One in a Million
Written by Anna Macdonald, Oxfam
I have been fighting to help make an Arms Trade Treaty a reality for nearly a decade. For me, the reason why this all matters comes back to Julius Arile, a young man from Kenya who has been both a perpetrator and a victim of armed violence. He now uses his experience to campaign for peace, and to persuade other young people to put down their guns. Julius got involved in armed violence as a young man. His brother had just been shot in dead in a cattle raid on his village and so he picked up a gun and joined other young men in retaliatory raids. After his best friend died next to him, he put down his gun, and started to run instead.
I first met Julius in 2006 when he came to New York as part of the Control Arms Coalition team to hand over our “Million Faces” petition calling for an Arms Trade Treaty to then UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
Julius turned out to be good at running – in 2006 he ran his first race outside of Kenya in Prospect Park Brooklyn, in a pair of plimsoll sneakers. He won by a clear 3 minutes, astounding many of the experienced runners there.
Since 2006 the ATT made steady progress at the UN. Back home in Kenya, Julius made steady progress too, starting to take his running seriously, and also persuading young men and women caught up in cycles of violence to give up their guns and get involved in working in their communities instead. Live on Kenyan TV, he persuaded a notorious cattle rustler to go with him to the police station and hand over his automatic weapon.
His personal dream became to run in the New York Marathon. On Sunday, he got to fulfill that dream, entering the race for the first time, and coming an amazing 4th, only 2 minutes behind fellow Kenyan, and winner Geoffrey Mutai.
Julius is symbolic of the problem of the poorly regulated arms trade, of communities living with armed violence, and the link between arms and poverty. He is also symbolic of the immense progress that we can make on all of these fronts. Just as he has made great strides from his first 5 kilometer race in Brooklyn to world class athlete, the world has made great progress in combating the irresponsible arms trade.
There is no doubt more work needs to be done. The world needs to to follow Julius’ lead and “keep running.” Now that we have the treaty, we need the action on the ground to implement it effectively so it really does save lives and protect people.
After Julius finished the race on Sunday, he received some prize money – the first time he has had significant cash for himself, ever. I asked him what he would do first – buy a car, build a new house, get an iPad. His reply was immediate. I’m going to build a school in my village.
Anna Macdonald is Head of Arms Control at Oxfam, and co-chair of the global Control Arms Coalition. She has worked on the Arms Trade Treaty since 2002. Follow her on Twitter @annamac33.