After a long absence from this space, I’ve finally returned with my second blog post. In exchange for my regretted silence, my readership will be able to gain some insight into the motivation behind my Zambian stay. In this week’s post, I’ll also provide background on the history of the Cluster Munition Convention in addition to a short glimpse of life in this fascinating city.
So what exactly am I doing in Southern Africa? I have been dispatched to Zambia to help set the ground for the 4th Meeting of State Parties (4MSP) to the Cluster Munition Convention, a diplomatic conference that will negotiate, discuss, and update global efforts in reaching a comprehensive ban on cluster munitions. Entering its fourth year, the Cluster Munition Convention marks another major breakthrough for efforts of disarmament in the arena of international conflict. Cluster munitions can be best understood as large bombs that transform into dozens of smaller submunitions when dropped through the air. They have been particularly fatal in recent conflicts, including the ongoing Syrian war, where they have contributed to scores of casualties. Much like anti-personnel landmines, cluster munitions have a disproportionate impact on non-combatants living within war zones. As a number of studies and analyses have shown, clusters have little military utility and are not effective in conventional warfare.
It is within this backdrop that the international community and key civil society partners were able to hammer out an agreement to unequivocally ban cluster munitions and move towards a path of their eventual destruction. Although international consensus has been achieved in the signing of the treaty, several major powers have opted out of the convention, and there have been issues with its ratification. This is most relevantly displayed in the Canadian government’s less than satisfactory ratification legislation, which has been the target of our “Fix the Bill” campaign(photos and details of the campaign can be found here)
But yes I know, the question remains…why Zambia? Although Zambia has had little incidence of armed conflict throughout its history and is widely regarded as a bastion of stability in the region, it did have limited incidence of cluster munition contamination. As a host of numerous regional liberation movements including the ANC and FRELIMO, Zambian territory was the target of armed operations headed by opposed colonial authorities and the South African apartheid-era regime. These incidents included the use of cluster munitions in the South African case, which were recently successfully cleared.
In addition to its limited exposure to cluster munitions, a key motivation in Zambia’s willingness to host the Meeting of State Parties is in it’s ambition to become a regional leader in the area of security. Africa has been notable in its nearly universal adoption of the convention, with more ratifications than any other continent in the world. In light of this breakthrough and as an early adopter of the Cluster Munition Convention, Zambia serves as a fitting host with capacity for a conference of this scale.
Lusaka, the site of the meeting, is a sprawling lively metropolis of over 3 million people. As the largest urban settlement in Zambia, it has long served as an economic draw for people all over the country, far and wide. Contemporarily, Lusaka is in the midst of rapid urban development with its fast changing landscape beginning to be dominated by large modern shopping complexes and structures. Despite this frenzy of construction, the city continues to retain a unique flair, best highlighted by its blue, noisy traffic defying minibuses. The renowned Zambian spirit of inclusiveness and generosity is abundantly on display throughout Lusaka and will help provide a cheerful backdrop for conference participants.
A bonus for visitors in September will be the chance to experience Lusaka in the midst of football frenzy. Zambia’s national team is slotted to face off against Ghana in a crucial World Cup Qualifier, an event that is sure to leave the city with a memorable ambiance. I had a preview of what to expect two weekends ago in attending Zambia’s closely contested qualifier with Sudan. I’ll leave you with photos from that affair: