PRIO Network

Civil Society Support for the Program for Coordination and Assistance on Security and Development in West Africa

prepared by Lora Lumpe, NISAT
for the consultation in Bamako, Mali, March 1999


On 31 October 1998 governments of West Africa took an historic step—becoming the first in the world to say "enough is enough" and to halt further production, imports and exports of light weapons and small arms for a three year period.

Now the hard part begins: ensuring that governments remember this political commitment, and mobilizing international support for the implementation of a Program for Coordination and Assistance for Security and Development (PECASED) so that the region will actually experience a reduction in armed violence.

West African civil society—women’s organizations, religious bodies, community groups, business associations, professional associations, etc.—will play a vital role in the successful outcome of these efforts. This paper outlines four priority areas where input, assistance, and in some cases pressure will be most needed.

Establishing a Culture of Peace

The most important role of civil society in regard to the moratorium and PCASED is in the development and strengthening of a culture of peace in West African societies.

What, exactly, does this phrase "culture of peace" mean? First and foremost it means it means creating a normal standard of behavior that favors the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and one that stigmatizes the use of violence—by any part of society. The illegitimate possession and use of small arms, including deadly assault rifles and grenades, would be rendered unacceptable in a culture of peace.

Establishing such a norm in a region with on-going war and armed violence is, of course, an extremely difficult task. Skeptics will say that with political and civil strife so endemic, the need for weapons will continue to grow and will defeat a culture of peace. But the moratorium and implementation of the PCASED provide a window of opportunity for radical change. Despair and apathy now would only ensure that the next generation of West African children will learn the ways fear and violence.

In the near future, the PCASED staff should be able to assist civil society efforts in promulgating a culture of peace through funding the development of materials for sensitization campaigns and programs. But as ambitious as it is, PCASED is a tiny undertaking compared to the vastness of West Africa. The churches and mosques, civic associations, business community, artists, educators, journalists and others must do the legwork in spreading information and optimism about the possibilities provided by the moratorium and implementation of PCASED.

The people and organizations gathered at this meeting represent in large part the crème de la crème of civil society involvement in West African regional efforts to get guns out of circulation. It is, therefore, incumbent upon you to share your expertise and knowledge on the issues of light weapons and sustainable development, and to assist in developing further capacity in the region in support of peace and against guns.

Consider trying to use the mass media—your city’s newspaper, radio or TV—to educate citizens in your region about armed violence and about efforts to try and reduce it. For instance, submit an essay, or opinion article, to your local newspaper telling about this gathering, PCASED’s establishment, its goals and activities. Put yourself forward to a local radio talk show as a person available to discuss regional efforts to curb weapons proliferation. Another very effective way to get the word out is to persuade your local TV station to play a documentary on the issue of small arms proliferation and control. Both NISAT and the Center for Defense Information (in Washington, DC) have recently produced half-hour long documentaries on small arms proliferation and control. NISAT will provide copies of the video for free. (To inquire about the Center for Defense Industry video email Rachel Stohl at Other organizations, such as Amnesty International, have produced relevant video programs that they will likely send free of charge. Of course the means available to persons in different countries will vary. The point is, explore your options for getting the word out as widely and loudly as possible!

In addition to raising the general public’s awareness, civil society groups will need to help the PCASED sensitize specific groups, in particular youth. Peace education campaigns should begin at secondary, or even primary, school level to reach the youth who are both victims and victimizers in the scourge of guns. These initiatives will need to de-glamorize child warriors and make clear the difficult life ahead for a child who grows up only learning the ways of war.

Successful campaigns, around the world, share many common features. You might consider whether and how you could incorporate some of the following "lessons learned" in your advocacy work against weapons proliferation and the culture of violence.

