ARMS AND PEACE

VICTOR BWIRE: Small arms threat to free and fair elections

Such arms led conflicts are a challenge to the realization of peace

In Summary

•SDG 16 is on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, ensuring public access to information, and protecting fundamental freedoms.

•Many times, these conflicts increase around election times like it’s happening in Marsabit, Laikipia and Baringo Counties.

Civilians watch as an assortment of 5,250 illicit firearms and small weapons recovered during various security operations burns during its destruction in Ngong Hills
Civilians watch as an assortment of 5,250 illicit firearms and small weapons recovered during various security operations burns during its destruction in Ngong Hills
Image: FILE

The timing of criminal activities and the emergence of illegal groups in some parts of Kenya whenever elections approach remains a permanent feature of our history, an ugly one for that matter.

Why it refuses to go away, even with evidence of the contributing factors is what worries many.

The drivers of these conflicts include the prevalence of illegal small arms and light weapons and protection groups, commonly known as“men in black” during the election period.

The people who displace thers during elections and arm these protection groups through elaborate plans including cross border schemes are known, and this information should be used to deal with the issue. 

Kenya like the rest of the region has a long history of contested unresolved/ongoing conflicts, presenting one of the most complex conflict systems in Africa where its borderlands have experienced centuries of marginalization and alienation from the centre.

Many times, these conflicts increase around election times like it’s happening in Marsabit, Laikipia and Baringo Counties.

While making a presentation to the UN Security Council in 2021, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Dr Martin Kimani, noted that most conflicts in the Great Horn of Africa are fueled by easily available illicit weapons, despite various conventions and policies dealing with the same.

He urged the UN Security Council to scale up the issue of small arms to the same level it does for nuclear weapons. According to him, ignoring the proliferation of illegal small arms and light weapons will frustrate any progress in the region.

Such arms led conflicts are a challenge to the realization of peace and democratic process like free and fair elections.

SDG 16 is on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, ensuring public access to information, and protecting fundamental freedoms. The target of 16.10 is to “ensure public access to information and to protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”.

The Nairobi declaration on small arms was signed in 2000, creating structures and institutions to collaborate to curb the proliferation of the arms in the.

Signatories to the Nairobi declaration are Djibouti, Eritrea, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Seychelles, and Somalia.  

Member states of the Regional Centre on Small and Light Weapons (RESCA) met in Nairobi in March 2021 to assess the milestones achieved since its formation and noted that the proliferation of illegal arms and light weapons is a major player in increasing cases of military coups, armed conflicts, violent crime and violent extremism, ethnic violence, cross border crime and political instability. 

The verdict during the meeting was that the sale of illicit weapons continues despite such commitments and play a big role in fueling violence, conflicts, communal displacements, refugee population, lack of participation in elections, diseases, food insecurity, among others in several the countries, including Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda and Somalia.

Studies indicate that the Great Horn and Lakes region has seen increased inflows of small arms as a result of the conflict in Yemen through Somalia and Ethiopia borders  and the war in Libya through Sudan to South Sudan and by extension Kenya and Uganda

As part of its Agenda 2063 framework, the Africa Union Heads of States and Governments adopted an initiative to silence the guns and end all conflicts in Africa by 2020. 

This marked a turning point in the history of the continent by way of creating the necessary environment to move forward Africa’s development agenda-  for development cannot happen especially where there are resource-based conflicts/tensions.

SDG 16 –recognizes that development cannot happen within an environment of conflicts

The African Union in 2014 ratified the Niamey Convention (Cross Border Collaboration), which calls for peace through greater cross-border cooperation thus acknowledging the importance of an integrated approach to dealing with such issues.

Studies have shown that addressing peace and security challenges related to borders requires both “hard” and “soft” approaches and only investing in securitized and state-centric responses will not be sustainable in the long term.

A change intact, as provided for under the Niamey Convention is inevitable to solving such cross-border conflicts and tensions in the Great Horn of Africa.

Already, the AU has set aside funds for such initiatives and given the poverty levels around the region, countries need to use the more recent and tested integrated approaches to solve such problems, prioritizing the involvement of local communities and their leadership structures.

Countries in the region need to sign and domesticate the AU Convention as it has elaborate mechanisms including the creation of a local cross border community leadership structure that will be very instrumental in conflict resolution within the countries.

While the convention was adopted in the twenty-third ordinary session of the Assembly of AU Heads of States in 2014, to date it has not achieved the numbers required to make it functional, significantly undermining the legal bearing of the Convention as it will enter into full force upon fifteen-member state ratifications.

It will be interesting to note for example even with evidence on the role of small arms and light weapons in frustrating development initiatives including participation in elections, how much resources and commitments are given by our governments to such RESCA so that the fight against the proliferation of small arms in the region is enhanced.

Given the need for evidence-based decision making and resource allocation in such matters as cross border security, what’s the latest data or research has RESCA done on the same, what is the visibility of the work of RESCA in the region and the impact of its work?

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