Together, We Will Silence the Guns

By Susanna Moorehead ( Susanna Moorehead is Britain’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti (non-resident) and Permanent Representative to the African Union and UN Economic Commission for Africa. )

One hundred years ago today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns in Europe fell silent. That most dreadful of wars, the First World War, came to an end. More than nine million soldiers died, a third of them as a result of diseases.

Around 750,000 of them were from my country. It was a tragic loss of human life, one that is still commemorated every year on this day in the United Kingdom. We wear red poppy flowers to remember the battlefields of Northern France and Belgium. We fall silent at 11 o’clock to remember those who lost their lives. It is a poignant occasion and one that we also commemorate here in Addis Abeba at the Gullele Cemetery.

In its day, World War I was described as “the war to end all wars.”

The problem is that it was not.

In the two decades that followed, conflict persisted across the globe, from a civil war in Spain to the invasion of Eastern China and, of course, armed occupation here in Ethiopia. And by 1939, the world was plunged into another global war that began in Europe.

With the advent of new weapons, in World War II between 50 and 70 million people died, many of them civilians. The guns had most definitely not been silenced. We remember World War II on this day as well. But we also remember all the work since it ended in 1945 to reduce the potential for conflict around the world - from the economic rebuilding of Europe, to the process of decolonisation, to the advent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the creation of the United Nations.

Thankfully, since that time there has not been another global war on the same scale. But smaller conflicts have been commonplace around the world, especially in recent decades in Africa. The numbers killed may not have been as great, but every life lost infighting is a tragedy for humanity.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has recognised this with his call for peace and an end to Ethiopia’s internal conflicts. He and regional leaders have acted with remarkable effort to end the ‘no-peace-no-war’ stalemate with Eritrea. African leaders as a group have recognised this with their bold endorsement of the African Union’s aim to Silence the Guns by 2020.

Now we all have to deliver. The United Kingdom stands fully behind these aims, and we are playing our part to support them. Here in the Horn of Africa, we have worked closely with Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to support the South Sudan peace process and are calling on all parties to make the latest agreement stick and silence the guns for good.

In the African Union, we have supported work on conflict mediation, conflict prevention and crisis management. Thousands of miles away next week, we will lead a discussion of Eritrea in the United Nations Security Council to welcome peace with Ethiopia and push for progress on outstanding Djibouti-Eritrea disputes.

But our support is not limited to the conference rooms of leaders. Through the Peace Support Training Centre that the UK helped build in Addis Abeba, we help prepare 250 Ethiopian soldiers every year to act as peacekeepers for the UN and the African Union, helping to stabilise fragile places and protect civilians.

We are teaming up on the ground too - our forces are serving alongside each other as part of the UN Mission in South Sudan. And where there are groups such as Al-Shabaab who sadly show no signs of wanting to silence their weapons, the UK helps to fund and train the regional troops who seek to prevent further bloodshed. Last month we trained Ethiopian soldiers on how to spot and defuse small bombs and improvised explosive devices. That alone will save lives.

And we will do more. Part of remembering is also to act. As we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, whether a century ago in Europe or this year in Somalia, we also commit ourselves to ensuring that their sacrifices were not in vain. It may not happen overnight, but we will make a better world for their descendants. Working together, we will silence the guns.


Susanna Moorehead is Britain’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti (non-resident) and Permanent Representative to the African Union and UN Economic Commission for Africa.

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