Progress on the Nairobi Declaration Project

Tasneem Jamal

Author
Lynne Griffiths-Fulton

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2003 Volume 24 Issue 3

The proliferation of small arms in the Horn and Great Lakes sub-regions of Africa is a problem of increasing magnitude. In March 2000, Burundi, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda signed the Nairobi Declaration, a blueprint document that committed the signatories to fight the flow of illicit weapons into this area. Signatory states agreed to “carry out a concrete and co-ordinated agenda for action that promotes human security and ensures that all States have in place adequate laws, regulations and administrative procedures to exercise effective control over the possession and transfer of small arms.”1 An initial follow-up step was to establish National Focal Points (NFPs) to oversee implementation at the national level.

In June 2003, with support from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), the Africa Peace Forum (APFO) and Project Ploughshares successfully completed a one-year project, Implementing the Nairobi Declaration Project. Through a program of dialogue and engagement, the project brought together government officials and representatives of civil society organizations to discuss issues related to small arms and to explore together ways to support and enhance the implementation of the Nairobi Declaration.

Over the course of the year, awareness-raising workshops were held in the national capitals of Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Working with partner organizations – The Center for Conflict Resolution (CECORE), Uganda; La Compagnie des Apôtres de la Paix (CAP), Burundi; People with Disabilities (PWD-U), Uganda; and the Peace & Development Committee (PDC), Ethiopia; with APFO holding the regional workshop in Kenya – the project team organized and facilitated workshops to raise participant awareness about what implementation required from governments and civil society. Highlighting the Nairobi Declaration’s call for cooperation and information sharing among stakeholders, the workshops explored ways that stakeholders could work together more effectively, and, more specifically, how civil societies could encourage governments to create, or further develop, fully functioning NFPs.

While a sense of urgency was voiced at all workshops, implementation has been slow. Until last year, most signatory countries did not have NFPs. More recently some momentum has been gained as the Nairobi Secretariat, the body tasked with overall coordination of the Nairobi Declaration implementation plan, has been functioning more effectively. To date, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Kenya have created NFPs, but only Tanzania has put in place a National Action Plan to coordinate implementation. Workshop participants from all sectors recognized the importance of National Action Plans to move the implementation process forward. However, the project team found that many civil society organizations in attendance at the national workshops were not very well informed about their government’s commitments to the Nairobi Declaration. Those who were familiar with its provisions had no way to engage in meaningful dialogue with the government to further the implementation process.

The workshops helped to break down some of the existing barriers that inhibit civil society- government dialogue on issues related to security, including small arms. They also provided some of the impetus needed to enable greater collaboration between governments and civil society by building the capacity of civil society to engage with government officials. In turn, this exchange allowed government officials to see that civil society has the expertise and experience that could and should be used.

The workshops were far-reaching. Most of the 143 participants represented the non-governmental sector, including human rights groups, development agencies, peace and security organizations, community groups, humanitarian organizations, and the media. Also in attendance were a significant number of officials from the relevant government ministries of each country; regional organizations such as the East African Community (EAC), the Nairobi Secretariat, and the European Union; and international organizations including the UN and the World Bank; as well as representatives from faith-based groups; some academics; and a few participants from the donor community, with representatives of the Canadian government, USAID, and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). The project team consciously encouraged the involvement of women, who made up 35 per cent of workshop participants. Recognizing that women are agents of change in society and not just the victims of gun-violence, participants became aware of the different ways in which the proliferation and misuse of small arms affect men and women, and the need to have perspectives from both sexes when determining solutions.

By bringing together such a variety of participants, the project provided effective fora in which civil society could dialogue with government and compel officials to actively carry out their obligations in relation to the Nairobi Declaration. It was noted at the Ugandan meeting that civil society is well placed to fill in the gaps that governments find themselves ill-equipped to fill, such as conducting research on small arms. At the regional workshop in Nairobi, the Director of the Nairobi Secretariat reminded participants that civil society represents communities, and NFPs should take advantage of the advocacy, conflict resolution, development work, capacity building, and management skills that civil society organizations can offer. This collaboration, he added, was in line with government support for a multi-dimensional approach to small arms.

