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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 25, April 1998

UN Secretary-General Report on Peace and Development in Africa

Summary of Report

'New report of Secretary-General explores causes, potential cures of conflict in Africa,' United Nations Press Release SG/2045 & SC/6501, 15 April 1998


"In perhaps his most important political report to date, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has analysed in remarkably candid terms the causes of conflict in Africa. In the report [document A/52/871-S/1998/318], Mr. Annan also proposes a comprehensive set of far-reaching, 'realistic and achievable' measures designed to significantly reduce political tensions and violence within and between African States.

The report, which the Security Council had requested and will take up for in-depth deliberation at possibly ministerial level on 24 April, comes against a backdrop of significant political and economic achievements on the continent, and the emergence of leaders with confidence in Africa's ability to chart a path to peace and higher levels of development. These recent successes have sparked renewed international interest in Africa, and as such, the report has the potential to secure wide African and international support at a time when, the Secretary-General observes, efforts to break with past patterns 'are at last beginning to succeed'. ...

In focusing on the various actors who help to fan conflict, Mr. Annan strongly criticizes international arms merchants as being among those 'who profit from conflict in Africa'. He recommends that Member States pass legislation making the violation of Security Council arms embargoes by individuals or corporations a criminal offence under their national laws. Although public identification of arms merchants has been difficult, the Secretary-General asserts that possibly no other single initiative would do more to help combat the flow of illicit arms to Africa. The report asks the Security Council to address this issue as a matter of urgency, including how the United Nations might support the compiling, tracking and publicizing of such information.

At the same time, while recognizing the rights of States to provide for their own defence, the Secretary-General calls upon African States to reduce their purchases of arms and munitions to below 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and to commit themselves to a zero-growth policy for defence budgets for a period of 10 years. ...

Mr. Annan urges governments in conflict situations to consider appointing special mediators or special commissions to build confidence and recommend practical solutions. He also calls for the establishment of 'contact groups' of interested countries or a 'special conference' in conflict and post-conflict situations, as done in the case of Liberia. Sanctions should also be better targeted, since 'in some cases, the hardship imposed on the civilian population is greatly disproportionate to the likely impact of the sanctions on the behaviour of the protagonists'. ...

Key Recommendations

The Secretary-General's key recommendations include the following:

On arms and arms trafficking:

  • United Nations Member States should pass laws enabling prosecution in national courts of violations of Security Council arms embargoes.
  • The Security Council should urgently consider how the United Nations might help compile, track and publicize information on arms trafficking.
  • African governments should reduce purchases of arms and munitions to 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and maintain zero-growth on defence budgets for the next decade. ...

On sanctions:

  • Economic sanctions are too often a blunt instrument, and should be better targeted, for example, by freezing the assets of decision makers, their organizations and their families and through restrictions on travel.
  • Combatants should be held financially liable to their victims under international law, where civilians have been deliberately targeted; international legal machinery should be developed to help find and seize the assets of the transgressors. ...

On structural adjustment:

  • The Bretton Woods institutions should consider providing 'peace-friendly' structural adjustment programmes.
  • Conditionalities must not be antithetical to a peace process; donors should not cut off funds from a weak government making good-faith, popularly supported efforts to implement peace agreements. ...

On the Security Council:

  • The Security Council should meet every two years at ministerial level to assess efforts undertaken and actions needed to support peace and development in Africa.
  • The Council should consider convening, within five years, a summit-level session for the same purpose. ..."

Statement by Secretary-General

'Secretary-General says proposals in his report on Africa require new ways of thinking, of acting,' United Nations Press Release SG/SM/6524, 16 April 1998


"The report that I present today is guided, above all, by a commitment to honesty and clarity in analysing and addressing the challenge of conflict in Africa. For too long, conflict in Africa has been seen as inevitable or intractable, or both. It is neither.

Conflict in Africa, as everywhere, is caused by human action, and can be ended by human action. This is the reality that shames us for every conflict that we allow to persist, and emboldens us to believe that we can address and resolve every conflict that we choose to confront.

For the United Nations there is no higher goal, no deeper commitment and no greater ambition than preventing armed conflict so that people everywhere can enjoy peace and prosperity. In Africa, as elsewhere, the United Nations increasingly is being required to respond to intra-State instability and conflict. In those conflicts, the main aim, to an alarming degree, is the destruction not of armies but of civilians and entire ethnic groups. Preventing such wars is no longer a question of defending States or protecting allies. It is a question of defending humanity itself.

Since 1970, Africa has had more than 30 wars fought on its territory, the vast majority of which have been intra-State in origin. Fourteen of Africa's 53 countries were afflicted by armed conflicts in 1996 alone. These accounted for more than half of all war-related deaths worldwide, resulting in more than 8 million refugees, returnees and displaced persons. The consequences of these conflicts have seriously undermined Africa's efforts to ensure long-term stability, prosperity and peace for its peoples. No one - not the United Nations, not the international community, not Africa's leaders - can escape responsibility for the persistence of these conflicts. ...

Today in many parts of Africa, efforts to break with these past patterns are at last beginning to succeed. It is my aspiration that this report add momentum to Africa's renewed quest for peace and greater prosperity. ... The sources of conflict in Africa are as varied and complex as the continent itself. In this report, I have sought to identify the kinds of actions that most effectively and most lastingly may address those conflicts and resolve them. ...

Three areas deserve particular attention. First, Africa must demonstrate the political will to rely upon political rather than military responses to problems. Democratic channels for pursuing legitimate interests and expressing dissent must be protected, and political opposition respected and accommodated in constitutional forms.

Second, Africa must summon the political will to take good governance seriously - ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law, strengthening democratization and promoting transparency and capability in public administration. ...

Third, Africa must enact and adhere to the various reforms needed to promote economic growth. ...

In this report, I set out to provide a clear and candid analysis of the sources of Africa's conflicts and why they persist. I have recommended actions and goals to reduce conflict and in time help to build a strong and durable peace. I have urged Africans and non-Africans alike to summon the political will to rise to the challenge which together we must all confront. ..."

Editor's note: Annan's statement was immediately welcomed by Security Council President Hisadi Owada of Japan, who "said the Council had requested the Secretary-General to submit a report on Africa in view of its grave concern over the number and intensity of armed conflicts on the continent. The Council believed that such conflicts threatened regional peace, caused massive human dislocation and suffering, perpetuated instability and diverted resources from long-term development. It was impressed by the commitment and insight the Secretary-General had brought to his report. The recommendations made were concrete and comprehensive, and provided the Council with ample basis for its discussions on how to contribute to the peace, stability and prosperity of the African continent. He requested Council members to study the report carefully and thoroughly, and then to convene in a formal session on 24 April to discuss it. He also invited other members and observers of the United Nations to participate in that discussion. The Council reaffirmed its intention to review promptly the recommendations of the Secretary-General with a view to taking steps consistent with its responsibilities, he added." (Secretary-General stresses need for political will to tackle Africa's problems, United Nations Press Release SC/6502, 16 April.)

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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