Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda are among the member states that will be taking stock of the progress they have made in the last 22 years since they signed the Nairobi declaration to curb the flow of illicit small arms and light weapons (SLAW) in the Great lakes region and horn of Africa.
Regional Centre on Small and Light Weapons member states will be meeting in Nairobi next week to check on milestones achieved in the wake of increased military coups, armed conflicts, violent crime and extremism, communal violence, transnational crime and political instability in the two regions.
It has been over two decades since the declaration was signed. However, the sale of illicit weapons continues to fuel violence in a number of the countries, including Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia.
The East Africa region is experiencing inflows of small arms from the conflict in Yemen through Somalia to the borders with Kenya and Ethiopia, and the war in Libya through Sudan to South Sudan and by extension Kenya and Uganda.
The 2021 Fragile States Index (FSI) shows that nine out of 15 RECSA member states are in the top 20 most fragile states. These are Somalia, Sudan, CAR, South Sudan, Congo, Uganda, Mozambique, Burundi and Ethiopia.
Kenya was ranked alongside Djibouti and Rwanda among those under high warning.
“The third most worsened country is Ethiopia, where the postponement of general elections generated increased tension between the central government and the Tigray region, which spiralled into a civil war in which the central government has been heavily supported by the Eritrean military and which has been characterised by human rights abuses,” the Index notes.
Last year, the UN Security Council extended its arms embargo on South Sudan until May this year, thereby prohibiting the supply, sale or transfer of weapons as well as provision of technical assistance, training and other military assistance to the country.
An investigation by Amnesty International had revealed the presence of newly imported small arms and ammunition, illicit concealment of weapons and diversion of armoured vehicles for military uses not approved under the arms transfer licences.
They also discovered that the government and former opposition forces reporting on security arrangements actively deceived the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)’s monitors.
The find contradicted that year’s African Union theme of ‘Silencing the guns’ on the continent, which included measures to prevent violation of UN embargoes.
The Security Council also overwhelmingly voted to renew its arms embargo on Somalia with an exception to those related to military activities of the Somali National Security Forces, the UN and African Union Missions in Somalia, and other regional organisations undertaking measures to suppress acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia.
A two-month amnesty calling for the return of illegally held weapons in Uganda ended in January.
The Amnesty seeking to end violent conflict began after a string of terrorist attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a militia group that operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo but with ties to Uganda.
In Kenya, the government has been alert to curb a possible flow of illicit arms into the country from Mozambique, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.
Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i notes that the National Police Service has heavily deployed its troops in three particular regions to quell conflict that has been sustained through sale of illicit weapons.
These are Lamu, the North Rift (from Laikipia conservancy to the border of Elgeyo Marakwet and Baringo counties where lingering cattle rustling conflict has seen several GSU platoons deployed), and the North Eastern region where movements of insurgents continue to be recorded.
“We now have National Cohesion and Integration Commission officers and religious leaders on the ground to kick off intercommunal relations in some of the areas where politicians have refused to engage the locals in peace building and social economic development. This is the way to go because we cannot start shooting and killing our citizens,” CS Matiang’i said.
So lingering is the problem in the country that President Uhuru Kenyatta, while presiding over the burning of 5,144 illegal firearms and obsolete state-owned small arms and light weapons last year, made an unusual appeal to semi-skilled makers of homemade guns to find them jobs if they shared their skills with the government.
“This is to those making illegal guns, come we make legal money and jobs. Come forward and declare you can make a gun and you will get a job. Don’t wait for the police to come for you,” the president said.
The Nairobi declaration on small arms is a legally binding instrument whose aim was to collaborate to curb proliferation of the arms in the region as a complement to existing individual country mechanisms.
Other countries that signed the Nairobi declaration are Djibouti, Eritrea, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Seychelles, and Somalia. Later, they were joined by Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.