Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Horn of Africa

Tasneem Jamal

Lynne Griffiths-Fulton

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2002 Volume 23 Issue 2

With regional partners the Africa Peace Forum (APFO) and the International Resource Group on Disarmament and Security in the Horn of Africa (IRG), Project Ploughshares works on projects that try to stem the destruction caused by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW). In Canada, Ploughshares seeks to positively influence Canadian disarmament policy, particularly on SALW. Working with partners in the Horn who are confronted by the effects of these weapons daily keeps us aware of the problems of social, economic, and political insecurity created by the proliferation and misuse of SALW, and gives us insight into what needs to be done to bring about change. This report highlights some of these initiatives and draws upon a presentation given by APFO Director Bethuel Kiplagat at the March 2002 Ottawa roundtable sponsored by Project Ploughshares and South Asia Partnership Canada.

The nature of the problem

For decades, life in the Greater Horn of Africa has been characterized by destruction and extraordinary human suffering from long and interrelated civil and inter-state wars.(1) The number of SALW that permeate this region further exacerbate the suffering of the civilian population.

The proliferation of SALW stems mainly from struggles against colonialism and the Cold War. More recently, civil wars in Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan have ushered in a boom in the illegal market in, and illicit use of, SALW. These weapons are now being used in conflicts over natural resources and cattle rustling, and have contributed to soaring violent crime rates in cities such as Nairobi, Mogadishu, and Kigali.

Due to porous and expansive borders, weak governments, and ineffectual national security systems, SALW are difficult to control or account for as they move within the region from one conflict to another. They filter far beyond armies and police forces to criminal organizations, private security forces, vigilante squads, and individual citizens. For example, among cross-border pastoralist communities arms are acquired overtly for security purposes but become facilitating instruments in traditional practices of livestock raiding. The use of such modern weapons has turned such traditional practices into lethal warfare. Also, as pastoral areas get saturated with arms, pastoralists themselves become suppliers of arms to non-pastoral rural areas and urban centres. Inadequate policing makes it easy for these illegal arms to circulate without being detected by law enforcement authorities. As a consequence armed criminality in urban, rural, and border areas is on the increase.

Although the total number of SALW circulating around the globe is not known, estimates in The Small Arms Survey 2001 put the figure at close to 100 million in Africa alone. Given that the Greater Horn of Africa region is one of the most politically volatile in Africa, it may be safe to assume that the bulk of that number has found its way there. These existing weapons, plus those that are produced through local cottage industries, could fuel conflicts in the region for decades to come. All these factors complicate efforts to alleviate human suffering and bring security to the people in this region.

Initiatives to control SALW

As a Canadian peace and disarmament organization, Project Ploughshares has included SALW in our overall program for a number of years. As a destabilising force in many countries, these arms cause untold suffering to millions. Ploughshares, along with other Canadian and international civil society groups, recognises the threat that SALW pose to human security in many countries and regions around the world and works to raise public awareness of this problem and encourage the Canadian government to act in multilateral fora, like the United Nations, to implement measures that will control and manage SALW proliferation and misuse and help to build, or re-build as in the case of post-conflict societies, healthy, secure communities.

As well, through our projects in the Horn of Africa, Ploughshares supports our partners’ efforts to confront the problems caused by the proliferation and misuse of SALW and affect a positive change in national policies related to their control. Fortunately, in recent years, intergovernmental organizations, national governments, and civil society organizations have recognized the need to control the proliferation and misuse of such weapons. The initiatives that we are involved in are prompted by the growing realization that SALW continue to fuel the interconnected conflicts in the region and therefore contribute to debilitating social and political conditions.

1. The Nairobi Declaration on the problem of the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa (2)

The Nairobi Declaration was signed, by consensus, in March 2000 by Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. The Nairobi Declaration reflects a willingness on the part of the signatory nations to address the illicit proliferation of SALW in these two regions ridden by conflict. States pledged to “join efforts to address the problem, recognising the need for information sharing and co-operation in all matters relating to illicit small arms and light weapons including the promotion or research and data collection in the region and encouraging co-operation among governments and civil society.”

To this end, the following year signatory countries agreed to The Coordinated Agenda for Action and an Implementation Plan that seeks to turn The Agenda for Action into a working reality. The Agenda for Action calls for the development of relevant national control mechanisms. First and foremost, it calls for signatory states to establish, within three months of signing, a National Focal Point (NFP) to oversee the implementation of the Agenda for Action at the national level. To date, over a year later, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda have established NFPs but only Tanzania has actually managed to staff their office and fund a national action plan. All signatory countries are struggling to actively implement the Declaration with few resources and/or cumbersome national bureaucracies.

