Can African leaders repeat the show of unity achieved on continental free trade to silence the guns?
For the African Union, 2020 is supposed to be a landmark year. Its ‘silencing the guns’ initiative is aimed at ‘ending all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and preventing genocide in the continent by 2020.’ While no one can argue with that laudable goal, the continental body and its member states will have to work miracles to achieve it by the end of this year – especially when the trend seems to be heading in the other direction.
On 4 April, the International Criminal Court (ICC) suffered the most significant setback in its nearly 14 years of existence.
In a majority decision, judges terminated the case against Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and Nairobi radio executive Joshua arap Sang.
This brought to an ignominious end the court’s attempt to administer justice for the crimes committed during the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/2008, during which over 1 300 people were killed and more than 600 000 displaced.
‘On the basis of the evidence and arguments submitted to the chamber, Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji and Judge Robert Fremr, as the majority, agreed that the charges are to be vacated and the accused are to be discharged,’ said a statement issued by the ICC. In a subsequent statement, the ICC’s prosecution team blamed a lack of cooperation from Kenya and widespread witness intimidation for its difficulty in obtaining evidence.
It didn’t help, of course, that Kenyatta and Ruto became president and deputy president only after the charges against them were lodged, greatly complicating the politics around the case. Against overwhelming opposition from Kenya, it was never going to be easy to make the charges stick.
It has been more than four years since the Kenyan Defence Force (KDF) crossed the border into Somalia, and Kenyans are entitled to ask what exactly their troops are still doing there.
The official rationale is no longer entirely convincing. The original purpose of the military intervention was to insulate the country from the conflict in Somalia.
‘Kenya has been and remains an island of peace, and we shall not allow criminals from Somalia, which has been fighting for over two decades, to destabilise our peace,’ said George Saitoti, the internal security minister at the time.
It is debatable whether that aim has been achieved. Although Operation Linda Nchi (‘Protect the Nation’) curtailed the operations of al-Shabaab, the Islamist militant group has claimed responsibility for dozens of incidents on Kenyan soil in recent years. This includes the high-profile attacks on Westgate Mall and Garissa University.
In Somaliland, most politicians are known by their nicknames. So President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud is ‘Silanyo,’ which translates to ‘skinny lizard’ – a throwback to his youth when he was tall and slim. President Silanyo is not skinny anymore, however, and nor should he be president – his term in office was supposed to expire on 26 June 2015.
But after the scheduled elections were repeatedly postponed, Silanyo is still in charge, and no one is particularly surprised. Although Somaliland is famed for its regular, peaceful elections – an oasis of peace and democracy in a region usually associated with authoritarianism and conflict – almost every election in its history has been subject to lengthy delays.
When it comes to the fight against Boko Haram, Nigeria’s new president Muhammadu Buhari has been busy. He has finally got the Multinational Joint Task Force up and running, which combines troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria into one regional force: a necessary weapon against what has always been a regional rather than national problem.
He has worked to repair frayed relations with regional leaders like Idriss Déby of Chad and, more recently, Cameroon’s Paul Biya. His visit to Cameroon in July culminated in an agreement to allow troops from both countries to engage in ‘hot pursuit’ across borders, which will make it harder for militants to skip across national boundaries to evade capture.