Cases and Evidence
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AWEPA – Parliaments joining efforts in the fight against small arms


Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA)

Country (ies):

Africa: Great Lakes Region/ Horn of Africa


This case story is a reflection on the cooperative efforts of the national parliaments of the Great Lakes Region and Horn of Africa in the reduction of small arms.


Few other regions in the world have been hit so hard by so many wars and domestic conflicts as the countries in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa over the past fifteen years. Traders and brokers of small arms cool-headedly spotted the opportunities in these regions. Local demand was huge as many militia and rebel groups needed weapons and didn't particularly care about international trading regulations or conventions. As a result, Northeast Africa and the Great Lakes Region are awash with small arms and light weapons. It will take many more years before this problem will be brought under control completely. Members of Parliament have plans to continue to devote their unique capabilities and mandates - to make laws, monitor their implementation and give a voice to people who suffer from the impact of small arms - to the struggle against this scourge.

Southern MPs are dealing with issues that cross borders, and which impact on constituents which cross borders including regional public goods and, what can be referred to as regional public "bads." They need to make decisions with the knowledge of what neighbors are doing, sometimes needing also joint decisions and policies. They also need to take policy debates outside the party political sphere of competition in order to reach consensus on innovations and bold steps. Parliamentarians are strengthened in their knowledge and their resolve through sharing of experiences and lessons in a peer learning environment, as evidenced in this case story.


South-South parliamentary exchanges take place within the context of a parliamentary agenda and calendar, driven, in the first instance, by the Speaker and the chairpersons of the relevant Committees. In some cases there is evidence that the parliamentary Women's Caucus, when sufficiently resourced, plays a highly significant role in the prioritization of MDG-related policies, legal reform and budgeting.

AWEPA, together with UNDP, has been supporting parliamentarians and parliamentary leaders in this South-South Cooperation for a number of years, including within the framework of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region. Parliamentary familiarization with the Regional Pact on Stability, Security and Development has contributed to curbing the scourge of illicit small arms.

According to the Millennium Project Report (January 2005), the priority for successful peacebuilding is an early and sustained investment in a long-term MDG-based development framework, with attention for healthcare services, education and income-generating opportunities. Also, in the aftermath of armed conflict, the weapons need to be collected and destroyed. Experience from the Great Lakes Region of Africa demonstrates that government decrees alone are insufficient to make a success of small arms reduction programmes. In order to implement the Nairobi Declaration on small arms reduction, which sat on a shelf for four years after government signature, it was necessary for parliamentary action to be taken. This work was coordinated in the UNDP-AWEPA programme, which not only developed a special handbook but launched it in multi-party political forums and introduced it in both national and regional parliamentary workshops, followed by stimulation and monitoring of parliamentary action on e.g. harmonization of legislation. This was incorporated into the Nairobi Parliamentary Action Plan for Peace in the Great Lakes Region (April 2005), and helped secure a joint DRC-Burundi-Rwanda parliamentary arms reduction initiative.

Some of the main challenges in parliamentary SSC have to do with the ever-mercuric parliamentary calendars and sometimes shifting political priorities, which make scheduling of joint processes difficult and subject to unexpected change. The lesson from this is that an amount of flexibility needs to be incorporated into planning and budgets to accommodate additional consultations and preparatory phases, to ensure local ownership and broad participation. The evidence of enthusiastic participation and prioritization for SSC in this instance demonstrates that despite scheduling and time constraints, MPs value this cooperation highly. However, it should be noted that because the issue area of interest to this case story relates to that of regional security and peace, (as opposed to (more) uniquely domestic matters such as women's rights or health care, for instance), cooperation could be more easily forged.


The struggle against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Africa can claim a number of recent successes. The cooperative efforts of Southern parliamentarians can take credit for several of them. The Nairobi Declaration and Protocol, for instance, were signed (March 2000) by most countries in the Great Lakes Region and Horn of Africa and are internationally renowned and accepted as far-reaching instruments to curb the use and illicit trade in small arms. Members of Parliament passionately supported these international agreements, the ratification of which completely hinges on the legislators' commitment and consent. In a related development, parliamentarians from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have made headway towards harmonising their countries' laws against illicit small arms trade, making it much more difficult for illicit traders to find a safe haven in a region that has been hard hit by the damaging effects of indiscriminate use of small arms. This initiative is seen as a source of inspiration for similar harmonisation efforts elsewhere in the region and a prime example of what Members of Parliament can do in terms of South-South Cooperation.

Parliamentary SSC is an important element of creating space for the voice of the people in regional policy development. Without the participation of this key stakeholder, there is a democratic deficit in central planning. Engagement with parliamentarians in a North-South and triangular cooperation has the added potential benefit of peer-to-peer Southern influence on Northern policy priorities. Parliamentary SSC cannot replace a North-South or triangular policy dialogue, but should run parallel with a standard interface. It is for these reasons that a SS exchange can attend to systemic challenges better than conventional cooperation. Also, because the development of mutual trust via confidence-building measures was a pre-requisite to further regional harmonization, the benefits were quite pronounced in the area of peace-building.

Although it is not possible to generalize across different parliamentary systems and unique political contexts, there is a clear movement discernable toward strengthened democratic processes when parliamentary SSC enables often weakly serviced and insufficiently informed MPs to gain knowledge, experience and support networks from SSC. This strengthened capacity, in some instances, into improved incentives for reform. Such cooperation can also be put to good use in strategically to creating a better working environment for parliamentary work through the stimulation of progressive dialogue and countervailing voices in the name of a broader spectrum of interest groups. Instances of SSC both on bi- and multilateral basis tend to "rise above" the domestic political constraints and open up policy space where little was previously available. These instances serve not only to stimulate new, innovative, ideas for policy change but also to build confidence of individual MPs and create incentives to facilitate change in the national context.

Aid Effectiveness:

Efforts made by Southern Parliamentarians in terms of cooperation with their Southern counterparts has had positive spin-off effects for transparency and accountability in governance in general, and in relation to ODA more specifically. Through regional and cross-national cooperation, parliamentarians are strengthening both formal and informal international institutions. As the literature on this subject demonstrates (see works of Robert Keohane and Stephen Krasner, for reference), these institutions, either understood loosely as conventions or more formally as a Regional Parliamentary Body, such as the EALA, create higher stakes for those who do not live up to their responsibilities and agreements. As such, an increased sense of accountability, a quality crucial for successful aid reform, is a natural consequence of these interactions.

National leadership and ownership was supported in this example, as evidenced in the leading role (necessarily) taken by the elected leader of the national Parliament. After regional agreement on issues related to the proliferation of small arms was reached, parliamentarians were able to take this issue forward with a renewed sense of legitimacy to their respective national contexts.

Capacity Development:

Through knowledge exchange in terms of policy ideas, challenges, and opportunities cross-nationally, the capacities of participating MPs were strengthened. At a more systemic level, by reaching out into the wider (Southern) international community, these national parliaments were able to grow themselves as institutions from the process.


2000 to the present

Name of Primary Contact Person:

Dr. Jeff Balch

Title of Primary Contact Person:

Director, Research and Evaluation, AWEPA