To encourage the implementation of the Nairobi Declaration, APFO and Ploughshares, with funding provided by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), have embarked on a year-long project, Implementing the Nairobi Declaration: Civil society support for the establishment of National Focal Points. Its main objectives are to encourage the establishment of National Focal Points; and to raise civil society awareness and involvement in implementing the Declaration. APFO has already begun to organize a series of public awareness workshops in cooperation with civil society groups in each of the signatory countries; the first took place in Kampala, Uganda in July. These workshops seek to raise civil society awareness and understanding of the Nairobi Declaration’s Agenda for Action and the UN Conference’s Programme of Action (PoA), and to enable these organizations to lobby their respective governments to set up their NFPs. In countries where the NFP is already in existence, civil society organizations will be in a position to lobby their respective governments to implement the wide range of resolutions agreed to in both documents.

The Nairobi Declaration represents a significant commitment by signatory States to deal collectively with the problem of the proliferation of SALW, which until recently they would have considered a highly sensitive issue to be handled unilaterally. The document also highlights the importance of community and civil society involvement in framing, and seeking solutions to, the problems raised by the proliferation of SALW. These documents, offering a comprehensive outline for action on SALW in the sub-region, informed the OAU’s Bamako Declaration of December 2000, (3) and the UN Programme of Action. (4)

2. Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN)

In 1996 the mandate of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) was broadened to include conflict prevention, management, and resolution activities in recognition that “pure” development cannot be totally divorced from peace and security issues. Most recently, IGAD’s efforts have led to the establishment of the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN). (5) APFO was involved in the commission that drafted the Protocol. Although it was signed in January 2002 at the IGAD Summit in Khartoum, the Protocol has not been ratified. However, it is an expression of the prevailing political consensus among the Heads of State of IGAD member countries to seek to address conflicts in the region collectively.

Through CEWARN it is hoped that in the future IGAD will be able to strengthen existing processes and mechanisms for conflict prevention and management, particularly through information sharing and networking. CEWARN also envisages a greater role for civil society and calls for its involvement in exploring creative ways to ensure the ratification of the Protocol. It recognizes that civil society groups have the ability to contribute their expertise in research; raising public awareness, and conflict management at the grassroots level. APFO has already identified some entry points including its research on SALW and its work on the cattle-rustling incidents along the Kenya/Uganda/Sudan border and the Kenya/Ethiopia border, where conflict could escalate in the future.

3. The Partnership for Peace Forum (PfPF)

The Partnership for Peace Forum (PfPF) is an initiative of civil society groups that focuses on effective partnerships for peace and security between civil society organizations and the government, and, in particular, law enforcement officers. Born out of the APFO Peace and Security Forums, its purpose is to elaborate and advocate for collaborative strategies that recognize that matters of security cannot be left to law enforcement agencies alone.

A PfPF workshop in August 2001 in Kenya brought together civil society groups, representatives of the media, and law enforcement officers. An extremely positive outcome of the meeting was the recognition by all parties that dialogue is an important element in establishing trust and building confidence between civil society and the security forces. The meeting also provided participants with an analysis of the legislative acts governing security in the various countries of the region and recommendations of areas that need strengthening.

The PfPF is currently evaluating the various security acts in the Kenyan constitution and a Task Force will present its recommendations to the Constitutional Review Commission of Kenya (CRCK). Work is also being undertaken on the harmonization of security-related legal instruments. (6) However, all these efforts require stronger coordination among countries in the region.

4. Research

Many civil society organizations and institutions in the region are undertaking specific research aimed not only at establishing the nature and magnitude of the problems caused by SALW but also at informing policy related to this issue.

The IRG is one such organization. Since 1994, the IRG has been working to encourage a more focused and sustained exploration of alternative security structures and disarmament measures for the Greater Horn sub-region. The IRG’s current program is designed to stimulate indigenous research and analysis on national and regional security and peacebuilding issues and to bring the results of that research to the attention of interested civil society and government policy-makers through a series of roundtables, workshops, and conferences.

Each year the IRG holds a Regional Conference on Sustainable Peace and Human Security. Last year’s conference brought together participants from various fields of expertise from across the Greater Horn to provide an overview of issues relating to its three program themes – security sector reform, the proliferation of SALW, and the establishment of a regional security architecture. Through Northern partners, such as Ploughshares, the IRG is able to disseminate the information gathered at these conferences to a wider audience.

Ploughshares and the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC) also support the IRG’s Small Arms and Light Weapons in the IGAD countries (SALIGAD) Project. The overall objective of the SALIGAD project is to build the capacity of indigenous researchers who explore SALW-related issues, producing reports that will be fed back into IRG programming in an effort to enhance regional security. To date, research areas have included the volume of legal and illegal SALW present in the region, patterns of gun violence, and the social and political impact of SALW. A comparative study on gun-related crimes in Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Kampala, and Dar-Es-Salaam is also underway.

