13 Feb 2018

Arms trafficking / To silence the guns, fight corruption first

The AU has renewed its focus on the links between state fragility, corruption and illicit arms flows.

The 30th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Summit, held in Addis Ababa last month, provided significant momentum to the AU’s Vision of Silencing the Guns by 2020 –also known as Vision 2020.

Two outcomes, in particular, have the potential to propel the AU member states, the regional economic communities (RECs) and regional mechanisms (RMs) to implement voluntary civilian disarmament in a sustainable way.

The first of these is the declaration of 2018 as the African Anti-Corruption Year, with the summit taking place under the theme, ‘Winning the fight against corruption: A sustainable path to Africa’s transformation’.

This brings renewed vigour in fighting a scourge that has long since crippled development in Africa. It also rekindles a common purpose among AU member states to implement the 2003 AU Convention on Combatting Corruption, which has remained dormant since its entry into force in 2006.

The link between corruption and illicit arms flows is well acknowledged

The link between corruption and illicit arms flows is well acknowledged. Statistics indicate that the global cost of corruption in the defence sector is close to US$20 billion annually, which is equivalent to the total sum pledged by the G8 countries in 2009 to fight world hunger. Yet, much remains to be done to combat corruption.

The linkages between corruption and the illicit flow of arms are amorphous, thriving on weaknesses in state governing systems. The most visible context is where traffickers compromise policy makers through bribery, to allow for the illicit transfer of arms. Another instance is when powerful (often political) individuals manipulate a country’s criminal and justice system in favour of criminal networks.

Both examples show how susceptibility to corruption depends on fragile governing systems. The UN recognises that conflict-prone countries, as well as those emerging from conflict, exhibit weak security sectors. In turn, this creates a lack of accountability, increased corruption, limited professional capacity and interagency rivalries: factors that are conducive to the illicit trafficking of arms.

Countries that emerge from conflict often depend on private armed security arrangements. This increases the demand for legal small arms and light weapons (SALW), while, at the same time, weakening accountability and state stockpile management and control.

If the 2018 theme is to translate into progress towards Vision 2020, AU member states and the respective regional bodies must urgently reflect on mitigating the impact of corruption on the rule of law and justice system; and putting an end to ongoing conflicts.

Corruption is rampant not only in post-conflict settings, but also in well-established governments

In a press statement released prior to the recent summit, the AU underscored that: ‘…if corruption is not dealt with as a matter of priority in Africa, the Agenda 2063 and its first ten year action plan, the 2030 global plan for sustainable development, and the Vision 2020 on silencing the Guns may not yield the expected results.’

A major drawback in the fight against corruption in Africa is enforcing the rule of law and justice in cases where powerful, often political, actors are involved in a criminal network, and therefore ready to influence the law in their favour.

This phenomenon is rampant not only in post-conflict settings with weak security sectors, but also in well-established governments. In the latter case, ruling elites extend favours to family members, friends and cronies in corrupt deals.

At the conclusion of the summit, the AU Commission appealed to member states, the RECs, RMs, UN and all partners to extend their cooperation and support to Ambassador Ramtane Lamamra, the AU High Representative for Silencing the Guns. The AU further stressed the urgent need to mobilise funding towards Vision 2020, in order for the High Representative to carry out his mandate of implementing the AU Master Roadmap. This appeal for support is a clear sign of the organisation’s continued commitment to rid the continent of the menace caused by the illicit flow of SALW.

The AU stressed the urgent need to mobilise funding towards Vision 2020

In September this year, the AU Commission will mark the first anniversary of its Africa Amnesty Month initiative for voluntary civilian disarmament. In the interim, states should proactively sensitise their citizens to surrender illegal firearms continuously. AU member states should make voluntary civilian disarmament a national policy and back it up with all the necessary technical and financial support.

At the continental level, achieving Vision 2020 is highly dependent on the support that the AU member states, RECs/RMs and the international community will offer Lamamra in his pursuit of silencing the guns. Nevertheless, the recently concluded 30th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly demonstrates the continued commitment of the AU Commission to overcome impediments towards lasting peace and stability on the continent. 

Nelson Alusala, Senior research consultant, ENACT, ISS


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