Monday, May 20, 2024
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The Arms Trade Treaty: A leap towards a safer Africa

Forty seven African states voted in favor of ATT adoption. However, despite this level of support, Africa is currently under-represented amongst ratifying states, with 17 states having ratified the treaty to date, writes Omayma Gutbi.

Whilst some parts of Africa are experiencing stability, democracy and economic growth, prolonged conflict, proxy wars, and inter-communal strife characterize other regions. Such violence continues to accelerate structural poverty and processes of impoverishment across the continent and have caused untold suffering, including deaths, sexual violence, displacement, shattered communities and loss of hope for a decent standard of living.

In terms of the economic cost of war, a study shows that conflicts in Africa cost the continent over 300 billion US dollars between 1990 and 2005 – an amount equivalent to all the international aid received by sub-Saharan Africa in the same period. In addition, Oxfam has calculated that USD 18 billion per year is lost as a result of conflict.

The impact of conflict in Africa is particularly severe on women and adolescent girls who are especially susceptible to sexual abuse, rape, recruitment by armed forces, trafficking, HIV/AIDS and complications from pregnancies. Such experiences have long term and devastating effects on their lives and those of their children.

The humanitarian impact of conflict in Africa is alarming. Conflict and insecurity in Africa’s Sahel region is exacerbating the region’s humanitarian crisis. Poor countries in the Sahel are forced to spend more on security and less on humanitarian needs. The humanitarian problems afflicting the nine countries in the Sahel are enormous. The UN reports that 23.5 million in the region will not have enough to eat in 2016. In the Horn of Africa the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance, in some cases exacerbated by conflict is similarly dire, with at least 19.49 million people estimated to be in need of relief assistance.

New conflicts are emerging and, increasingly, putting lives under immense threat. Apart from conventional violent conflict, non-conventional threats are evolving, amongst which is the spread of terrorism and violence of extremist groups in the Horn of Africa (HoA), the Chad Basin and Sahel region. This spread has been enabled by the unregulated flow of arms, amongst other socio-economic and political factors. By the same token, proxy wars are also taking lives, dividing communities and bringing about prolonged suffering. Again, such violent conflicts are enabled by the unregulated global arms trade.

It is evident that most of the small arms and light weapons (SALW) used in African conflicts are actually brought in through global networks which catalyze already enflamed situations. Although there are many continental and regional agreements on arms in Africa, the globalization of the arms trade will best be controlled through an international treaty, with continental and regional enforcement (i.e. the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that came into force in December 2014). Arms manufacturing companies and states alike are involved in selling, transferring and brokering deals across Africa. The ATT binds exporters and importers alike to put firm regulations on the global, regional and national circulation of arms to minimize the impact of conflict. Oxfam believes that African nations can contribute to this through ratifying and acceding to the ATT, which has the potential to lead to more effective governance of arms and security forces, reducing corruption and arms diversion and helping to prevent arms entering illegal markets. Such action will help build a global norm for the effective control of arms transfers, and force skeptical states such as Russia, the US and China to comply with the Treaty in order to continue sales to African ATT Member States. It has been stated that the signing and ratification of the ATT alone will not bring peace to Africa, but will build a voice against uncontrolled arms and shake the silence towards conflict.

Undoubtedly, insecurity in connection to arms has been one of the prime concerns of the African Union (AU). The initiative and framework of ‘Silencing the Guns by 2020’, and its inclusion in the AU’s continental action plan, Agenda 2063, illustrates a strong commitment to control flow and unauthorized use of arms in the continent.

Regional protocols on small arms and light weapons: a substitute to joining the ATT?

Across the continent, numerous legally binding normative and policy documents to aid the control of flow of arms have been adopted by AU member states at both continental and regional levels. Key among the AU documents are, the Protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council itself, the Bamako Declaration on an African Common Position on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons (2000), the Common African Defense and Security Policy (2004) and the African Union Strategy on the Control of Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and light Weapons.

Member states of regional economic communities (RECs), have adopted the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and other Related Materials (2001), the Nairobi Protocol on the Control, Prevention and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States (2004), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunitions and other Related Materials (2006), and the Central Africa Convention for the Control of SALW, their Ammunition and Parts and Components that can be used for their Manufacture, Repair or Assembly (2010).

Notwithstanding the regional frameworks on control of SALW, African states, understanding the global connections of the arms trade, played an important role in the ATT negotiations. They insisted on the inclusion of ammunition despite US opposition and supported calls for strong provisions based on international human rights and humanitarian law. Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, and Liberia all played active roles within a progressive group of states, and Kenya was one of the “co-author” countries that drafted all the ATT resolutions. Notably, African lobbying of China was decisive in achieving the inclusion of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in the categories of arms controlled under the Treaty.

Forty seven African states voted in favor of ATT adoption. However, despite this level of support, Africa is currently under-represented amongst ratifying states, with 17 states having ratified the treaty to date. A modest participation indeed especially when linked to the upcoming event of the Second Conference of States Parties to the Treaty which will take place in Geneva in August. The status of ratifications in HoA is alarming where Djibouti is the only signatory.

African representation amongst ratifying states needs to increase as soon as possible so that the continent acquires a strong voice in the ATT Preparatory Committees and Conference of States Parties in 2016. If Africa remains largely outside the Treaty, the voices of the states and the voices of the people will not be heard in the current negotiations of key issues.

At the domestic level, when African states join and implement the ATT it would translate into better import, export and transit controls with better accounting for arms in stock piles as they enter and leave a country. This should lead to improved standards in stockpiling weapons systems and ammunition, and necessitate training for security forces on the ATT and how to implement it. Such efforts have the power to positively influence the security situation in Africa and demonstrate to the world that progress that can be made in arms control even in the most challenging of circumstances.

Ed.’s Note: Omayma Gutbi is Oxfam’s Pan Africa Peace and Security Campaign Manager leading its arms control campaign. She can be reached at [email protected].


Contributed by Omayma Gutbi


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