Many civil society stakeholders indicated to the project team that the workshops had empowered them to take a more active role in the implementation process in their home countries, particularly because of the networking opportunities the workshops provided. For example, the regional workshop in Nairobi had at least one representative from each Nairobi Declaration signatory country, except Djibouti, creating an invaluable environment for organizations to meet together and learn from each other’s experiences. As well, the workshops furthered the development of networking bodies in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda – the Kenya Action Network on Small Arms (KANSA), Uganda Action Network on Small Arms (UANSA), and the Rwanda Action Network on Small Arms (RANSA). Some of the members of these groups met for the first time at the Nairobi regional workshop. The Eastern African Action Network on Small Arms (EAANSA), a regional network that covers both the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa sub-regions, has also been set up. Many of the organizations involved in these groupings are also members of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a network of over 500 small arms organizations worldwide, and so they were able to share information about activities at the global level. For those coming from countries where national networks do not already exist – Sudan, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia – the regional workshop provided information about how to create their own and support from colleagues.

Participants from countries without National Focal Points (Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, DRC) were encouraged to undertake efforts to persuade their governments to create them in the near future. These participants were keen to try but lacked political space for civil society-government dialogue. Members of EAANSA offered support. It was suggested that, first, the information from this workshop should be disseminated to civil societies in those countries. A follow-up step would be to organize a workshop in each country to bring together more organizations to set up a national small arms network. It was acknowledged that governments were more likely to take seriously a unified civil society effort rather than approaches by disparate groups.

During the year of the project, APFO organized and attended many meetings and conferences related to small arms. Because APFO has worked for many years on this issue in the two sub-regions, and is a well-respected and authoritative actor, the project team often found themselves facilitating dialogue between civil society and government officials. In March 2003 APFO attended the official launch of the Rwandan National Focal Point and gave a presentation on civil society’s role in implementing the Nairobi Declaration. The same month, project manager Ambassador Ochieng Adala represented APFO at a symbolic gun-burning ceremony in Nairobi, which commemorated the third anniversary of the signing of the Nairobi Declaration (see text box).

Having established a good working relationship with the Nairobi Secretariat, APFO has been able to raise many issues with the Director and other Secretariat officials who have been present at the national and regional workshops and who are receptive to civil society input. APFO has been invited to be one of the civil society representatives at the annual Ministerial Review meetings that the Secretariat organizes to report on implementation progress and suggest ways to engage civil society more effectively.

Implementing the Nairobi Declaration Project was the first step in an on-going process. It encouraged the effective functioning of NFPs in each of the signatory countries, enhanced the capacity for a sustainable approach to the problems caused by small arms in the sub-regions, and made progress in breaking down the barriers that hamper government-civil society dialogue on small arms and security issues generally. The results of the project suggest that, particularly in those countries where the political space for government-civil society engagement is limited, the informal and unofficial nature of the workshops provided valuable opportunities for an open and creative exchange of new ideas and lessons learned, and strengthened the advocacy skills and capacity of civil society to dialogue with government. This capacity will now be supported by the national action networks.

Civil society has been recognized as an instrument of change. The experience, expertise, capacity, diversity, and enthusiasm of civil society participants auger well for the implementation of follow-up steps at the national, sub-regional, continental, and international levels. Information and lessons learned are shared through the newly created national and regional small arms networks and serve to make donors aware of the needs of organizations working on this issue. The project has provided the space to discuss issues related to security more openly, and increased the confidence and ability of civil society organizations to build networks on these issues. These are good first steps that will provide the building blocks for future government and civil society engagement on small arms issues and, more specifically, on concrete efforts to implement the Nairobi Declaration.

In recognition of the success of this project, and the need for sustained commitment to deal with the problem of small arms in these two sub-regions, DFAIT has agreed to continue funding this valuable work. APFO and Project Ploughshares have now embarked on a two-year project that will continue to engage civil society and governments in seeking a solution to the proliferation of small arms in this part of Africa.

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