African conflicts require better leaders

As hundreds of thousands of people live in fear of attacks in various countries on the continent, African leaders attending the African Union Summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa must outline a new set of measures to deal with unconstitutional takeover of power, including the amendment of the landmark Lome Declaration.

Column by Wisdom Mdzungairi

In fact, they must seize the moment and make peace a priority rather than be concerned with how they can protect their positions of authority.

Recent coups d’etat in Mali and Guinea Bissau, amendments to the Lome and Algiers Declarations are urgently required during the AU Summit to criminalise power seizures. Under the Lome and the Algiers Declarations, the AU is authorised to slap sanctions, which effectively seek to isolate the planners of a coup for a period of six months before applying a set of targeted sanctions, including visa denials and trade restrictions, to force the regime into submission.

AU Executive Council chairman and Benin Foreign Minister Nassirou Bako Arifari this week urged his counterparts: “We need the amendments to the protocol to criminalise coups. We also need a model law on universal jurisdiction on international crimes.”

Diplomats and civil society organisations (CSOs) attending the meeting’s opening session welcomed the announcement, but it will ring hollow if the AU “club” of Heads of State do not approve it.
It is in this light that AU leaders must seize the window of opportunity to take giant steps towards peace in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

As usual, a “peace plan” for the DRC has been negotiated by regional leaders behind closed doors – without any real input from Congolese citizens or civil society. Realising that this approach may not result in lasting peace and stability, three major Congolese organisations issued a joint statement calling for specific actions to be taken by the government, the M23 rebel movement and the United Nations.

The CSOs expressed their deep concern about the situation in North Kivu province following the capture of the town of Goma by M23 forces and by the international community’s insufficient response to the latest conflict in eastern DRC.

Since the M23 armed group withdrew from Goma after capturing the city in November last year, global attention on the conflict has decreased, yet people are still fleeing attacks on their villages and daily looting and extortion by more than 25 armed groups. According to Oxfam, an international NGO, in North Kivu alone, some 910 000 people are still displaced with few basic services and little protection from violence.

It appears that years of international policies in eastern DRC have failed to end people’s suffering, and now is the time for the AU to step up. The AU summit offers a crucial opportunity for the continent’s leaders to put an end to this unacceptable crisis. The lives of hundreds of thousands of African citizens are at stake here.

With a number of African countries holding presidential and parliamentary elections including Zimbabwe sometime this year, it is important to pin these countries down to ensure smooth elections.

Sadly, some of the summits have been reduced to grandstanding by some leaders, without any contribution to the debates while others do not even attend the meetings except to show up for a group photo shoot. If ever they attend the meetings, some just pitch up towards the end of the deliberations, and yet they would be in hotels relaxing. How sad!

Yet, the unfolding events in North Kivu, Mali, Sudan/South Sudan, Guinea Bissau, Somalia and Central African Republic are real issues requiring the attention of Africa at the highest level. At the rate at which these conflicts are playing themselves there is no doubt their effects could soon be felt in Southern Africa.

A recent Oxfam assessment around the town of Masisi in North Kivu found tens of thousands of people living in terror. Water points and infrastructure have been destroyed and cholera and other diseases are spreading fast as aid agencies are unable to properly respond due to ongoing fighting. There are now more than 60 camps in the area as people flee attacks by armed groups and Oxfam is scaling up its work in Rubaya, where around 40 000 people are now sheltering in a camp with no clean water. 150 000 displaced people are still living in camps around the city of Goma, Oxfam said.

Despite the suffering, leaders must send a message of hope and peace to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people all across eastern Congo and elsewhere. The lessons of the past must be learnt and the AU must make sure that any agreements are more than just words on paper, and tackle the root causes of a conflict that has blighted Africa for the past 20 years.

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