A Pathway to the Sustainable Development Goals

In July 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations endorsed the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which is an integral part of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The United Nations vision, outlined in a comprehensive agenda of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), includes economic, security, social and environmental dimensions.1 The implementation of these development goals will require partnerships with the relevant regional bodies and strategies.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda and all its segments are very much connected to Agenda 2063 which is the African Union (AU) strategic vision for a prosperous and peaceful Africa.2 In this regard, there is an important linkage between SDG 16 aiming to "promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels" on one hand, and the AU strategy of “silencing the guns” by 2020, on the other. Indeed, sustainable development and conflict prevention and resolution are interdependent, especially in the African setting.3


Following the independence of many of its countries in the 1960s, Africa witnessed a period of economic reconstruction and development. At the same time, conflict within and between States persisted in some regions. The challenges associated with building a robust peace and strong inclusive societies, in which all citizens can fully integrate and participate, created many difficulties that undermined economic prosperity, good governance, human rights and development.4

Civil wars and armed conflicts persisted in Africa, remaining a distinctive feature of the political and social reality of the continent throughout the 1990s. Thereafter, it witnessed a rise of new types of conflict, involving terrorist organizations and organized crime. It was clear that more work was needed to ensure peace on the continent.

At the AU level, efforts continued towards the development of an effective continental mechanism to prevent, resolve and effectively address the phenomenon of conflict. It was only in early 2002 that such a mechanism came to light, with the establishment of the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC),5 which embodied the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA).6 Preventive diplomacy tools, such as the Panel of the Wise, the Continental Early Warning System, the operationalization of the African Standby Force and its Rapid Deployment Capability, were also seen as building blocks for the Common African Defence and Security Policy?


Another important step towards ending conflict in Africa was undertaken in 2013.As the African Union was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, African Heads of State and Government adopted an action plan and set a target to silence the guns by 2020. That was followed by the 430th meeting of the Peace and Security Council (PSC), held in April 2014, which attempted to mobilize Member States and African Union partners to envisage effective approaches to achieve this target.8

The Solemn Declaration on a Common African Defence and Security Policy was adopted by the African Union Heads of State and Government in 2004 to complement the ongoing work in controlling the illicit circulation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), which began with the adoption of the Bamako Declaration on an African Common Position on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons by the Council of Ministers of the Organization of African Unity in December 2000. The Bamako Declaration was a first step on the continent to put forth an effort to regulate the illicit circulation of small arms. It also demonstrated the willingness of African Heads of State to join together during final debates over the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPOA) which was adopted in 2001.

The establishment of the African Union-Regions Steering Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons in 2008, the development of both the African Union Strategy on the Control of Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons,9 and the African Union Common Position on an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)10 were all important initiatives launched to provide Member States with the necessary instruments and platforms for sharing experiences, and to create a continental mechanism for the African Union Commission to vigorously pursue the small arms agenda in a consistent and robust manner.11 The African Union-Regions Steering Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons was instrumental in enabling easy follow-up of implementation of continental and international obligations by Member States in a coordinated manner.

It is equally important to indicate that African Union Member States have strongly supported all multilateral instruments devoted to disarmament and non-proliferation. It must be recalled that the twentieth ordinary session of the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government, which took place in January 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, adopted decision Assembly/AU/Dec.472 (XX), in which it encouraged African Union Member States to make use of the African Union Common Position on the ATT to further Africa's concerns and interests during the final United Nations conference on the ATT, that took place in March 2013 in New York.12

In addition, the issue of security sector reform (SSR) has been considered as part of the African Union efforts to reduce conflicts on the continent, and as an essential aspect of the African Union Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) Policy. In this regard, SSR is not only critical to strengthening the military and police capabilities, but it is also a tool for conflict prevention and response. Recognizing its importance, the African Union Assembly adopted a Policy Framework on SSR in January 2013. The policy framework emphasizes the need to "give priority to the re-establishment and strengthening of the capacity of security institutions".13 The demobilization of fighters and the integration of others into the armed and security forces with a dear mission was also an important aspect of the reform of the security sector that often facilitated good governance and stability.


Silencing the Guns by 2020 requires a very strong commitment to implement African Union policies, frameworks and instruments. Indeed, the proliferation of SALW is dearly associated with violent conflicts that continue to impact peace and development in Africa. This situation leaves the continent highly vulnerable, with SALW causing unspeakable destruction and death.

