Small Arms in the Horn and Great Lakes

Tasneem Jamal

Lynne Griffiths-Fulton

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2004 Volume 25 Issue 2

States in the Horn and Great Lakes of Africa, two of Africa’s sub-regions most affected by gun violence, have taken a major new step to strengthen and coordinate their small arms control efforts. In April, government ministers from the two sub-regions signed a Declaration and Protocol committing them to a broad range of measures, including mandatory gun registration and a ban on civilian ownership of assault rifles.

The new Declaration, Ministerial Declaration for Improved Capacity for Action on SALW in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa, and the Protocol, The Nairobi protocol for the prevention, control and reduction of small arms and light weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa, further elaborate upon the Nairobi Declaration, a ground-breaking arms control instrument, which commits signatory states to deal with the problems of small arms in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa sub-regions by regulating and controlling the manufacture, import, and export of small arms, light weapons, ammunitions, and other related materials; and improving the operational capacity of their police forces, customs officials, border guards, military, and judiciary in order to combat illicit trafficking. The Nairobi Declaration outlines the concerns of governments in these two regions, concerns shared by the international community, that the easy availability and misuse of illicit small arms escalate conflicts, undermine political stability, hamper development, and have devastating impacts on human and state security.

For over two years, Project Ploughshares and partner, the Africa Peace Forum (APFO), have been working on a small arms project, which seeks to build the capacity of civil society to support and strengthen the implementation of the Nairobi Declaration.(1) Support for this work is provided by Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC).

The first phase of the project was completed in June 2003 and supported the structural and operational maturation of the National Focal points, government bodies set up to coordinate small arms control efforts and the Nairobi Secretariat, the office that oversees overall coordination and provides technical and operational assistance for the Nairobi Declaration. Through regular contact and meetings, the relationship between APFO and the Secretariat was strengthened and continues to be a channel for the exchange of information, expertise, and assistance in implementing the Nairobi Declaration.(2)

The Ministerial Declaration and Protocol were agreed to at the second annual Ministerial Review Conference for the ten states that are signatories to the Nairobi Declaration – Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Although not a signatory to the Nairobi Declaration, the Seychelles also became a signatory at the 2004 conference.
These two agreements strengthen states’ efforts to coordinate actions to deal with the problem of small arms. More specifically, the Protocol outlines a number of provisions that will become legally binding upon ratification, which should take place by 31 December 2004, and will move states closer to fulfilling the original challenge posed by the Nairobi Declaration, namely the harmonization of national gun-control legislation.

Important provisions of the Protocol include:

  • a ban on civilian ownership of automatic and semi-automatic rifles;
  • registration of all guns;
  • regulation of gun storage and competency testing for prospective owners;
  • restrictions on the number of guns a person can own;
  • a ban on pawning guns;
  • uniform minimum standards regulating the manufacture, control, possession, import, export, transit, transport, and transfer of small arms;
  • standardized marking and identification of small arms;
  • regulation of security companies;
  • regulation of small arms brokering;
  • uniformly tough sentencing for unlicensed gun possession.

Although legislation needs to be country-specific, because the small arms problem is trans-national, any solution demands that states work more effectively together. As long as there is a disparity in the laws between countries, arms dealers will move from country to country looking for less stringent rules, and small arms will continue to destabilize the regions.

The Protocol also highlights the need for states to create and maintain comprehensive inventories of state-owned small arms so that the movement of these weapons can be effectively traced. Also recommended are requirements for secure disposal or destruction of surplus and confiscated weapons. Ratification of the Protocol by all states parties is to take place by the end of 2004, and a Regional Centre on Small Arms is to be created to coordinate the Protocol’s implementation.

Of particular relevance to the work that APFO and Project Ploughshares are carrying out is the Protocol’s call for a Civil Society Dialogue Forum that will be created to coordinate small arms activities among NGOs, National Focal Points, and the Nairobi Secretariat. APFO was present at the Ministerial meeting and has been calling on the Nairobi Secretariat to acknowledge more formally the on-going cooperation between NGOs and government and to develop a process by which their expertise can be more effectively utilized. Results from the first phase of the Nairobi Declaration project show that civil society can be an instrument of positive change. The experience, expertise, capacity, diversity, and commitment of civil society groups should be fostered. It is hoped that the Forum will create a more sustainable and effective channel for civil society input.

A continuing commitment and collaboration of government and civil society are essential in solving the problems caused by small arms in East Africa. A recent disarmament meeting organized by the Small Arms and Demobilization Unit of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Nairobi Secretariat, in which APFO participated, reiterated these views. Statements made by the representatives of the Nairobi Declaration countries highlighted the seriousness of the small arms problem in the sub-region and the challenges they face in implementing the Programme of Action and the Nairobi Declaration. Still, progress has been made in fostering sub-regional cooperation and coordination, including the establishment of National Focal Points and the development of National Plans of Action, with the assistance and the involvement of NGOs. Recognition that an effective partnership between government and civil society can bring about positive change is a huge step forward in a region where, historically, collaboration between these two sectors has been minimal.

However, as participants at the workshop emphasized, one of the challenges facing both governments and civil society is the lack of funding to carry out the work. Increased international assistance is needed to develop capacity and ensure the proper functioning of the National Focal Points and the effective implementation of the National Plans of Action already developed by some countries.

Canada’s support of the Nairobi Declaration, the UN process, and other small arms work around the world is to be applauded but also needs to be sustained over the long-term. Project Ploughshares will continue to press the government on this issue and work with like-minded organizations nationally, through the Small Arms Working Group of the Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee, to ensure that small arms control remains a priority of the government’s foreign policy agenda.


  1. In March 2000, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda came together to sign 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. Project Ploughshares and the Africa Peace Forum, along with other NGOs, participated in the conference, and in a subsequent meeting where a detailed implementation plan was developed.
  2. For a full report see “Progress on the Nairobi Declaration Project,” The Ploughshares Monitor, Autumn 2003, pp. 9-11.
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