East Africa Set to Act on Small Arms Problem

Tasneem Jamal Armed Conflicts, Conventional Weapons

The Ploughshares Monitor March 2000 Volume 21 Issue 1

East African governments met in Nairobi in mid-March to plan a coordinated response to the growing problems related to small arms in the region. The conference declaration said “the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa Region” has “devastating consequences in sustaining armed conflict and abetting terrorism, cattle rustling and other serious crime.” The governments resolved to “encourage cooperation among governments and civil society” in research and data collection and adopted a comprehensive agenda in support of human security to reduce the demand for small arms and for the development of appropriate laws and regulations to control the possession and transfer of small arms and light weapons.

The conference, March 12-15, 2000, was opened by Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi calling for the establishment of national mechanisms in each of the countries of the region to strengthen their ability to control small arms and, in particular, to work with sub-regional bodies like the East African Community (EAC) and the Horn of Africa Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), as well as the Organization for African Unity (OAU) to curb the accumulation and circulation of small arms. He emphasized that states could not individually deal with the small arms crisis, given the difficulty of patrolling borders, and he also called on supplier states to establish effective means of controlling the supply.

That the conference occurred at all is a strong tribute to the work of civil society groups in the region. The International Resource Group on Disarmament and Security in the Horn of Africa (IRG), a project co-sponsored by Project Ploughshares, has been addressing the small arms issue for several years and was directly engaged in encouraging the Kenyan and other governments in the region to take up the small arms issue. As a follow-up to the governmental meeting, the IRG held a civil society small arms workshop in cooperation with the EAC secretariat in Arusha, Tanzania, the EAC headquarters.

The Kenyan meeting was supported by Canada with funding and technical assistance. Norway was a major funder of both the governmental conference and the follow-up civil society workshop, and several other European governments also supported the governmental conference.

The conference declaration was signed by the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, and United Republic of Tanzania. They linked their declarations to the forthcoming 2001 UN conference on small arms and the 1999 OAU summit action on small arms, emphasizing that they “fully share the growing international concern that the easy availability of illicit small arms and light weapons escalates conflicts, undermines political stability, and has devastating impacts on human and State security.”

The conference declaration called on all the signatory states to set up dedicated internal agencies or mechanisms to address the issues raised by the conference and assigned Kenya the task of coordinating follow-up activities with the national mechanisms.

The first section of the declaration addressed root causes of small arms proliferation, noting the role of “past and on-going armed conflicts” in the region, as well as, among other causes, the “mass movement of armed refugees across national borders,” internal political strife, and extreme poverty. The ministers emphasized that “a comprehensive strategy to arrest and deal with the problem [of small arms] must include putting in place structures and processes to promote democracy, the observance of human rights, the rule of law and good governance as well as economic recovery and growth.” The statement draws attention to the links between security and development and to “the need to develop comprehensive and effective peace-building and other measures aimed at reducing the resort to arms.” It calls for measures to “nurture environments in which root causes of conflicts can be adequately addressed and durable stability established,” and emphasizes the need

  • to pursue negotiated solutions to conflicts so as to ensure their peaceful resolution, to promote a culture of peace, and to encourage education and awareness-raising programs on the problem of illicit small arms, involving all sectors of society; and
  • for effective controls of arms transfers by suppliers outside the region, including measures against transfers of surplus arms to prevent the problem of illicit small arms.

The declaration then goes on to “encourage a concrete and co-ordinated agenda for action for the sub-region to promote human security and ensure that all States have in place adequate laws, regulations and administrative procedures to exercise effective control over the possession and transfer of small arms and light weapons through measures inter alia to:

  • “Pursue positive policies and measures to create social, economic and political environments to reduce the resort to arms by individuals and communities;
  • Urge the strengthening, and where they do not exist, the adoption of national laws and regulations and control mechanisms to govern civilian possession of arms;
  • Call on States to co-ordinate and publicise their policies, regulations and laws relating to possession of arms by civilians;
  • Urge source countries to ensure that all manufacturers, traders, brokers, financiers, and transporters of small arms and light weapons are regulated through licensing;
  • Urge also the States in the sub-region to monitor and effectively control all transactions relating to small arms and light weapons to licensed entities;
  • Call on States to strengthen sub-regional co-operation among police, intelligence, customs and border control officials in combating the illicit circulation and trafficking in small arms and light weapons and suppressing criminal activities relating to the use of these weapons;
  • Call upon States to strengthen or establish national mechanisms to deal with the problem of illicit small arms as well as to implement the Nairobi Declaration and invite them to hold regular meetings in this regard;
  • Invite the UN in co-operation with the OAU and other regional and international organisations to assist countries of the region to carry out a detailed study on the problem of illicit arms within the region and to draw up appropriate programmes for the collection and destruction of illicit small arms and light weapons. The States Parties to this Declaration will define the parameters of the study.”

Finally, the conference emphasized again the need for “co-operation of the United Nations, international organisations, regional organisations, as well as the participation by civil society in preventing and reducing the problem of illicit small arms and light weapons” and went on to:

  • Appeal for support of other sub-regions in the continent as well as the international community in order to effectively implement the measures agreed upon in this Declaration;
  • Appeal also for increased international support for programs .and initiatives that advance human security and promote conditions conducive to long-term peace, stability, and development in the sub-region;
  • Call for effective implementation of the relevant decisions of the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity and other regional arrangements to address the problem of illicit small arms and light weapons in the sub-region;
  • Appeal for financial, technical and political support from the international community for the effective implementation of this Declaration.
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