Two major issues affecting the Great Lakes and East Africa is the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons ((SALW), and the growing threat of transnational and local violent extremist groups.
The SALW have contributed significantly to incidences of castle rustling and other opportunistic criminalities domestically, as well as cross border cattle rustling and banditry.
Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have suffered extremist attacks: Kenya in particularly, has become a target since August 1998 when the US embassy bombing. While this attack was transitional, domestic groups with similar intentions have emerged.
Porous and disputed borders in the region have made the movement of the weapons from one country to another relatively easy. The fact that the region has been plagued by perennial incessant conflict hasn’t helped the matter. For instance, the lack of an effective and stable government in Somalia and decades of conflict in Sudan has made Kenya’s northern Rift Valley bordering Sudan, and Northern Kenya, bordering Somalia both prone to perennial conflict.
In both areas, pastoralism is the mode of livelihood, and lack of strong government presence to provide security in the areas, has forced the communities to self-arm through easily available weapons. This has rendered the classic cattle rustling that was sanctioned by the council of elders guided by social norms to be replaced by a more commercialized rustling involving sophisticated weapons, hence the higher casualty. In November last year, 42 police officers were killed in Kenya in Northern Rift Valley in retaliatory attacks between the Turkana and Samburu communities.
As the first step in addressing the border dispute is to arbitrate them in collaboration with AU Border Program. Since the UN enjoys an impartial status in the region which could be a good leverage. This could be undertaken hand in hand with the ongoing stabilization efforts at stabilizing Somalia and Sudan- the two countries from where most the weapons find itself in the region.
Additionally, in all the countries, the pastoralist’s communities have borne the brunt of climate. The UN could in collaboration with countries in the region develop a regional climate change mitigation and adoption strategy. This will reduce their economic susceptibility to the impact of climate change and disincentivise them engaging in cattle rustling.
Extremist violent groups in East Africa and Great Lakes pose a danger to the peace and stability of the region. The emergence of Al Shabaab, and its formal link up with Al Qaeda central, has also spurned local franchises in Somalia, but also in Kenya as well as Uganda. So serious was the threat emanating from Somalia that Kenya sent its forces to Somalia October 2011 to Somalia, where they have been since joining hands with other African forces from Uganda and Burundi under the auspices of AMISOM. The intervention has stabilized Somalia, and especially the capital city Mogadishu.
On the contrary, domestically, there have been series of grenade attacks in Northern Eastern Province, the coastal province and Nairobi as a response to Kenya sending in forces to Somalia by Al Shabaab and their affiliates.
Aside from sending it troops to Somalia, Kenya also passed antiterrorism bill 2012, last October. While these efforts in combating these groups are laudable, there is an emerging trend of militarizing every problem whose default setting is the use of force.
In both Kenya (Until he retired recently following ICC allegations) and Uganda, the head of the police force were drawn from the military, and they brought with them the military ethos in a law and order arena. As a consequence, if prudence is not exercised, both countries will lose the modest human right and good governance they have registered over the last decades. In the Kenya’s case, tasking the unreformed police force that allegedly killed close to 40 per cent of people during the previous post election violence, with counter terrorism could prove problematic.
Significantly, in the Kenya’s case, helping in shepherding the devolution process, which could address the above issues if well calibrated, if not, it could have unintended consequences.
Additionally, while these countries have legal framework within which some of these groups could be brought to justice, despite some deficits, in most cases, these laws are fragmented and not harmonized. The justice department, the police, human rights civil society and other key stakeholders need to establish a regional framework of developing a harmonized legal regime. Since the problem is regional, a regional approach will be more effective than domestic, but significantly under the rubric of rule of law and human rights.