In Africa, current conflict dynamics and arms trafficking trends are changing due to the evolving nature and range of actors using such arms, including pirates, terrorists and criminal organizations. It can be argued that existing challenges persist, while growing more complex.14

In this regard, African Union collaboration with the United Nations is of the highest importance. A strong partnership is essential for developing effective synergies and coordination between various initiatives that are in place to reduce armed conflicts in Africa. Certainly, an effective coordinated strategy between the African Union and the United Nations in their implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda will help the Regional Economic Communities to he more effective in accelerating development and reducing conflict in their respective areas.

The current dynamics of conflict in Africa and new emerging trends in arms trafficking require also a strong partnership with civil society. At this critical stage, it is important to stress the role that it can play to prevent conflict, promote peace and raise awareness among local communities.

There is also a necessity for Member States to work together to prevent their territories and borders from being used for arms trafficking activities. Such measures should be taken within the framework of the United Nations Security Council, the African Union PSC and the ATT obligations." Also, the issue of information sharing between Member Stales cannot he overemphasized. This will be important in terms of preventing and understanding the new emerging threats to peace and security.

In conclusion, the problem of effective disarmament and arms control, as a current priority to end conflict by 2020, requires a new focus. It is necessary to address the social, economic and political factors that motivate groups and communities to acquire arms. Undeniably, any successful community disarmament efforts have to address security and developmental concerns and provide those at risk with viable alternatives to crime and other illegal activities.

As a tool for conflict prevention, APSA, with all its supportive instruments, seems very effective. However, it is important for the African Union to continue its efforts to ensure that effective implementation of Agenda 2063,launched to build a prosperous continent with good governance, respect for human rights, popular participation, and economic development, remains at the core of its efforts. This should be in line with the United Nations vision to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

The African Union, Member States, Regional Economic Communities, civil society and the international community all have a responsibility to take action in order to accelerate the process of “silencing the guns” in Africa by 2020.


1 For further information, see http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelop­ment/sustainable-development-goals/.

2 For further information, see http://agenda2063.au.int/en/about.

3 See African Union, Common African Position (CAP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Heads of State and Government Summit, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 2014. Available from http://www.acordinternational.org/silo/files/common-africa-position-on-post-2015.pdf.

4 The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), the African Union and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Silencing the Guns, Owning the Future: Realizing a Conflict-free Africa, A Report on the Proceedings of the Fifth African Union High-level Retreat on the Promotion of Peace, Security and Stability In Africa, Arusha, Tanzania. 21-23 October 2014 (Durban, South Africa, 2015), pp. 7-10.

5 This standing organ of the African Union was established through the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union. Available from http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/psc-protocol-en.pdf.

6 The African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) was developed in 2001 by the African Union in collaboration with Africa Regional Economic Communities with the goal of preventing, managing and resolving conflicts on the continent. It was created in accordance with the African Union Constitutive Act (2001). 

7 Available from http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/declaration-cadsp-en.pdf.

8 For further information, see http://www.peaceau.org/en/article/press-statement.

9 African Union, African Union Strategy on the Control of lllicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons, the Meeting of Member States Experts, Lomé, Togo, 26-29 September 2011. Available from http://unrec.org/docs/Strategy%20Final.pdf.

10 Available from http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/att-common-position-en.pdf.

11 Tarek A. Sharif, Head of the Defense and Security Division, African Union Commission, statement at the African Seminar to prepare for the Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, 7-8 March 2013, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

12 Decision on the Report of the Peace and Security Council on Its Activities and the State of Peace and Security in Africa, Assembly/AU/Dec.472 (XX). Available from http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/assemblyau-dec-472-xx-e.pdf. African Union Common Position on an Arms Trade Treaty. Available from http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/att-common-position-en.pdf

13 African Union Commission, African Union Policy Framework on Security Sector Reform (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2013), p. 3. Available from http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/au-policy-framework-on-security-sector-reform-ae-ssr.pdf.

14 African Union, Peace and Security Council 560th Meeting, Press Statement PSC/PR/BR.2(DLX), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 26  November 2015.  Available from http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/psc-560-press-statement-terrorism-26-11-2015.pdf.

15 Reference to the Common African Defence and Security Policy and the Constitutive Act of the African Union.