Does the world need an Arms Trade Treaty?
There is no doubt in my mind that Africa does, and because Africa does, the world does.
In fact, if I had it my way, we would set in place an effective, transparent global mechanism to regulate the entire conventional weapons supply chain, not just the distribution end of the arms trade continuum such as is the current focus of the Arms Trade Treaty. We need it strong, we need it binding and we need it now.
There is no getting away from it: unfettered access to illicit small arms has wrought great suffering on Africa. Few have suffered the social and economic cost of the flaws in the current system as Africa has.
Tens of millions of lives have been lost and millions more have had their lives and livelihoods shattered in protracted armed conflicts across the continent. Certainly, access to weapons is not the whole story—conventional weapons do not in and of themselves cause conflict—but, it is an important part of the story because these weapons aggravate conflict multiple-fold.
The centre spread photo montage in the western magazine of red-eyed African boy soldiers barely into their double digit years posing for the camera with deadly weapons slung nonchalantly over their shoulders may draw the wince out of the depth of us, but we cannot afford to look away: it’s our mirror and it’s on our wall.
In his submission to the First Committee yesterday, the Kenyan representative made two thought provoking statements: one, illicit weapons and the heightened state of insecurity they cause forces governments to divert funds that would otherwise be applied to development projects towards securing itself; two, there is no development without security and no security without development. All which doesn’t augur very well for us, does it?
And when you consider that 95 per cent of the weapons most commonly used in conflict in Africa come from outside the continent, you begin to see how patently unfair it all is.
It brings to mind the very colourful Assistant Commissioner of Police from Jamaica, Novelette Grant, who’s frustrated no end by the devastating effect access to illicit weapons by criminal elements continues to have on her country as guns slip in through the island nation’s porous borders and lead to a murder rate of 61 per 100,000—alarmingly high for a country that has never been in conflict.
The police force does best it can, but it is increasingly overwhelmed.
Oftentimes, the illegal weapons they seize are a trickle compared to the flood coming into the country and their efforts are complicated by the fact that there’s a symbiotic relationship between the narcotics trade and the illegal trade in firearms. The gangs they encounter, she says, are often much better armed than they are. What’s a police force to do when this is what it comes to?
Efforts such as these at the tail end of the supply chain where human and capital resources are in limited supply are a little like standing in knee-deep in water in a flooded house and trying to drain the water with a tea cup while the taps responsible for all the flooding are in somebody else’ house and are still turned on to full gush.
Somebody do something at the tap already. That’s all we’re saying.
It’s not that we’re resting on our laurels in Africa, mind you, waiting for our knight in shining armour to come to our rescue. Far from it. Three regional blocs in West, East and South Africa, already have in place legally binding agreements that seek to control the proliferation of small arms within their borders. The problem is that their success in this regard is limited by the fact that their outermost boundary,wherever it might be, is porous and vulnerable to undetected illegal penetration of arms.
It’s the way of the world. We’re connected. We have to deal with it.
Ergo, a global solution for an increasingly globalised world.
The good news is, the stars may be lining up. As John Duncan, the UK ambassador for multilateral arms control and disarmament said in a conversation about the Arms Treaty, “We are at a shifting point.”
It’s an interesting “shifting point” this, no doubt. Because the world is shifting in its perception of itself and its conception of power, this is an auspicious time to embark on negotiations on the arms trade treaty. Because the world is shifting in its perception of itself and its conception of power, the negotiations on the arms trade treaty will likely be more complex than they might have been at another point in history.
But, we are at a shifting point. What we’re going to do with it is what remains to be seen.