This essay previously appeared in the first issue of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) newsletter, “Governance Link” (November-December 2017). The APRM was established in 2003 by the African Union in the framework of the implementation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Member countries use the APRM to self–monitor all aspects of their governance and socio-economic development.

It is widely accepted that sustainable development cannot happen in an environment of uncertainty, instability, and violent conflict. Without peace, there can be no development and without development, there can be no peace. Where there is violent conflict, there can be neither peace nor development. Research by Oxfam estimates that armed conflict has cost Africa $284bn between 1990 and 2005. This represents an average annual loss of 15 percent of GDP, or $18bn, by the continent as a whole due to armed conflict.1 Imagine where Africa would be today if these resources were used for development.

According to the African Union’s (AU) 2016 “Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa by Year 2020:”

“most crises and violent conflicts in Africa are driven by poverty, economic hardships, violation or manipulation of constitutions, violation of human rights, exclusion, inequalities, marginalization and mismanagement of Africa’s rich ethnic diversity, as well as relapses into the cycle of violence in some post-conflict settings and external interference in African affairs.”2

Having vowed in 2013 to “silence the guns” in Africa by 2020, the heads of state and government of the AU expressed their commitment to this mandate in the form of the aforementioned roadmap. It outlined the “goal of a conflict-free Africa,” in which “peace is a reality for all” and wars, civil conflicts, human rights violations, humanitarian disasters, violent conflicts, and genocide, are no more. However, this extremely ambitious roadmap is unlikely to be realized in the allotted time-frame. A cursory assessment of some of the causes of conflict identified by the AU reveals that Africa is nowhere near silencing the guns by 2020.

The AU Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which came into force in 2012, considers unconstitutional change of government “a serious threat to stability, peace, security and development.”3 It defines “unconstitutional change of government” as a refusal by incumbents to relinquish power after free, fair and regular elections; or “any amendment or revision of the constitution or legal instruments, which is an infringement on the principles of democratic change of government.” So far, of the fifty-five member states, thirty have ratified the charter. Eighteen have signed but have yet to ratify, while seven member states have not even signed the charter. Even after the charter came into force in 2012, and the declaration to silence the guns was made in 2016, the political leadership of many AU member states continues to interfere with their constitutions, with a view to changing them and prolonging their stay in power. In some cases, such as Burundi, this has been met with stiff resistance, resulting in violent conflict.

While efforts to tamper with constitutions may have been successful in countries such as Cameroon (Paul Biya, 2008), Chad (Idriss Déby, 2005), and Uganda (Yoweri Museveni, 2005), efforts in 2006 to prolong Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s stay in office were blocked by the National Assembly. Tampering with the constitution can have serious implications for the political stability, peace, and unity of a country, as it narrows or shuts down political space and popular participation in decision-making processes.

If the guns are to be silenced, poverty and inequality must be addressed, as these are some of the reasons people take up arms. It is unfortunate that even African countries with high economic growth have been unable to achieve sustainable development. Despite the decline in the share of Africa’s population living below the poverty line—from 57 percent in 1990 to 43 percent in 2012—the slow rate of poverty reduction and high population growth rate means that the number of Africans living in poverty continues to grow.4 The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which specifically target the eradication of poverty and hunger, certainly help, but only a concerted effort by Africa’s leaders will put an end to extreme poverty.

Solving the problem of corruption and the lack of government accountability is key to eradicating violent conflict in Africa. Of the 176 countries surveyed by Transparency International in 2016, the best performing African country in the Corruption Perceptions Index was Botswana, ranked 35th.5 Cape Verde was 38th, Mauritius and Rwanda were tied at 50th, and Namibia was 53rd. According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the three highest scoring countries in 2015 were Mauritius, Botswana, and Cape Verde, indicating a correlation between good governance and lower levels of corruption.6 The Work Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim has described corruption in the developing world as “public enemy number one,” because every dollar stolen leads to increased strain on public goods and services such as roads, education, and healthcare; weakened political institutions; and damage to a country’s ability to compete globally. If Africa can eradicate corruption and enshrine transparency and accountability by the year 2020, citizens will benefit from the dividends of democracy and taking up guns will no longer be an option.


Political and economic approaches are needed, some of which will require the coordination of regional bodies and the AU.

The political front: African nations should restrain leaders who wish to change constitutions to extend or abolish term limits. A concerted effort should also be made to make national electoral bodies completely independent and inclusive to ensure credible elections; and to abolish laws that limit participation, including those that limit the work of civil society organizations. In general, systems of accountability are required to ensure that resources are subject to public scrutiny, and used effectively and efficiently. Considering that the AU has declared 2018 “the African Anti-Corruption Year,” member states should move beyond rhetoric and act decisively to root out corruption.

The economic front: Africa must take concrete steps to realize economic integration, which can be attained by promoting the free movement of goods, services, and people. Also, given that the population of Africa is set to grow substantially over the next few decades, a revolution in agriculture is needed to grow more food, more efficiently.

The policy front: although ending all violent conflict by 2020 might not be within reach, African countries should make every effort to implement the initiatives and practical steps outlined in the AU Master Roadmap. The AU should put in place a monitoring and tracking mechanism for compliance, and introduce harsh sanctions against defaulters. The tracking mechanism should include a rating of countries according to their level of compliance.


In order to silence the guns, good governance and respect for the rule of law, as well as economic reforms, must be achieved. Democratic governance is a work in progress which requires constant and sustainable efforts. Africa does not lack ideas, or the expertise needed to turn those ideas into tangible results. The normative frameworks exist, what Africa needs is determined, purposeful, and transformative political leadership to drive its development agenda.

  1. Oxfam, “Africa’s Missing Billions: International Arms Flows and the Cost of Conflict.” Briefing Paper 107, 11 October, 2007.
  2. African Union Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa by Year 2020 (Lusaka Master Roadmap, 2016).
  3. “African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance,” 2007.
  4. Beegle, Kathleen, Luc Christiansen, Andrew Dabalen and Isis Gaddis, “Poverty in a Rising Africa,” Africa Poverty Report, The World Bank Group, Washington D.C. (2016).
  5. Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2016.” 25 January, 2017.
  6. “A Decade of African Governance, 2006-2015: 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance.” Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
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