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We are grateful to the African Union (AU) for its decision to host the 9th High Level Retreat on the “Promotion of Peace, Security and Stability in Africa” in our vibrant city of Accra, enabling me also to deliver these brief remarks to start this important programme. Those of you who come from beyond our shores, including our distinguished former Heads of State and AU envoys, are welcome among a people noted for their hospitality, and I hope your stay in Ghana has been good so far. Akwaaba, as many of you know, is our word of welcome.

This year’s retreat, the 9th in the series, is being held to review “the AU’s existing instruments, partnerships and practices and determine their suitability to effectively prevent and manage current and future conflicts on the continent.” It is vital that your deliberations, at the end of the day, provide us with solutions and a clear road map towards realizing the objectives of this retreat, and, thus, help assure for the continent and its peoples the possibility of reaching the goal of a peaceful, stable and progressive Africa.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the essence of this retreat is buttressed by the fact that the most important things for a nation or continent are the peace and safety of its people, and its territorial integrity. It is when these are guaranteed that citizens can go about their lives normally, and strive to improve upon the quality of their circumstances.

Upon the establishment of the AU in 2002, one of its prime areas of focus was conflict prevention and management. This was because all parts of the continent – West, South, East, Central and North – had experienced or were experiencing conflicts in one form or other. They were spawned by several factors – bad governance, endemic corruption, social inequality and marginalization, widespread unemployment, and aggravated poverty.

Today, the traditional challenges to security on the continent, namely chieftaincy conflicts, armed robberies, land disputes, religious intolerance, ethnic conflicts and political rivalry, are being compounded by contemporary threats like drug and human trafficking, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, cyber-crime and activities of nomadic herdsmen.

Additionally, the emergence of transnational organised crimes, together with the evolving nature of terrorism, especially in the Sahel region, continue to undermine the prospects of a united, stable Africa. And, even though democracy continues to be the preferred choice of governance for the majority of Africans, democratic transitions continue to pose a threat to peace and stability on the continent.

It is self-evident that our objective of an integrated Africa cannot be achieved without peace and stability on the continent. Efforts at integration of the continent will be negatively affected if African countries continue to battle with the human security challenges which confront their peoples. No country would want to integrate with another whose house is on fire.

At the moment, terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda, the Movement for Unity and Jihad, Boko Haram, and Al Shabaab, have fed on the traditional threats to security, and have unleashed terror on the citizenry in their attempts to stifle the freedoms and liberties enjoyed by our peoples. The collaboration currently taking place amongst countries in West Africa and on the continent in the fight against terrorism and armed groups is significant. It gives credence to the Ghanaian proverb that “a broomstick on its own can easily be broken, but, together, a broom cannot be broken” – in unity lies strength. African countries are co-operating in the fight against terrorism and achieving results, and this should spur us on in our collective drive towards a peaceful and united Africa.

The story of the formation of the European Union (EU), for example, should inspire us towards the establishment of a fully integrated Africa. It is a widely acknowledged fact that the formation of the EU has helped, since the end of World War II in 1945, prevent war amongst its members. History teaches us that Austria, Britain, France, Germany and Italy had for centuries waged wars over religion, territory and power. The creation of a free market, concealing economic and geographical borders, was intended to erode the justification for using war as the quickest avenue to wealth and power, and lessen its appeal. That was the vision that underlay the idea behind the European Economic Community, now the EU, in 1957.

This should motivate us in Africa, and hasten our efforts towards integration. If Europe, through the formation of the EU, was able to stop the vicious cycle of violence that had plagued them for centuries, leading them onto the path of advancement, wealth and prosperity for the majority of their peoples, Africa can no longer dither. Let us work together to unleash the energy and ingenuity of the African, and with a market of 1.2 billion people, soon to reach 2 billion, the sky will be the limit. Let us work towards the day when all of us will look to doing business first in our region and continent before looking to Europe, Asia or the Americas, because we have the men and women, the goods, the services and the quality.

We must recognize that the way forward is to implement regional and continental decisions, such as the Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, as, ultimately, the benefits are in everyone's interest. Those of us who believe strongly in integration can do no better than to give our full support to regional and continental decisions. Through this, we will build institutional confidence and integrity in the structural organs of the AU and our regional entities.

I know you have your terms of reference clearly defined, but I would urge you, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, to focus also on the creation of conditions for the elimination of pervasive threats to peoples and individual rights, livelihoods, safety and life, through the protection of human and democratic rights, and the promotion of human development.

We are required to pay urgent attention to the bubbling volcano that is the army of young unemployed. The World Bank tells us that, in 40 African countries, over 50% of the population is under the age of 20. Indeed, the median age across the continent is stated to be 19.5 years. That is a lot of young energy that can be mobilised for the development of the continent. We must create opportunities and jobs for our youth, or they risk becoming instruments of instability or targets of recruitment by terrorists.

We must provide them with access to education; we must transform the structure of our economies from raw material producing and exporting economies to value-added and industrialized economies, which will provide opportunities, jobs and hope to our young people to live dignified, productive lives.

It is also critical that we promote and develop, on the continent, a system and culture of accountable governance, free of corruption, whereby our people are governed in accordance with the rule of law, respect for individual liberties and human rights, and the principles of democratic accountability. Such a system includes building strong institutions of state, such as well-resourced Parliaments and Judiciaries, efficient law enforcement agencies, and effective security forces, that see their responsibilities and allegiances to the wider public interest, not just to the conveniences of the governments of the day.

In conclusion, Excellencies, the continent is looking up to you to develop strategies which will lead to security sector reform, peace support operations, the engagement of youths in rehabilitation programs to dissuade them from joining extremist groups and rebellions, and effective, comprehensive implementation of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) processes.

Conflict, instability, violent extremism and terrorism constitute major threats to the very survival of the African peoples, and it is my wish that we leave this Retreat with a renewed sense of purpose and a clear strategy, which would help us win the fight, and, by so doing, promote continental peace, security and stability, essential for the socio-economic development of Africa.

May God bless the African Union, Mother Africa, and us all.

I thank you for your attention.

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