Arms Control in Peacebuilding Activities in Africa – A Perspective

In separate remarks by the former United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan and the former President of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) were referred to as West Africa’s weapons of mass destruction. Almost every conflict in Africa has been anchored by the use of small arms and millions of people have been killed or maimed by small arms abuse and misuse since the decolonization period in the 1950s.

Security is about the preservation of the existence of something and human security is inclusive of the need to protect fundamental human rights which has as its basic threats, killings, executions, genocides and deaths as a result of war or conflicts. In recent times, these threats to human security are transnational and also inter-connected in nature and, therefore, require a response strategy that is integrated and also transnational.

One of the international response strategies to preserve human security is underlined by the concept of peacebuilding which is defined as “an action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict” [1]. Thus peacebuilding connects issues about security and development. It is often implemented in the context of post-conflict peace support operations. The concept of peacebuilding, therefore, calls for coordination of the contributions of the various actors in the peace operations theatre as well as national level institution-building and sustainability.

The UN has recently established the UN Peacebuilding Commission to fill the institutional gap between peacekeeping and development activities and thus strengthen the UN’s capacity for peacebuilding. The thrust of the mandate of the UN Peacebuilding Commission relates to inter-institutional coordination, support to the reconstruction and institutional-building of affected states and sustainability.

Particularly with sub-Sahara Africa, there are two dimensions to dealing with threats to human security in the context of peacebuilding. On one hand, there are the social, political and economic factors that generate the tension that escalate into violent conflicts and, by extension, the demand for small arms. On the other hand, there is a set of factors regarding the regulation of international acquisitions, distribution and possession of arms that constitute the supply-side factors that drive the arms flow phenomena in a way that draws in international interests and tends to compound the effectiveness of particular sub-regional or regional measures against arms flows or proliferation on the African continent. The above sets of factors may appear as distinct but they reinforce each other in compounding security challenges in Africa.

Arms Control

Two of the broad global strategies deployed to mitigate the disastrous effects of arms are “Disarmament” and “Arms Control”.

Among many other issues, disarmament programmes tend to focus on weapons collection initiatives, weapons destruction and disposal programmes, decommissioning of weapons systems, arms embargoes, weapons moratoriums and prohibitions with a view towards reducing the destructive and destabilizing impact of arms on the state and society as well as the environment. Operationally, disarmament programmes have also focused on demobilization of armed groups and also restoration of armed combatants and vulnerable groups associated with conflicts back into society. The later often occur in post-conflict contexts and are informed by the particular peace operation mandates emanating from specific UN Security Council Resolutions.

On the other hand, arms control initiatives tend to focus on agreements designed to regulate arms levels either by limiting their growth or by restricting how arms may be used. The focus is to mitigate an arms race by restraining arms acquisition, deployment and also, use of military capabilities. It provokes the exploration of other means for managing crisis. Arms control is therefore, approached by internationally negotiated instruments including international treaties, agreements and also regional and sub-regional agreements and protocols. National commitments to such sub-regional, regional and international norms emanating from the above protocols are as important as the desired impact that such norms and regimes are expected to make. The implication is that the extent of compliance of national arms control policy guidelines, legislation, and institutional measures to particular international regimes are relevant to the attainment of the goals of international arms control initiatives.

Peacebuilding and Arms Control in Africa

At the turn of the current century, global attention was focused on transnational organized crime with particular emphasis on the illicit movement of firearms, human trafficking (emphasis on the plight of women and children in conflict situations) and smuggling of migrants. One of the three supplementary Protocols of the international Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime relate to the regulation of the manufacture, distribution and use of firearms around the world. There has been a subsequent Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects since 2001 and an implementation mechanism [2] that spells out guidelines for the implementation of the above programme of action (PoA).

In all the above issues, there is policy, legislative and institutional obligations on state parties including national obligations to report on the status of implementation of the above PoA.

Regional arrangements such as the Africa Union (AU) already have a policy document – i.e New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) which effectively recognises security as the basis for development. In 2012, the AU developed a programme on small arms and light weapons as well as on border security with the various regional economic communities (RECS) and member states as core implementing partners. In collaboration with the European Union, the AU is assisting some member states to mark weapons initially held by security sector agencies. The programme is expected to be extended to weapons in civilian hands.

Thus incorporation of arms control measures in peacebuilding activities in Africa could be viewed from the perspective of the extent to which: (a) host countries of UN-mandated peace –operations incorporate their commitment to international arms control protocols to which they are state parties to their respective development programmes; and (b) the extent to which the UN Security Council Resolutions mandating various peace support operations reflect already existing international arms control protocols of the UN, AU and the particular sub-regional protocol that applies.

The issues in the above regard are: (a) national level small arms legislative reforms; (b) creation of relevant institutional structures and technical capacity; and (c) allocation of national resources to match international efforts towards arms control.

Across the continent, commitment to legislative reforms is certainly improving, though the progress unfolds in different directions depending on the REC involved. Indeed, every regional economic community (REC) has a specific protocol on small arms which reflect the supplementary protocol of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime relating to Firearms. For example, some of the countries in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region are working to harmonize their respective national legislation on small arms. National laws are enforceable domestically and therefore it is important to create opportunities for local law enforcement officers to apply international legal regimes on the domestic scene. Additionally, ECOWAS member states have ratified the Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and Other related Material adopted on 14 June 2006 which entered into force on 29 September 2009. Among other measures, ECOWAS member states have committed to an exemption certification regime aimed at ensuring that arms are imported into the sub-region to support noble causes. Furthermore, each of the ECOWAS member states have established a national commission for small arms which also reflect provisions in the UN PoA, to act as national focal agencies for reporting on the implementation of the PoA and also coordinate national responses to small arms control.

However, apart from Sierra Leone which recently passed a new small arms Act that repealed the previous legislation on firearms (Cape Verde is also finalizing a new legislation on small arms), none of the other ECOWAS members have done any significant work on the revision of the substantive national legislation on firearms which were largely passed in the 1960s. It means that issues such as the regulation of the activities of arms brokers which are not covered by national legislation in majority of the ECOWAS countries remain unregulated. The weak standards for stockpile management which leads to unexpected explosions at armory sites in some countries remain. As a point of interest, Guinea-Bissau which has recorded a series of assassinations of its political leaders and senior military officers in recent times lacks a functioning armory, let alone adequate training of personnel for the maintenance of a functioning armory.

The national commissions for small arms also require technical and financial resources to function as expected. Thus, the question remains as to whether UN Security Council Resolutions that prompted the operations in Sierra Leone, Liberia, La Cote d’Ivoire and lately in Mali, adequately address arms control issues. The reality is that many of the mission mandates rather focus on the pacification of the warring factions at the expense of the real small arms challenges on the ground. Thus, disarmament of the warring factions and the demobilization and reintegration of the ex-combatants with very limited budgets tend to become a regular feature of peace agreements that are implemented in the post conflict phase. The arms control or small arms proliferation problem is hardly tackled.

KAIPTC and SALW control

The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) is a sub-regional peace and security training and research Centre of excellence with an official memorandum of understanding (MoU) with ECOWAS. Through the above MoU, KAIPTC, together with the peacekeeping school in Bamako, Mali and the National Defense College in Nigeria provide the official peace and security support training needs of ECOWAS. Furthermore, as a sub-regional training and research Centre of excellence, the KAIPTC delivers a range of 25 peace and security-related training courses annually and has trained up to 9000 practitioners mainly from West Africa but also from the rest of Africa and the world since 2003. At the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research (FAAR), the Centre has some frontline researchers in peace and security including piracy and maritime security, counter terrorism, transnational organized crime, narcotics trafficking, small arms and light weapons control, gender in peacekeeping, disarmament demobilization and reintegration among many other issues. The Faculty also provides technical support to countries in the sub-region as well as strategic level briefings to regional organizations such as ECOWAS, AU, EU and the UN.

Additionally, the KAIPTC in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (UNDP BCPR), the Government of Japan and the ECOWAS Commission has been implementing a sub-regional training programme on small arms and light weapons control since March 2008.

Through the above collaboration, the technical capacity of more than 600 West Africans have been enhanced in the area of small arms and light weapons control, border security management, stockpile management and marking record keeping and tracing. The regular field monitoring component of the above programme shows that trainees continue to gain promotion to commanding positions in the security sectors of their respective countries. For example, one of the trainees is now the Director of Police Operations in Cape Verde while another trainee is the deputy head of the Gendarmerie in Senegal. Furthermore, several of the trainees are heading teams at border posts all over the sub-region.

An evaluation of the above programme in March 2010 also revealed that the programme has significantly contributed to the promotion of small arms and light weapons non-proliferation issues among operational and policy level actors in the sub-region. As a contribution to other sub-regional initiatives, in the last four years, the national assemblies of more than 10 out of the 15 ECOWAS member states have ratified the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms. The increased ratification rate of the ECOWAS Convention significantly benefitted from the advocacy work of trainees from the above-mentioned programme.

The success of the above programme has contributed to an increased commitment of the Government of Japan which approved an additional project focusing on the emergency human capacity development needs in the Sahel region of West Africa in 2013. The new project now focuses on capacity building training – with training courses in border security management, small arms and light weapons trafficking, maritime piracy and transnational organized crime, security sector governance, and collaborative policing –, research and policy dialogue and advocacy. Eight in-country trainings have been done already in Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. For example, some of the trainees of the border security management courses in the various countries mentioned above openly confessed that they were working with their counterparts from the other border security agencies for the first time in their career. The trainees have supervisory functions with career experience spanning a period of 5-30 years.

The Small Arms Programme at the KAIPTC is also conducting a small arms baseline survey on behalf of the Ghana National Commission for Small Arms. The findings of the baseline survey are expected to inform national policy for arms control in subsequent years. From the perspective of the above programme, the baseline survey was conceived as a pilot project that could eventually cover the entire sub-region and partners for the grander project are welcome.


Opportunities exist for peacebuilding initiatives to incorporate arms control measures. However, most peacebuilding mandates tend to focus on the pacification of the warring factions and also, security sector reforms. The larger question of how to deal with the huge number of small arms in circulation in civil society is often ignored by peace support operation mandates and that constitutes a threat to the sustainability of peacebuilding activities.


[1] See: UN Document A/CONF.192/15.

[2] See: UN Document A/CONF.192/15.