peace operations”.

It went on to say: “Preventive action to avert political crises and armed conflicts is the single most essential task for African peace missions. This demands exceptional access to the highest level of decision-makers along with credibility and discretion.”

Further, the report said it agrees with the “UN High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) of 2015” about:

a. “The ‘primacy of politics’ in driving the design and implementation of peace operations; (and)

b. “A new and stronger emphasis on conflict prevention.”

Mbeki added this insistence on “the primacy of politics” is to emphasise that the resolution of conflicts should not be driven simply or mainly by security considerations.

The “primacy of politics” means that conflict resolution must address the vital matter of the root causes of the conflict and thus aim not merely to silence the guns, important as this is, but to ensure sustainable peace.

This draws attention exactly to a central matter in this Security Council Open Debate – the issue of diversity.

“Certainly, my own personal experience, derived from involvement in conflict resolution on our continent, confirms the centrality of the failure to properly manage diversity as one of the root causes of civil war and violent conflict.”

That experience relates to such countries as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire and Sudan, he said.

Mbeki said that he would even recommend a study of the 2004 Report of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which tells the naked truth that it was as a result of the failure to manage diversity that the country experienced the very costly 11-year war which started in 1991.

Similarly, we see a result of the failure to manage diversity in the violent conflict, which has been and is still going on in Cameroon.

Mbeki highlighted another example, the ongoing major military conflict in Ethiopia.

“As you know, as the African Union Year to Silence the Guns, 2020, was coming to a close, this conflict broke out in the Tigray region.”

Mbeki said that the challenge to properly manage the very pronounced diversity of Ethiopia constitutes the very heart of the violent conflict involving Tigray.

The incontestable truth is that the successful management of this diversity cannot and will not be achieved through weapons of war, he said.

Mbeki lamented what many of the members of the council said before, the belligerents in Ethiopia should enter into a permanent ceasefire and engage one another in an inclusive national dialogue precisely to agree on what they should do to achieve the very important and noble goal of unity in diversity.

“At the end of the Biafra War in Nigeria in 1970, the victorious national leaders announced that they would follow a policy of – ’no victor, no vanquished’.”

This is exactly what Ethiopia needs, said Mbeki.

Mbeki said that he would like to suggest that, as it discharges its obligation to maintain international peace and security, the UN Security Council should proceed from a position of acceptance of “the primacy of the political”.

“Thus, would its interventions help to produce sustainable peace and contribute to state building by addressing such challenges as the proper management of diversity,” said the former South African president.

Conflict on the African continent remains complex, with the intersection of many factors such as the desire for power and resource control from external states, ethnic conflict, genocide, xenophobia, and corruption, says the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.

These factors seriously hinder the economic and social development of the continent. The foundation says it recognises the dire need for viable and sustainable approaches to conflict resolution and peace building on the continent.

| African News Agency (ANA)