Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Arria-Formula Meeting on the African Union’s Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020 Initiative

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 19, 2018


The ambitious and worthy goal of creating an African continent free of conflict will not be easy, but gatherings like today’s demonstrate the willingness of the African Union and its member states, as well as the broader international community, to take on the challenge. The factors contributing to violence are multi-faceted – illicit trafficking of small arms, poor governance, mismanagement of natural resources, under-trained law enforcement, and a long list of others.

The illicit trafficking, circulation, and use of small arms and light weapons remains at the heart of conflict in Africa, with a majority of deaths in conflicts coming from small arms. Small arms are illicitly acquired through several means, including diversion from national stockpiles, attacks on military posts, and trafficking and sales by networks willing to sell weapons to non-state actors. Weak governance can, and often does, give rise to corrupt officials turning a blind eye to the pilfering of insufficiently secured weapons stockpiles.

Poor controls in conflict zones facilitate the undetected smuggling of arms. Weak criminal justice systems, borders and maritime controls, weak physical security, and weak stockpile management further exacerbate the problem.

As I noted in an earlier Security Council meeting this week, while the linkage between natural resources and conflict is complex, and the United States shares the concern that, in many instances, poor management of natural resources can contribute to corruption, conflict, and violence. Despite the potential for natural resource endowments to bring prosperity and social development when properly managed, we unfortunately see far too many examples of countries where natural resource wealth does not translate into improved livelihoods for citizens, but to the contrary, where improper management feeds corruption, violence, and conflict

Existing mechanisms to anticipate the outbreak of conflict, whatever its cause is, need to be strengthened and supported by mediation and prevention efforts. Empowering the Continental Early Warning System is one critically important example. Tying the warning systems with action is often politically difficult, yet the potential for violence and destruction must compel us to overcome reticence to act, as suggested by my UK colleague and others at the table.

The United States has implemented numerous Conventional Weapons Destruction programs across the continent that have contributed to the prevention of at-risk weapons and ammunition from falling into the wrong hands. This assistance has prioritized the destruction of excess and unusable small arms and light weapons and ammunition, as well as the construction and refurbishing of armories.

The United States is assisting Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda to meet their commitments under the Nairobi Protocol. In Somalia, U.S. programs bolster the security of Federal Government of Somalia stockpiles against attacks by Al-Shabab and other armed groups. The United States has also worked to stabilize eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by destroying excess and poorly secured weapons and ammunition and by improving physical security and stockpile management for the Congolese army and National Police.

The international community should continue to look for ways to bolster cooperation with the African Union, other regional organizations, and individual African states to prevent and mitigate humanitarian crises, and where possible, resolve conflicts, and prevent mass atrocities and the displacement of populations. Strong African leadership and commitments to addressing the underlying causes of violence will facilitate this cooperation.

The United States will continue to be a close partner of the African Union in addressing the underlying causes of conflict. With the collective support of the United Nations Security Council, we look forward to continuing to work together to Silence the Guns and end conflict on the African continent. Thank you.