Spotlight: SADC strengthens strategy to silence the guns


The new protocol on the control of firearms, ammunition and related materials was adopted by heads of state at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in August 2020. It provides countries in the region with a framework for combating the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The revised protocol is the first regional instrument to incorporate the African Union (AU) Roadmap for Silencing the Guns.

A team from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) worked with the SADC Secretariat to identify gaps in the original 2001 protocol, which predated the AU’s formation and was obsolete in key areas. All relevant regional, African and international treaties, resolutions, strategies, action plans, protocols and conventions were compiled to create a baseline against which to evaluate the 2001 document.

The aim was to update the protocol with African and international arms control developments. These include contemporary regional instruments like the 2010 Kinshasa Convention which regulates small arms and light weapons in Central Africa, as well as the United Nation’s 2014 Arms Trade Treaty, which encourages states to restrict the export of weapons which may be used for human rights abuses.   

Given that development can’t take place in violent and ungovernable societies, Sustainable Development Goal target 16.4 and its aim to significantly reduce illicit arms flows by 2030 was also taken into account.

The SADC process began in June 2019 and the adoption of the new protocol just over a year later was achieved in record time for concluding international agreements. This is attributed to the importance that SADC states attach to disarmament and silencing the guns.

The revised protocol reflects broad consultations by the SADC Secretariat and collaboration with civil society organisations such as the ISS in crafting some of its new provisions.

The new SADC protocol was adopted in record time for concluding international agreements

‘There was a need to bring the Protocol up to date with African and global arms policy,’ says ISS Researcher Gugu Dube. ‘The 2001 protocol was a product of the post-Cold War era characterised by territoriality and secrecy, predating today’s commitment to regional cooperation on cross-border issues such as organised crime and the weapons trade.’

Information sharing around regional firearms control needed to be strengthened. Another gap was guidance on safe management and storage of weapons, including: stockpiling and maintenance of government firearms; record keeping of weapons lost, stolen, recovered, confiscated or destroyed; and tracking and marking weapons. The 2001 protocol also lacked information on how to deal with excess and obsolete weapons, and needed updating to include an electronic weapons database.

The revised protocol includes a total of 15 new clauses. A zero-draft was presented to a SADC technical committee in Maputo in August 2019. The process gave SADC’s legal, police and military representatives the opportunity to understand and agree on the rationale for each amendment, enabling them to develop a common understanding among member states.

‘The protocol was adopted article by article in a transformative process which saw ownership of the new protocol pass from a small group of initial drafters to a community of people who will implement and enforce it,’ says ISS Researcher Richard Chelin.

The new protocol calls for SADC member states to ratify or accede to regional, continental and international arms control instruments. It will help Africa make its voice heard during revisions to the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons.

The revised protocol is just the first step to tackle problems posed by small arms and light weapons, often referred to as Africa’s weapons of mass destruction. The challenge lies in the practical implementation, which requires SADC countries to translate the protocol's provisions into actions.

The SADC Secretariat will now establish an implementation task team charged with developing an action plan that sets out timelines, responsibilities, sources of financing and assesses member states’ needs and capacity.

For more information contact:

Martin Ewi, ISS: [email protected]; +27 760 791 075

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