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The 33rd African Union Summit opened on Thursday with a gathering that focused on reducing armed conflicts to achieve the continent’s developmental priorities.

The week-long assembly of African governments and allied parties would establish the union’s priorities and programmes for 2020 at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The summit began on January 21 with a series of statutory meetings by the permanent representatives’ committee. On February 6-7, members of the executive council would hold plenaries to finalise resolutions of the permanent representatives’ committee.

The executive council would draft decisions and declarations that would be considered by heads of states and governments from across the continent. The leaders would meet on February 9-10.

The 2020 theme, ‘Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions For Africa’s Development,’ would address institutional challenges and proffer feasible progress for the continent’s peace and security. Several closed sessions would also be held on corruption, child marriage, violent extremism and sustainable development.

Updates would also be provided on the recently-adopted Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), an economic alliance that aims to foster strong trading ties amongst member states.

“The agenda of silencing the guns must be dealt with in a comprehensive manner,” Vera Songwe of the Economic Commission for Africa said in her address to the executive council at Thursday’s plenary. “To effectively win this agenda, we must ensure that as we import the arms, the arms are for peace and not to ensure that war continues.”

Others at the summit urged member states to focus more on using modern technology to reduce widespread poverty and consequently, armed conflicts. Armed proliferation across the continent has recently worsened with the ongoing violence in Libya, Mali, Nigeria and other parts of the continent.

The conflicts had left the continent hosting nearly a third of the world’s refugees, according to the United Nations. Countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia have, however, been hailed for having some of the world’s most acceptable refugee policies. Both countries have taken in a large number of refugees as a result of years of violence near their borders.

However, despite frameworks allowing the legal employment and free movement of refugees in certain countries, Moussa Faki Mahamat — chair of the AU Commission,

While some of the delegates argued efforts to “silence the guns” this year may prove too difficult to achieve, others said the continent must eschew its perennial internal disputes and suspicions that have stunted regional growth.

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