The decision by the African Union (AU) to declare 2019 as the “Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)” is a very laudable one and must be applauded by everybody.
The Union’s chosen theme "Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa", shows the AU’s increasing concern about the crisis of internal displacement.
According to the United Nations (UN), more than one-third of the 70 million displaced persons around the world are in Africa.
The world body and the AU therefore have critical roles to play in tackling the problem of people's displacement, largely driven by conflicts and natural disasters such as prolonged drought.
Some of the conflicts in Africa are triggered by bad governance and apprehension between farmers and herders; mainly due to the scarcity of resources including water and fodder.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines an IDP as someone who has been forced to flee their home but never cross an international border.
A refugee, however, is somebody forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.
Unlike refugees, IDPs are not protected by international law or eligible to receive many types of aid because they are legally under the protection of their own government.
A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.
African countries, having the largest internally displaced populations, include Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia and South Sudan.
African Governments have a responsibility to address the root causes of the problem of refugees and IDPs.
The International Crisis Group’s July 2018 report indicated that over 1,300 people were killed in the first six months of 2018 as a result of the farmer–herder conflict in Nigeria - roughly six times the number of persons reportedly killed by Boko Haram over the same period.
Today, extremism and terrorism by the Boko Haram in Nigeria and other conflicts in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are fueling a crisis of IDPs and refugees.
Ghana News Agency (GNA) reported, in May, that in excess of 1,000 people from Northern Burkina Faso had fled their home country to settle along the Sissala enclave following unrest in the neighboring Francophone country.
The migrants, believed to be of Moshie descent, are suspected to have no official documentation - resident or traveling permits. They have been settling along the Tumu-Navrongo stretch up to Wuru, Kwapun, Banu, Pido, Kunchorkor and Basisan towards River Sissili which separates the Upper West Region from Upper East.
The recent security challenges in the Burkina Faso, and the inflow of refugees into Ghana, clearly shows that the impact conflicts go beyond borders.
In order to achieve the goals of the AU’s Agenda 2063, Africa needs to work towards ending all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and prevention of genocide.
Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, UN’s Office for West Africa and the Sahel, in his remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in Accra on 18th April, expressed deep concern about the growing threat of extremism and terrorism.
He said: “The national and regional ramifications of violent extremism and terrorism in the Sahel constitutes a real and present threat to us all”.
Structural weaknesses, he added, had created a fertile ground for the emergence of extremist groups such as Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, affiliates of Al-Qaida and, more recently, ISIL.
It must not be lost on anybody that there can never be any meaningful development in Africa without security.
That is why it is pertinent for the UN and the AU to put in place long term strategic plans to deal with the problem of refugees and IDPs.
Resettling returnees in their home countries is not a great deal, however, in some cases; they need to be given some form of assistance by their government, the AU and the UN to be able to get their lives back.
To help address the problem, the AU must see partnership and inclusion as pivotal in conflict management and prevention.
The continental body should go to every length to also ensure that there is good governance across Africa.
In fact, all member countries of the AU must be made to abide by a fixed two-term presidential tenure.
To stop the youth from making the perilous journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean in search of better life, African Governments must focus priority on creating job opportunities for the teeming young people.
Continental efforts at preventing and combating terrorism should be strengthened. There is also the need to increase cooperation among member states of the AU in conflict management and resolution.
As we mark the 56th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (the predecessor of the AU), which was founded on 25th May 1963, it is worth mentioning the pioneering role some great African leaders played in the formation of the continental body.
The list include Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Modibo Keita of Mali, Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Sekou Touré of Guinea, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Ben Bella of Algeria, Emperor Haile Selasse of Ethiopia, William Tubman of Liberia, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria.
The 55 member states of the AU must be guided and always remember that the Union was created to harness a sense of unity and tackle the continent’s challenges.