Through research and the exchange and dissemination of information, SALIGAD helps to promote an awareness of issues related to SALW among development practitioners, policy-makers, and researchers that it is hoped will in turn generate policy options at local, national, and regional levels. (7)

Findings to date point to an inverse correlation between development and SALW. Relief and humanitarian work, traditional development activities, and post-conflict peacebuilding are all hampered by the availability and use of these weapons in the region. In many countries in the region, citizens are acquiring arms in an effort to ensure their own protection. Therefore, a main focus of SALIGAD’s research is demand-side issues. The goal of this approach is to understand what motivates the acquisition and/or use of SALW by individuals and communities in the Horn so that changes in the perception of how security is achieved and maintained can be made.

5. Other civil society initiatives

Over the last two years, particularly in the run-up to the UN Conference last July, a number of meetings were held in the Greater Horn by civil society organizations and their Northern partners. Clearly, these show that the SALW issue has gained momentum. In November 2000, the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa Experts Meeting on the Problem of the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons was held in Nairobi. In the same month, the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) held a meeting on Curbing the Demand for Small Arms: Lessons in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. In November 2001, Pax Christi International held a meeting on small arms trafficking in the border regions of Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya. In April 2002, SALIGAD, together with the Ugandan government, held a conference on the Mechanisms for Controlling Small Arms in the Horn of Africa, with particular attention to the gender dimension of the problem. And the national chapters of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) in both Uganda and Kenya held meetings to discuss future programming.

6. Canadian networking activities

According to APFO Director Bethuel Kiplagat, “the view from the South is that the problem of small arms requires collaborative approaches involving organised civil society organizations and grass roots communities and the continued strengthening of partnerships with donors and the international community.” The recommendations from the March 2002 meeting in Ottawa echoed these sentiments and stressed the need for stronger North-South and South-South partnerships in the efforts to control the scourge of SALW.

Project Ploughshares is the lead agency of the Small Arms Working Group (SAWG) of the Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee (CPCC). SAWG brings together a network of over 60 Canadian civil society organizations with small arms programs. The main work at present is to prepare for the 2003 UN Review Conference on Small Arms by organizing workshops and consultations and engaging government officials in policy dialogue on issues related to small arms.


The problem of SALW in the Greater Horn region is receiving attention from a wide range of bodies – inter-governmental organizations, national governments, and civil society groups – that offer concrete examples of current initiatives. However, much work remains to be done at all levels to sustain the momentum.

In a region of wide-ranging conflict, porous and sometimes disputed borders, and social conditions that generate the demand for SALW, no single state will make any perceptible impact on the problem by itself. An effective response to the problem of SALW requires extensive regional cooperation, and cooperation in a region of long-standing inter-state rivalries and suspicions will not be sustained without an appropriate institutional infrastructure. An increased commitment by the international community is necessary to provide technical assistance to strengthen such a structure.

Ploughshares and other Canadian NGOs are increasingly confronted by the overwhelming needs of their partners in the South. Raising public awareness about SALW is one strategy that we continue to pursue. As well, in consultations with relevant government departments the issue can be raised and we can impress upon our own government the need to maintain and increase their commitment to resolving the problem of small arms and light weapons.

The Greater Horn of Africa, like so many other regions around the world, requires collaborative approaches involving civil society organizations, partnerships with donors and the international civil society, and a commitment from national governments if the region is to uphold and implement existing Declarations and Protocols. Fortunately, civil society organizations now seem to be better placed to contribute to efforts that advance these peace and disarmament objectives.



  1. For the purpose of this paper, the Greater Horn will refer to the seven IGAD member countries: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, and Somalia.
  2. The Nairobi Declaration on the problem of the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, March 15, 2000.
  3. In its preamble, the Bamako Declaration calls for an African approach to the problems posed by the illicit proliferation, circulation, and trafficking of small arms and emphasizes the link between development and the proliferation of these types of weapons. Among its recommendations, the Declaration stresses the need for appropriate legislation and the involvement of civil society in the formation and implementation of a national action plan.
  4. For the Report of the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects see here.
  5. For details of the Protocol signed by Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya see here.
  6. Initial concepts appear in the APFO/IRG publication Improving Human Security Through the Control and Management of Small Arms (2000).
  7. SALIGAD’s most recent report, Small Arms and Light Weapons: Assessing Issues and Developing Capacity for Peace in the Horn of Africa, outlines the project’s findings over the last two years. It can be found here.
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