The text of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which came into force in December 2014, has been hailed as a milestone in facilitating the regulation of international arms transfers. Africa countries where instrumental in the process; forty seven African states voted yes and Kenya co- drafted the text of the Treaty.
The ATT has the potential to be of great strategic significance to the Horn of Africa (HOA). The proliferation of SALWs and ammunition, facilitates multiple sources of insecurity in the Horn such as; insurgencies, ‘terrorism’, intra-religious/intra-communal clashes, trans-boundary criminality. States in the region have often in the past transferred weapons and ammunition to non-state actors in a bid to destabilize neighbouring unfriendly governments, which has escalated tensions in the Horn. The provisions of the ATT would also ensure that arms transfers and the arms trade to the region and within the region, would be more transparent, which would facilitate greater accountability on the part of governments to their citizens regarding uneconomical expenditure. The region is lagging behind on joining the ATT as only one state in the Horn is a signatory of the ATT.
The ATT represents an outstanding example of successful civil society advocacy on an issue that states customarily view as within the realm of their national security concerns. The ATT has the potential to have a marked effect on international arms transfers and diversions that could have a salutary effect on peace and security dynamics in the global south.
However, the ATT should be problematized. The ATT cannot be disentangled from hegemonic aspirations and dynamics in the form of liberal multilateralism and the associated doctrines of humanitarian intervention and the reformulation of sovereignty implied in the notion of ‘responsibility to protect’.
Several states in the Horn region, have developed the capacity to manufacture weapon systems and ammunition which may pose an obstacle to signing on to the ATT. National security concerns, positioning as arms importers, unease with arms transfer/export controls that could impede access to arms, the incongruity of the elements of the ATT such as arms transfer controls which have little bearing on problems such as SALW, reduce the incentive for states in the Horn to sign on to the ATT. This of course begs the question: which elements of the ATT would be most relevant for Africa in general and the Horn in particular? Or, should the emphasis be on new instruments that would be much more tailored to fit the requirements of the countries of the Horn? We believe that states’ commitment to control illicit flow of arms, whether through import or various types of transfers, would necessitate joining the ATT and other regional instruments. There are elements of complementarity among these instruments, when considered, would result in a better peace and security situation within the region.
The states of the Horn are aware of the problems associated with the proliferation of SALWs. They have formulated national laws and mechanisms to tackle proliferation. Being cognisant of the reality that proliferation of SALWs is a trans-boundary phenomenon and regional issue, states in the Horn have also formulated regional positions and instruments as a response to the problem. In 2000, the governments in the region issued the ‘Nairobi Declaration on the Problem of Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa’. In 2004, governments in the Horn signed the ‘Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn
of Africa and Bordering States’ (entered into force 2006). The Nairobi Declaration and Protocol seek to ensure stronger regulation and control on possession, maintenance and transfer of SALWs and ammunition at the national and regional level through legislation and control mechanisms. The Regional Centre on Small Arms (RECSA) is an intergovernmental entity that emerged out of the Nairobi Declaration and Protocol that coordinates efforts at the regional level in line with the principles and objectives of the Declaration and Protocol.
This issue of the Horn of Africa Bulletin (HAB) is a joint issue involving Oxfam Liaison Office to the African Union and the Life & Peace Institute. The articles in this issue of the HAB are optimistic regarding the potential benefits of the ATT to Africa in general and the Horn in particular. The article by Slijper explores the scope and ramifications of military expenditure and the arms trade in the HOA. It provides useful insights into what is usually an opaque issue area. The article is also revealing in its insight that while states in the Horn are not major arms importers by global standards, in the African context the scope of the arms trade is significant. The article by Melaku discusses the added benefits of the ATT relative to earlier initiatives and suggests an advocacy strategy to encourage governments to sign on to and ratify the ATT. The article suggests the utility of a country specific advocacy approach to popularize the ATT in the HOA. Butcher’s article provides a very detailed and intriguing background to the negotiations that led to the ATT and reveals the key role of governments from the Horn in formulating the ATT. The article concludes by outlining the value added of the ATT compared to earlier initiatives and suggests that the HOA would derive immense benefits from adhering to the ATT. The article by Gutbi explores the humanitarian cost of uncontrolled arms and suggests that joining the ATT although will not necessarily end the conflicts within the region, but would certainly contribute to multifaceted efforts of a realization of a safer region.