Southern Times Writer
Windhoek – Increasingly easy access to guns is contributing to Africa’s continued destabilisation, prompting calls for arms manufacturers and their home nations to take more responsibility for how their products are traded.
In separate deliberations on the matter in recent weeks, the African Union Peace and Security Council and the United Nations raised the alarm over the continued proliferation of small arms and light weapons, which feed both regional conflicts, organised crime and domestic violence.
The AU had set a target of “Silencing the Guns by 2020”, an ambitious target that was not met and was extended to cover 2021-2030.
In a recent report on “Small Arms and Light Weapons”, UN Secretary-General Dr António Guterres said of Africa, “The impact of illicit arms flows throughout the Sahel and parts of the Central African subregion remains of concern. The availability of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition in the subregion escalates local disputes and enables violent extremists, terrorists and organised crime and armed groups to control large territories.”
He also said, “The United Nations has continued to step up its operational and project-based support for the African Union in the framework of its Silencing of the Guns initiative. In line with the decision by the African Union Commission to extend the implementation of the Master Road Map of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa for a period of 10 years (2021–2030), the United Nations will continue to support efforts towards achieving a conflict-free continent in the coming years.
“The Office for Disarmament Affairs, together with the African Union Commission and the Regional Centre on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States, delivered practical support for the implementation of the Africa Amnesty Month in seven countries in September 2020.
“Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya conducted large-scale awareness-raising and outreach activities on the negative effects of the illicit ownership of small arms and on the enhanced capacity of national law enforcement in community-based policing and physical security and stockpile management. In 2020, up to 3,090 small arms were securely collected, stored and destroyed.”
The prevalence of illicit arms in Africa can be contextualised by the fact that seven of the 13 UN peacekeeping missions globally are on the continent.
During debate on the issue at the UN Security Council, Ambassador Inga Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said programmes like the “Silencing the Guns” initiative, “such measures will be for naught if states that manufacture arms do not assume greater responsibility for the consequences of the trade of those weapons”.
She highlighted how the proliferation of small arms and light weapons hindered the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, contributed to grave violations against children, and posed a serious threat to women and girls.
At its sitting in September, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) “underlined the need to address the factors and drivers underlying possession of illicit arms by civilians as a necessary requirement to curb the illegal flows of weapons in an integrated and sustainable manner”.
“Council strongly condemned non-African states sponsoring and promoting the influx of arms into Africa, including in cases of existing armed embargoes, leading to the further escalation of existing conflicts. In this regard, Council emphasised the need for adherence to existing arms embargoes and stressed that it will not hesitate to name and shame sponsors of such actions, and take appropriate actions against them,” a communiqué issued after the sitting read.
In Southern Africa, the 16-nation SADC bloc on the Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and other Related Materials, and the Strategy and Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Transnational Organised Crime to deal with the threat posed by small arms and light weapons.
The Southern African Development Community also liaises with the UN Office of Counter Terrorism and Office on Drugs and Crime in this regard.
While historically a stable and peaceful region, SADC is experiencing open armed conflict in the DRC and Mozambique.
But there is also growing civil strife in eSwatini, while Lesotho and Madagascar periodically experience coups. Other causes for concern are the growing number of guns in civilian hands – both registered and illicit – in countries such as Angola, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
According to GunPolicy.org, the number of guns held by civilians in Zimbabwe rose from an estimated 400,000 in 2017 to 450,000 in just a decade. The increase over the period was even greater in Angola (2,982,000 up from 2,8 million).
The estimated number of guns held owned by civilians in Namibia also grew rapidly between 2007 and 2017 from 260,000 to 396,000. Lesotho more than doubled the number of guns in civilian hands in that period from 47,000 to 105,000; while in South Africa one estimate has it that nearly 13 out of every 100 people has a gun, legally or otherwise.
|Total Guns in Civilian Hands (Legal & Illicit)||Total Firearms per 100 People||Small Arms Imports per Annum (USD)|
GunPolicy.Org statistics on guns in SADC (2017)