After Mexico's Arms Trade Treaty meeting, will African states help control arms?

This week has been a successful and inspiring one for me at the First Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) here in Cancun. Much has been achieved that lays good and necessary groundwork for the future operation of the treaty. This is very welcome as having a strong ATT is extremely important for addressing the arms trade in Africa. However, the continent will only reap the rewards of arms control if African states make the most of the treaty.

I and my colleagues, as part of the Control Arms Coalition, have taken action to promote our vision for robust and effective operation of the treaty in Africa to delegates at the conference. We’ve told them the dodgy arms deals must stop, and that to achieve this they must make public their reports on arms transfer and their rules and regulations to control those transfers.

Oxfam, with the Government of Nigeria and the Control Arms Coalition, held a side event at the conference where I was able to publicise our new campaign for the ATT called Africa Beyond Ratifications: Save Lives.

At this meeting, I talked about how conflicts and armed violence fuelled by unregulated arms flows cost Africa billions of dollars and millions of lives. I highlighted for diplomats and civil society the fact that the indirect costs of conflict in Africa are fourteen times the direct costs, and that these wider costs include illiteracy, hunger, under-development and poor health outcomes. Finally, I told our audience that Oxfam is now working to encourage African States to join the ATT, and promoting effective treaty implementation across the continent.

Alongside me, Geoffrey L. Duke, Head of Secretariat at the South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms, spoke about his country, now torn apart by violence since the current crisis erupted in 2013. He talked about his hopes for the new peace deal, described the suffering of the South Sudanese people in the conflict, and highlighted how major arms transfers have fuelled that conflict. He emphasised that, had the ATT been properly in place in past years, almost all transfers to South Sudan would have stopped as they would have failed any risk assessment. His words brought home the real need on the ground for Oxfam’s work.

Throughout the four days of the conference, our Oxfam team was able to work to encourage diplomats to adopt measures for an effective treaty. Seemingly bureaucratic things, like public reporting, a strong secretariat and cooperation between governments and civil society, are so crucial to the success of the Arms Trade Treaty.

Today I’m going home to Addis Ababa energised to carry on Oxfam’s campaign. I’ve had the pleasure to meet a huge number of African diplomats and civil society representatives, with whom I’ll be working in the coming year.

I leave knowing that we’ve taken a big step forward towards building a strong network to control arms and build peace in Africa.

This entry was posted by Omayma Gutbi (@anaomayma), Oxfam's Pan-Africa Rights in Crisis Campaign Manager, on 1 September 2015.

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