On January 28, CIGI hosted "Addressing Armed Violence in East Africa," a talk featuring John Siebert and Kenneth Epps of Project Ploughshares.The speakers spoke about the need to link disarmament efforts with development as part of a larger stabilization program.

Addressing Armed Violence in East Africa is a report produced jointly by Project Ploughshares and World Vision Canada. It is based on field research in selected areas of Kenya, Uganda and Sudan in September 2008, which documented the impact of World Vision peacebuilding and development programming.

Siebert and Epps emphasized that disarmament is a complex process, involving historical, cultural, social, political and economic issues. They also highlighted the interconnected nature of disarmament and development. They challenged the view —held by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) — that disarmament and armed violence reduction is separate from development. In fact, they argued, development aid can be wasted if violence is not addressed. By the same token, they contend that disarmament efforts are often wasted without coordinated development assistance. Rather than being thought of as two separate programs, disarmament and development efforts should be seen of as part of a larger stabilization program.

Geographical and historical factors are also significant. The region of East Africa they studied is remote, sparse, arid and marginal. In each of the three countries, the land is largely inhabited by pastoralists. In their society, cattle are needed for survival, status and as a dowry for marriage. Not surprisingly, cattle raiding has long been part of the culture. When it involved spears and clubs, the number of deaths in these raids was small. But beginning in the 1960s, guns – especially the AK47 – became ubiquitous, greatly increasing the death toll. Once one cattle raider was armed, there was pressure on the rest to arm themselves as a means of defence.

Guns have become a fact of life in East Africa, as a symbol of status and a source of protection that the government has failed to provide. In this context, people are reluctant to disarm before they feel secure. Furthermore, disarmament programs introduced by force have led to violent confrontations and greater insecurity. In some cases, forcibly disarmed groups have faced immediate attacks from their (still armed) neighbours. With no means to protect themselves, they resorted to rearming.

According to Mr. Siebert and Mr. Epps, an overemphasis on disarmament obscures the fact that armed violence reduction is a multi-faceted endeavour. It can come about because of political efforts like peacebuiding and reconciliation programs, development outcomes such as the provision of alternatives to cattle raiding and access to education, as well as cultural changes such as dowries becoming less common (eliminating the need to steal cattle to marry).

In fact, it was these social factors, rather than disarmament itself, that facilitated the fragile peace between the Pokot and Marakwet tribes in Kenya. Even technology played a role, when tribal elders in both communities were given cellular phones so they could warn one another about impending cattle raids. Focusing strictly on the number of guns recovered as the measure of success in disarmament programs misses these other facets of armed violence reduction.


Geoff Burt is a project officer working on CIGI’s Security Sector Reform project. He is working at CIGI through the Department of National Defence’s Security and Defence Forum Internship program.

Project Ploughshares is an ecumenical agency of the Canadian Council of Churches mandated to identify, develop and advance approaches that build peace and prevent war, and promote the peaceful resolution of political conflict.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.