Silencing the Guns

Interview with Ms. Aïssatou Hayatou

Ms. Aïssatou Hayatou is the ‘Silencing the Guns in Africa’ Operations Manager at the African Union Commission (AUC). The AU’s campaign on “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020” aims to achieve a conflict-free Africa, prevent genocide, make peace a reality for all and rid the continent of wars, violent conflicts, human rights violations, and humanitarian disasters. In an interview with Africa Renewal’s Zipporah Musau, Ms. Hayatou provided details about the campaign and what it will take to silence the guns in Africa once and for all.

Africa Renewal: What is this campaign about?

Ms. Aïssatou Hayatou: The campaign aims to promote prevention, management and resolution of conflicts in Africa. “Silencing the Guns” is a slogan of a project that targets silencing all illegal weapons in Africa. We have an amnesty month in September 2020 where those with illegally-acquired guns can hand them in to the authorities without penalty.

When will it be launched?

It will be launched in early 2020 in Addis Ababa during the AU Summit, which has the theme “Silencing the Guns”.

Who is the target?

The campaign targets member states because the primary responsibility of providing peace and security and the overall protection of citizens lies with governments. We are also putting an emphasis on the youth. It is their future at stake.

Silencing the Guns: International, Continental and Regional Policies

Where are the guns?Mostly in the areas in conflict: the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, Central African region, eastern Congo, the Horn of Africa, Sudan, South Sudan and Libya. This does not mean that the countries that are at peace should not do anything. Prevention is key. All illegally-acquired light weapons used in crime, urban violence and cattle rustling need to be silenced too. Silencing the Guns calls upon all countries to invest in peace. What next after the guns are handed in?Disarming alone is not enough. We need to find solutions so that the communities in conflict can co-exist.

How can guns be silenced in Africa once and for all?

We need to address the root causes of the problem. To build peace, we need to create inclusive multi-sectoral programmes that will address the economic, social and environmental causes of the challenge. About 600 million young people in Africa are unemployed, uneducated or in insecure employment. We need to invest in economic development in order to stop our youth from taking up arms.

What challenges do you foresee?

The biggest challenge would be the national uptake of the campaign by member states. Governments taking ownership of silencing the guns and actually developing national plans. Political will and leadership should be at the top level. The AU and UN can come in and support countries. We also need to mobilise resources to support all these activities.

UN support for Silencing the Guns in Africa
  • In February 2019, the UN Security Council welcomed Africa’s campaign on “Silencing the Guns” and called for international support to achieve peace in every country.
  • The council unanimously adopted a resolution to support initiatives aimed at finding “African solutions to African problems” while recognising that other countries can help accelerate progress.
  • The council noted efforts by the AU and regional groups to create a conflict-free continent, but it also expressed concern over the “challenging security situation in parts of Africa.”
  • It pointed to threats posed by terrorism, maritime piracy, tensions between farmers and herders, transnational-organised crime, and “the persistent violence perpetrated by insurgents, rebel, and armed groups.”
  • The UN’s Political Affairs Under Secretary-General, Rosemary A. DiCarlo, during a discussion prior to the adoption of the resolution, said: “The UN and the AU share a common mission – to prevent conflict. In the last two years, the ability of both organisations to detect and defuse crises before they escalate has grown stronger, as has cooperation to help resolve conflict when it breaks out.”
  • This partnership is bearing fruit in different countries, for example, in support of Somalia’s efforts to restore peace and stability, and on the push for peace in CAR.
  • “In South Sudan, the signing of the revitalized peace accord facilitated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) with the support of the AU and the UN has sparked renewed hope, even as more needs to be done to definitively silence the guns and end abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence,” said Ms. DiCarlo.
  • At the UN headquarters, Secretary-General António Guterres has set up a taskforce led by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations for Africa, Bintou Keita, to coordinate all UN agencies to support the “Silencing the Guns” campaign.

What are some of the initiatives on the ground?

Member states, civil society, the private sector, the UN and other international and local NGOs are doing a fantastic job on the ground providing basic counsel, assisting the affected communities and supporting reconciliation. A lot is happening on the continent – we have success stories of combatants disarming and terrorists being demobilised. AU troops are deployed in Somalia, Central African Republic, Darfur, and the Lake Chad Basin. We have community projects on reconciliation and peacebuilding

What is the role of women in all this?

It is African women who are leading in the search for peace in Africa. One of the key partners in silencing the guns is women because of the significant role they play. However, at peace negotiating tables and in the media their impact is not highlighted. The amount of mediation these women do between one village and another is amazing! Africa must learn that you don’t win the game with half the team on the field and what happens to one gender affects the other. Women are the ones who will drive Africa’s prosperity. This is great coming at the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

How is the UN helping to achieve a conflict-free Africa?

The cooperation between the AU and the UN is working well. The UN has a comparative advantage as it is well-represented in Africa. All the UN agencies are on the ground to support the communities. We need to synergize and partner more at the national level.

Who else is involved?

All AU member states, 57 other countries from across the globe, and the European Union as a major partner. At the continental level, the Regional Economic Communities are coordinating action. International and national organisations, civil society, youth, women, the diaspora – everyone is involved. The message is: peace is not a preserve of governments. We all have a role to play to achieve peace in Africa.