  • Build coalitions. Reach out to all groups and organizations that are affected by armed violence—which means everyone!
  • Be strategic. Expend the most effort trying to involve the most powerful/effective segments of civil society in your community—whomever that may be.
  • Speak up. Routinely update all groups with which you work, or of which you are a member about the steps that they could be taking to help combat violence. What you take for granted as common knowledge is news to most people.
  • Continue to build—and share—your expertise on these issues. There is a growing network of non-governmental organizations researching and activating against light arms. The purpose of the International Action Network on Small Arms, which will formally launch in May 1999, is to facilitate the exchange of information and experiences. (The current contact for this network is the NGO Saferworld in London, e-mail address

The following intergovermental and nongovernmental organizations have been involved in peace training programs, and should willingly assist civil society and PCASED’s efforts to raise a peace consciousness through the provision of materials and information about others’ experiences through similar efforts.
ACCORD (African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes), Durban, South Africa
Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, South Africa
International Alert, London, England
UNIDIR (United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research), Geneva, Switzerland
World Council of Churches Program on Violence in the Cities, Geneva, Switzerland
UNESCO Culture of Peace Program, Paris, France

Promoting Reform of the Security Sector

In 1994 and 1995, the UN Secretary-General dispatched an advisory mission to seven countries in the region—Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger and Senegal—to examine weapons proliferation. The mission found that police and customs officers and other security forces in these states lacked modern techniques and skills necessary to deal with the increasing security challenges posed by rapidly growing cities, porous frontiers which allow the free movement of weapons and drugs, and increasing criminality. In addition, inadequately safeguarded weapons storage had permitted widespread theft from security forces’ arsenals. (For instance, in 1993 Mali’s security forces reported the loss of some 2,000 weapons.) As a result, among the mission’s core findings was the need for better training of law and order and border control/customs forces.

Improving the capacity and capability of security forces to combat illegal gun-running and gun use will be a priority for PCASED. Civil society groups should be fully involved in this process to ensure that the reforms undertaken are as democratic and responsive to community needs as possible. A principal way that civil society groups can and should be involved is through the development of peace education materials for law and order forces and local communities. These materials would help ensure that police and border forces are aware of the arms import/export moratorium commitment undertaken by their governments. In addition, such efforts could help educate security forces to other national and international law relating to arms transfers (such as obligations to enforce UN arms embargoes), respect for internationally recognized standards of human rights, and international humanitarian law.

Much of PCASED’s work in this area will involve the development of effective regulatory regimes and procedures for border/law and order/customs officials on such issues as monitoring end-user certificates and ensuring compliance with arms embargoes. At airports and ports these procedures might include routine checking of cargo manifests against actual cargo, checking of flight plans against flight directions, noting times and registration numbers of flight or ship arrivals and departures. PCASED will also focus on the acquisition of up-to-date equipment needed for detecting illicit shipment of weapons through points of entry or exit, and in support of this goal, the secretariat will likely have to seek some donor country assistance.

But the porous nature of borders in the region and the ease with which small arms can be concealed make it necessary that local communities cooperate closely with police, boarder guards and customs in preventing gun smuggling. Thus, developing and improving civil-military and civil-police relations is an extremely important area of work where civil society involvement is vital.

In order to build cooperation between communities and police, there need to be regular channels of communication to discuss safety and security with local community representatives. In addition to opening such dialogue, NGOs in West Africa can play a vital role in promoting awareness of good standards of law enforcement and in helping to encourage community policing structures at the local level. Civil society organizations can also work to promote professionalization and anti-corruption practices in local police, military and customs forces. Corrupt officials at border posts encourage or allow illicit weapons flows for personal gain; others in the police or military might engage in theft and distribution of weapons. With a professional police force in place, nongovernmental organizations and community groups can work with local police against the common enemy—armed violence.

The following organizations can serve as resources on training programs for security sector reform.
ACCORD’s "Peace in the City" project in Durban, South Africa
Amnesty International (see, in particular, Amnesty document "Basic Standards on Human Rights for Police")
Saferworld report on security sector reform
UN Center for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland has a training course for police
UN Commission on Crime Prevention in Vienna, Austria has published guidelines for civilian police monitors

Establishing Laws on Gun Possession and Transfers

In a set of guidelines drawn up in 1996 to curb illicit arms trafficking, the UN Disarmament Commission called on all states to ensure that they have in place an adequate system of national laws, regulations and/or administrative procedures to exercise effective control over arms ownership and over the import and export of arms. Without such laws and policies, it is impossible to separate legal gun transfers and ownership from illegal.

In most of sub-Saharan Africa the relevant laws and regulations that exist are holdovers from the colonial era—largely out of tune with the current security and development environment. And many states have no relevant laws in place. The agreement by states in West Africa to abstain from importing and exporting small arms for the next three years provides even greater impetus for states in the region to enact or revise legislation in this area.

