Disarmament and Destruction of Firearms not a Panacea to Insecurity in Kenya


Augusta Muchai, Mifugo Project Head, Pastoralist Security Programme (PSP), ISS Nairobi

Over the past decade, there have been clear and deliberate efforts by the government of Kenya to improve security at the local and national levels, particularly with regard to the reduction of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW). Even though the exact number of illicit firearms in circulation is not known, it is widely believed that they continue to be a great threat to human security in the country, particularly amongst pastoralist communities and to the general public, both in urban and rural Kenya. The government has been undertaking a number of initiatives to address the problem, especially disarmament and destruction of recovered firearms, but so far without a guarantee of improved security.

In April 2004, the government of Kenya signed the Nairobi Protocol on the Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa. The following year, May 2005, it signed the associated Nairobi Protocol Best Practice Guidelines to assist in the implementation of the Protocol. In addition, the Protocol on the Prevention, Combating and Eradication of Cattle Rustling was signed in August 2008. From a political and diplomatic point of view, the government could score high for the commitment it has continued to portray in view of national and regional initiatives towards addressing the proliferation of SALW and human security in general.

Disarmament initiatives have been undertaken pre and post independence. Successive governments to date have been committed to the process of reducing illicit firearms in circulation in view to improve human security. The most recent disarmament process began in 2005, dubbed Dumisha Amani 1 (enhance peace) and has been ongoing.

According to a recent study conducted by the Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms (KNFP), the initiative led to the recovery of 2 433 arms and 5 260 rounds of ammunition. While this process was underway and applied amnesty and voluntary surrender approach, in 2006 and 2007 the government launched Operation Okota (collect) which implied a more forceful approach by security agencies. Currently, the government is preparing to launch Dumisha Amani 2, to continue with the disarmament process.

While the intentions and spirit of disarmament have been clear, that is to reduce the number of illicit firearms particularly amongst nomadic pastoralists; pave the way for development initiatives and improve security, the end result may not always have been impressive amongst the affected communities and human rights groups. Allegations of gross violation of human rights have been made by respective communities through their representatives, the media, religious groups, opinion leaders and politicians. The other concern is that each time a disarmament initiative takes place, the communities feel exposed and vulnerable to their armed neighbours.

Even though the government has been receptive to criticism that it must conduct disarmament with a human face and deliver on developmental obligations, the number of subsequent disarmament efforts obviously suggests that there are gaps that need to be addressed. Also, the continued demand of both ammunition and firearms is clear evidence that the communities continue to feel insecure.

In an effort to reduce the number of illicit firearms in circulation, the government has on a number of occasions conducted destruction of firearms in public. According to KNFP, 8 299 firearms were destroyed in May 2003 while over 3 800 assorted SALW were destroyed through burning in Nairobi in June 2005. Recently, in March 2010, during a public ceremony to commemorate the signing of the Nairobi Declaration on Small Arms and Light Weapons, a total of 2 545 firearms were destroyed at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi.

In every subsequent year since the signing of the Nairobi Declaration in March 2000, the government has been burning firearms in public to demonstrate its commitment towards the reduction of illicit firearms in circulation and to create awareness amongst the general public about the dangers of SALW. In spite of these accomplishments, violent livestock rustling incidences, armed robberies and hijackings continue to be reported with several fatalities occurring in different parts of the country.

Continued insecurity caused by the proliferation of illicit firearms is a clear indication that while disarmament and destruction of firearms are inevitable solutions, the government needs to do much more to address the problem so as to improve security and improve development. Perhaps it is time for the government to re-think strategies of disarmament as well as destruction of firearms.

One of the glaring gaps continues to be the lack of involvement of pastoralist communities in disarmament processes. One could argue that to a large extent communities are involved through government barazas (public meetings) conducted through provincial administration to inform them about government plans and to encourage voluntary surrender of illicit firearms. However, increased involvement of community elders in the negotiation of voluntary surrender would most certainly yield sustainable results. As mouth pieces of their respective communities, they would articulate better the reasons behind feeling insecure and thus taking up arms to protect their livestock and families. Indeed, they would become part of the solution.

In government circles, sustainable solutions towards addressing the problem of cattle rustling, proliferation of SALW and improved human security is well articulated and documented. Political will and commitment certainly needs to be improved in the implementation of Protocols and Agreements signed by the government. For this to be achieved there needs to be sufficient budgetary allocation in view to realize developmental commitments meant to improve regions that have continued to lag behind due to insecurity both in rural and urban Kenya.

Importantly, there is need for change of attitude by government officials entrusted with the welfare of affected communities and the general public. The allegation of marginalization of pastoralist communities could be disputed depending on how one looks at it. While on the one hand a lot of resources have been spent on addressing their plight and they also have the obligation to explore complimentary means of livelihood, it is also true that there must be change of attitude in viewing pastoralist and other affected communities as citizens capable of contributing to the national gross domestic product.

The vast lands occupied by pastoralist and other marginalized communities could be turned into gold mines if only their potential would be tapped through improved community involvement at all levels; from formulation to the implementation of policy. Addressing the reasons for demand and supply of both firearms and ammunition would also increase available funds for development of pastoralist regions and other marginalized parts of the country as opposed to expensive disarmament operations that the government has continued to conduct.

Destruction of recovered firearms should also be conducted at the village level to increase ownership of disarmament processes as the communities would feel it is their personal responsibility to cooperate with security agencies in view to improve much desired security and achieve high levels of development. Also, the government might wish to borrow a leaf from countries that are melting recovered firearms to manufacture farming and other tools that are tailor made to the needs of affected communities.


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