The inability by countries in the region to carry out simultaneous disarmament is impeding the mopping up of illegal arms used in terrorism, poaching and piracy.
Besides not carrying out joint disarmament to prevent border communities from hiding the arms across their borders, some countries have also prioritised registration over disarmament.
This was one of the observations at the regional disarmament workshop held in Nairobi this week, in which Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia presented their country reports and shared challenges and the way forward.
The meeting was convened to coincide with the AU’s declaration of September as the amnesty month and as a follow-up of various bilateral cross-border agreements for countries in the region.
It also came on the back of a bilateral agreement signed between Kenya and Uganda to promote sustainable peace and development among the Turkana, Pokot and Karamojong communities, to end hostilities between the three neighbouring communities and enhance development in the region by promoting non-violent interactions and collaborations.
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Baldreldin Elamin, the executive secretary of the Nairobi-based Regional Centre for Small Arms (Resca) said governments must realise that arms and ammunition do not recognise political borders and that no country can control the proliferation of small arms without the co-operation of its neighbours.
There are 39 million illegal arms in the hands of civilians in Africa, of which 7.8 million are found in eastern Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
Kenya and South Sudan have not been successful in their voluntary arms surrender programmes.
South Sudan has not carried out any successful disarmament resulting from proliferation caused by the 1955-1972 and 1983-2005 wars, and attempts at forceful disarmament after Independence in 2011 resulted in inter-community conflict and loss of life. South Sudan has 233,000 illegal arms in civilian hands.
John Jok Bum, the deputy director, Bureau for Community Security and Small Arms Control in South Sudan, that their challenge is that South Sudan does not have bilateral agreement on cross-border co-operation with either Kenya, Uganda, Sudan or Ethiopia that would allow for simultaneous disarmament.
The other challenges, according to Mr Bum is that the mindset of the civilian population is heavily militarised, which promotes a great urge to own guns, as well as the lack of technical and financial resources to carry out civilian disarmament.
Mr Bum said there is a need for training of security officers on the existing stockpiles, and the seven that have been trained by Recsa are never utilised since they are often transferred to other departments.
Amos Katana, the deputy director of the Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms, said Kenya is a major destination for illicit arms from the region especially from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and the Indian Ocean from the Gulf, and to a lesser extent from Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi through Lake Victoria.
He said a survey conducted in 2012 shows that between 550,000 and 680,000 illegal firearms were in the hands of Kenyan civilians. Kenya is also a source of illicit arms to the region mainly from terrorists raiding government armouries in the northeastern part of the country, or from rogue security officers who sell arms across the border and from pastoralist communities who cross borders with weapons during dry seasons.
“We have now started marking government-issued firearms to the military and police and attained 98 per cent coverage and only those in northern Kenya remain unmarked because of prevailing insecurity,” said Mr Katana.
Among the key factors for the proliferation of illegal arms in Kenya is instability in neighbouring countries; long and porous borders with the four neighbouring countries; Kenya-Somalia (680km); Kenya-Ethiopia (750km); Kenya South Sudan (306km) and Kenya-Uganda that measures 700km.
Since 2017, Kenya has received 8,000 firearms from the voluntary surrender and has destroyed 20,000 assorted weapons and 11 containers of ammunition.
In Ethiopia, Kalkidane Dereje, a legal officer in the Attorney General’s Office told the meeting that while there are some illegal firearms in the hands of civilians, there are stringent licensing requirements and that those who misuse firearms are fined and imprisoned.