From 13 to 15 December 2023, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) successfully convened the Annual Coordination Meeting of National Commissions on Small Arms and Light Weapons (NATCOMs) in Dakar, Senegal. This gathering was prompted by the escalating menace of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), youth-related gun violence, and the growing specter of violent extremism and terrorism within the ECOWAS Region.
The primary objectives of the meeting were to facilitate the exchange of national experiences and to chart the course for the development of an effective framework and strategy to address the surging threats posed by IEDs and gun violence. The assembly also aimed to impede terrorist groups’ access to Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) and to establish benchmarks for crafting a regional counter-IED strategy. These efforts were aligned with the ongoing commitment to consolidate the strides made in implementing the ECOWAS Convention on SALW.
The meeting saw the participation of representatives from NATCOMs and key partners, including the United Nations Office on Drugs Control and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Ammunition Management Advisory Team-Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (AMAT-GICHD), Small Arms Survey (SAS), Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and the West Africa Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA).
Ambassador Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, represented by Mr. Ahoba Piex Joseph, Head of the Small Arms Division, delivered the opening statement. He underscored the grave threat terrorist activities pose to multiple states in the ECOWAS region and underlined the importance of collective action to combat terrorism. The Economic Community of West African States, he said, recommended training personnel in Member States, providing equipment to frontline countries, and extending humanitarian assistance to affected civilian populations. He reiterated the Commission’s commitment to enhancing Member States’ capabilities in countering the proliferation of SALW and the threat of IEDs.
During the meeting, the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC) informed participants concerning the prevention of arms acquisitions by violent extremist groups, highlighting the escalating challenges of the illicit proliferation of SALW, violent extremism, and emerging security threats in West Africa. The Regional Centre called for integrated strategies, institutional cooperation, and international collaboration to address these interconnected and complex issues.
The Regional Centre also moderated a panel discussion on addressing gun violence among young individuals, featuring the experiences of Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, and Sierra Leone.
Participants acknowledged positive developments in Member States’ inter-institutional collaboration efforts to combat terrorism. They also emphasized the necessity of counter-IED interventions to disrupt terrorist groups’ access, the cross-cutting nature of IEDs and SALW threats requiring collaborative efforts, and the critical role of good governance in addressing the root causes and threats of terrorism and illicit possession of arms in the region.
The United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa, along with other UN agencies, has been called upon to continue supporting ECOWAS/Member States by providing technical, strategic, and financial assistance in developing pertinent policies and strategies on IEDs/SALW.