September 2022 marks the fifth observation of the African Union’s (AU) Africa Amnesty Month, and draws on one of the steps recommended in the 2016 African Union (AU) Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa by Year 2020.
During this annual event, civilians who unconditionally surrender their illegal arms will not be arrested or prosecuted. The ultimate aim of the annual amnesty is to free Africa from the many destructive effects of gun-related violence and armed conflict by the year 2030 (previously 2020), now referred to as ‘Vision 2030.’
One of the indicators of progress in reducing the illicit circulation of arms on the continent is the extent to which African countries have signed and ratified international arms control instruments.
Among such instruments is the 2003 United Nations (UN) Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its protocols, to which all African countries are States Parties. UNTOC is the first international instrument to address transnational organised crime (TOC) in all its forms and manifestations. UNTOC’s Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition is at the core of controlling TOC in the arms trade. The illicit trafficking of arms fuels conflict in and across countries and exacerbates human rights abuses and terrorism.
Another instrument is the 2013 UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), to whose international standards Africa is highly aligned. The ATT regulates the international trade in conventional arms and aims to prevent and eradicate their illicit trade and diversion. The ATT also establishes international standards that govern the transfer of such arms, which are mainly used by military.
As of August 2022, 28 of the 111 States Parties are African states, 12 African states are signatories and only 14 states are yet to join the treaty, giving Africa an overall score of just over 74% (States Parties and signatories). This achievement is no small feat, especially compared to Asia which scores about 36%. If only this compliance rate were translated into practical action, the vision of silencing the guns and promoting peace and development would be a fait accompli.
At the commemoration of Africa Amnesty Month 2022 in Togo, the AU Commissioner of Peace and Security, Ambassador Bankole Adeoye, emphasised the AU’s resolve to ‘work with [Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Regional Mechanisms (RMs)] and other mechanisms in mitigating the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.’ The AU is also working hard to narrow the funding gap for activities geared toward arms control, as evidenced by the technical and financial support offered to Liberia, Tanzania and Togo under an UN-AU partnership. This follows a similar initiative supporting Madagascar, Niger and Uganda in 2021.
The response is also regional. Africa’s RECs and RMs have inculcated UNTOC and its binding protocols into their agendas, establishing the following regional instruments: the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Firearms Protocol for Southern Africa; the Nairobi Protocol for East Africa; the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Convention for West Africa; and the Kinshasa Convention for Central Africa. The RECs and RMs have also made progress towards voluntary disarmament and arms destruction.
Shining the light on the continent’s strategic and practical progress is an ongoing challenge, especially because the systematic documentation of good practices across Africa is lacking. For instance, in 2022, arms were collected and destroyed in several countries, including Madagascar, Uganda and Niger. Yet this news is not given the publicity required. Broadcasting these success stories from the AU level would serve as an incentive for greater action among the AU member states.
For instance, a brief reflection on SADC, and Namibia in particular, illustrates the kind of progress that is being or should be replicated across the continent as part of silencing the guns.
Following an assessment of the state of organised crime in Southern Africa in 2018, SADC developed a TOC strategy for the region, which was adopted by member states in September 2020. The regional implementation plan is underway. Similarly, in 2019, the SADC Secretariat embarked on a review of their 2001 Firearms Protocol with a view to incorporating contemporary arms control developments. The revised Protocol was adopted in August 2020. These two initiatives, which were a collaboration between SADC and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), means that the region is well positioned to contribute meaningfully to Vision 2030 on Silencing the Guns.
Following the pace set by SADC, and in the spirit of silencing the guns, the Namibian government has demonstrated its commitment in two ways.
Namibia’s offices, ministries and agencies are collaborating with the ENACT project and additional technical support from the ISS to draft a National Integrated Strategic Plan on Arms Control. The strategy aims to bring all arms-related issues (including small arms and light weapons, conventional weapons, and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear substances and explosives) under one umbrella coordinating body.
On 9 July, in line with this year’s Africa Amnesty Month and the UN International Small Arms Destruction Day, the Namibian Police Force destroyed 5 532 arms and 209 933 rounds of ammunition that were obsolete, dysfunctional or recovered from the illicit market. According to the newly appointed Namibian Inspector General of Police, Lieutenant General Shikongo, ‘the destruction was a show of the commitment by Namibia towards the continental vision of silencing the guns by 2030. These are hard decisions to take, yes, but a must, if Africa is to achieve its goals.’
Observing Africa Amnesty Month in 2022 is an opportunity for the continent to reflect on the activities undertaken so far and, at the same time, revisit strategic goals towards 2030. It should be seized as the moment to relaunch Africa’s Vision to Silence the Guns by 2030 in order to deliver greater success in the remaining seven years.
Nelson Alusala, Senior Research Consultant, ISS