One of the goals might be for such national laws to ban civilian possession of military-style weapons, as Mali recently did. Another might be for governments to establish or strengthen a national filing system or registry of legally held weapons. In this way, states would begin to build and enhance legislative and policy-making structures that could control both internal and future interstate flows of these weapons.

To the extent possible, states in the region should harmonize national legislation and regulations on civilian possession, use and transfer of light weapons. One practical step that they might take is the development of standardized export and import permits and end-user certificates to limit fraudulent transfers after the three-year moratorium on transfers ends. Harmonization of national legislation and policies would also facilitate the possible future development of a West African regional convention to limit light weapons transfers (again, after the three year moratorium ends). The Inter-American Convention Against Illicit Weapons Trafficking negotiated in the Organization of American States in 1997 provides a possible useful model in this regard. This agreement, and the on-going negotiation by the United Nations (ECOSOC) of a global firearms protocol to the convention on transnational organized crime, demonstrate a growing awareness among state actors around the world of the need for norms and uniform policies to tackle effectively the problem of light weapons proliferation and misuse.

Skeptics might say that reliance on a legal approach is an exercise in idealism, since the most mature legal systems in the world have not been able to stop arms export scandals or gun trafficking. However, an absence of effective law makes trafficking and abuse of light arms all that much easier. Vital to the success of this approach are mechanisms to implement and enforce the law, and the political will to do so. Moreover, establishing the rule of law—not only over weapons ownership and trade but in all facets of society—is vital to the establishment of a culture of peace.

As part of its mandate, PCASED will call for National Commissions on light weapons issues in each of the ECOWAS members. These commissions will coordinate and develop policy relating to the light weapons moratorium and the implementation of the PCASED. Governments can and should be encouraged to include representatives of civil society —in particular legal associations—in these commissions.

Other ways that civil society actors can facilitate work in this area would be to initiate studies of the current laws and procedures in their state relative to light weapons ownership, production, imports and exports. Civil society groups can also press for the passage of new or reformed legislation or decrees. One way to do so is to organize workshops and training sessions for national legislators to highlight the need for improved national legislation and to sensitize them to the need for harmonization of laws in the region.

Collecting and Destroying Surplus Weapons

A core mission of the PCASED is to help establish a more secure environment—one that would facilitate post-conflict reconstruction—by mopping up excess weapons in member states through comprehensive voluntary weapons collections programs.

PCASED will employ a mix of development and peacebuilding approaches to uncover, collect and destroy surplus and illicit weapons. Among these approaches will likely be amnesties and incentive programs, such as limited weapons buy-back or exchanges for tools or training. Incentives like cattle, food, equipment and assistance in the creation of small businesses would contribute to reducing unemployment, hunger, idleness and the resort to armed robbery. Preliminary discussions on arms collection efforts have already been initiated with Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger and Sierra Leone. In Mali a number of weapons are being surrendered through a process of UNDP-supported inter-communal and transborder grassroots meetings on reconciliation and security.

The engagement of nongovernmental organizations is vital to promote—and often to initiate—such efforts. For instance, the Christian Council has played a central role in weapons collection efforts in Mozambique, as has the business community in El Salvador, where a "Guns for Goods Program" has collected and destroyed more weapons than the UN managed to do following the Peace Accords in the early 1990s.

Another area for civil society engagement is to ensure that regional peacekeeping operations include effective strategies for the control of arms during the peace process. Already, disarmament has been at the heart of ECOMOG’s peacekeeping mandate. For instance, the 1990 "Operation Liberty" (Liberia) called for factions to surrender arms and ammunition, as well as to refrain from import and further acquisition.

To ensure that collected weapons are not recycled, groups could press their national governments to commit to destroy all collected weapons. Mali’s 1996 flamme de la paix ensured that weapons were permanently taken out of circulation. The destruction of collected weapons was an integral part of the peace agreement, as well as a symbol of local, national and international cooperation and confidence-building.


The above activities show clearly how vital the part of civil society is to the success of the moratorium and PCASED experiment. Your help will assist moratorium member states in improving how they distribute, use, store and secure small arms and light weapons so as to minimize theft and misuse. More essentially, though, your support for this effort will lessen the on the ground suffering caused daily in West Africa by military-style light weapons, and it will allow states in the region to pursue economic development and post-conflict reconstruction in a more secure environment.