Eastern Africa is a region mainly comprising of the Great lakes region and Horn of Africa.  Countries of the region are varying levels of development from those still embroiled in political instability and civic turmoil to others that are industrialising and developing rapidly.  A number of challenges and threats exist ranging from poverty, lack of jobs, poor health facilities, fragile food security and tribal dynamics.  These lead to high levels of corruption and crime rates.  There are large sections of population that are susceptible to adverse propaganda and external control by terrorist organisations.

All regional countries are signatories to various international protocols and conventions like CWC (OPCW), NPT, GCINT, BTWC, UNSCR 1540, Stockholm and Basel conventions and other related treaties.  Most countries have adopted IAEA regulations and guidelines. They are also bound by the Pelindaba treaty and Bamako Convention towards prevention of toxic proliferation and waste management.

Africans have been addressing the scourge of disease and the promotion of sound measures for economic growth.  The countries are becoming aware of the emerging threats and are striving to mitigate the gruesome consequences of the unchecked trafficking of hazardous materials and combating violent acts of terrorism. Some progress has been made on these aspects.

Working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), governments across the region are striving to implement collaborative disease-surveillance-and-response capacities that meet global standards. Through an innovative public/private partnership, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—consisting of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda—has launched a Capacity Building Programme against Terrorism (ICPAT) aimed at building national capacity to resist terrorism and promote regional security cooperation. Similar initiatives are in force in Western Africa and the SDAC States.

These efforts have had far reaching impact to prevent the unchecked movement and use of hazardous materials, build responsive public health capacity, enhance judicial capacity and border control, and provide joint training and the sharing of information and best practices to combat terrorism.  It has also contributed to the wider global objectives including global counterterrorism and the non-proliferation of CBRN material. International mandates provided by UNSCR 1373 (2001) and 1540 (2004) have helped the States to leverage existing institutions, programs, and activities.  These initiatives have been able to appeal to the core priorities of recipient partner governments, the international counterterrorism and non-proliferation donor community and provided an opportunity to help make mutual advances across a broad spectrum of local, regional, and international goals.

Some of the challenges that are faced by countries towards effective CBRN Border Security include:

  • Implementing UNSCR 1540, CWC, BTWC and other international instruments at the national level often takes place in select verticals and results in efforts being duplicated, implementation gaps and loss of already constrained financial, human, technical and legal resources.
  • Limited knowledge, education, outreach and awareness on issues relating to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) materials restrict capacities and mechanisms for implementing projects and programmes.
  • Lack of research establishments and local expertise to enhance CBRN technologies and capabilities.
  • Competing national developmental and security priorities – poverty, unemployment, political turmoil.
  • Porous borders, jungle/savannah tracks, unmanned border crossings and unregulated small ports which serve as transit corridors for imports and exports (legal and illegal).
  • Insufficient capacities (trained human resource and equipment) for detecting and identifying CBRN materials.

African states are making steady progress to overcome these challenges. This is reflected in the steps taken by relevant stakeholders, including:

  • Training and capacity building.
  • Developing and implementing national action plans and establishing national authorities.
  • Creating initiatives and mechanisms to involve the private sector.
  • Developing curricula related to CBRN safety and security at the tertiary education level.
  • Developing and implementing national legislation and policies, which directly help member states build their capacities to enhance existing security efforts in the region.

Some measures that are recommended for regional States to adopt are as under :

  • Conduct a detailed risk mapping and assessment of all border areas and other sites in each State.
  • Secure sites and sources of CBRN material. Security of infrastructure, laboratories, and warehouses, as also transportation security for CBRN material is of prime importance.
  • Develop and strengthen domestic legislations, expertise and analysis/forensic capabilities to back international conventions and their obligations.
  • Collaborative border strategies with all neighbours to strengthen cross border monitoring and intervention of illegal movement of CBRN material. Countries need to talk to each other on Border controls and streamlining mutually compatible procedures.
  • Effective awareness enhancement on CBRN matters at all levels in all stakeholder ministries, organisations and agencies.
  • Increased public private partnerships to inculcate CBRN security culture at all stages of manufacture, storage, import, export, transportation and disposal of hazardous materials.

CBRN material are increasing on the African landscape due to fast increasing industrialisation and development.  Lack of adequate regulations, corrupt practices and cursory monitoring of borders and ports offers opportunities for malpractices and illegal trafficking of CBRN material.  These threats may seem small and inconsequential at present, but they have potential to blow up into serious threats and cause great harm to people and infrastructure.  Countries of the Eastern African region need to get their act together on priority so as to ensure safe borders and a safe community.

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Dr. Ram Athavale has been a key advisor to the Government of India on CBRN Security and Incident Management, and is now deployed as a key CBRN Expert for On-Site Technical Assistance to the EU CBRN Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence Regional Secretariat in Nairobi Kenya.