These weapons are easy to carry and conceal and that is what makes them the favourite of gun runners and criminals - By Dr FRANCIS SANG
The problem of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in the eastern African region has been intensified by frequent strife and illicit transfer of weapons across borders. The political instability and lawlessness in Somalia, the war in South Sudan before the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and instability in northern Uganda before the collapse of the Lord’s Resistance Army forces have contributed im- Small and Light Arms, But Deadly Dangerous
The porosity of the long borders in the region has provided gunrunners with opportunities for trafficking in illegal arms in most of the countries in the region. Refugees and other immigrants running from the conflict zones are regarded as the main suspects in the trafficking in illicit arms. Inevitably, conflict and instability in one country within the region have often found to be fuelling arms trade and illegal trafficking in others. In some countries in the region, vicious fire fights between police and daring criminals have been witnessed. In some cases criminal gangs have used arms that are relatively sophisticated and similar in calibre with those used by police in their daily operations and in some cases gun- toting criminals have hurled grenades at police officers.The problem posed by small arms is not unique to the eastern Africa region. The United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs Report 2006, regards these handheld arms as the real “weapons of mass destruction”.These weapons are widespread and their misuse kills more than bombs and tanks — over 500,000 human lives are lost each year around the world.
UP IN FLAMES: Illegal firearms destroyed to curb crime at Uhuru Gardens,Nairobi, in an disarmament drive
The global trade in SALW remains largely unregulated and continues to fuel both armed conflict and violent crime. The misuse exacerbates other crimes such as robberies, assaults, threats, and, to a lesser extent, sexual offences. The UN estimates that the illicit trade in small arms accounts for 20 per cent of the total trade in weapons, or US$4-6 billion a year. SALW are not necessarily small, except in the sense that they are easy to carry and conceal. They can be dismantled into pieces and the components are re-assembled when necessary for rapid action. Small arms can be defined as light machineguns, sub-machineguns, machine pistols and fully automatic rifles. Grenades and rocket launchers are termed light weapons. The expression “small or light” undermine the devastating effects that these weapons can cause and needs more precise words to describe them that encompass the scope of the menace they pose. Although indirect and socioeconomiccosts of SALW proliferation are neither discussed nor documented as extensively as death and injury, the fear engendered by the misuse of small arms and the rapid breakdown of traditional norms of trust and co-operation are far-reaching.
The indirect impact includes change of habits by those affected by crime. Some dare not risk venturing out into the night and resort to the safer confines of their residences, especially in the upper-class suburbs, where residents become virtual prisoners in their own homes which are characterized by high walls and electric wire to ward off strangers and would-be gangsters. In order to limit the demand for SALW, the associated factors of poor governance, abject and widespread poverty, personal and security of property, the governments in the region have commenced putting in place comprehensive plans that might change the way of life and cultures of the communities affected. Member states of the Regional Centre for Small Arms (RECSA) signed a legally binding Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the region in 2004. In signing the unifying, legally binding instrument with a comprehensive strategy, the member states realized that no single Protocol. Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Djibouti and Eritrea have National Action Plans which include National Assessments of the small arms situation and public perceptions of the scale and impact of the problem. Implementation of these Plans in these member states are is at different stages.
RECSA has put together Best Practice Guidelines for the Implementation of the Nairobi Declaration and the Nairobi Protocol on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Guidelines for the Harmonization of Firearms and Ammunition Legislation, the Strategic Plan on the Intergrading Research Capacity-Building and Information Exchange on Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa, and an Information, Education and Communication Strategy to Change Perceptions of the Dangers of SALW. Most importantly, stockpile security and management of small arms recovered through law enforcement agencies operations has been improved. This has enhanced control of the SALW in State possession to prevent access by the illicit market. Between 2005 and 2007 the destruction of close to 110,000 SALW was been done through the coordination of the RECSA Secretariat in eight of the member states. There are challenges in the implementation of the Protocol. The sub-region has diverse legal systems, varying levels of internal stability and differences in law enforcement capacity. Achieving harmonized legislation across the region is crucial to the success of combating the spread of illegal SALW.
The inability of states in the region to effectively control and monitor their long and porous borders urgently requires a sustainable solution through active and concerted regional and international efforts and support. country can deal with the problem without support and political will from the neighbouring states. This is indeed an important ingredient in winning the struggle against the proliferation of illicit small arms.Member states of the Protocol established RECSA, formerly known as the Nairobi Secretariat, based in the Kenyan capital, to coordinate the implementation of the Protocol in all signatory states. RECSA is an inter-governmental body with a juridical personality and enjoys diplomatic status by virtue of the Host Agreement entered into with the Republic of Kenya. The Nairobi Protocol encourages the placement of effective controls on arms transfers and other measures geared towards preventing the proliferation of illicit small arms, which have greatly exacerbated armed conflicts and serious crimes in the region. The signatory states of the Nairobi Protocol are Burundi, Djibouti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, the Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan,Tanzania and Uganda. National Focal Points have been established in all 13 member states of RECSA to coordinate the implementation of the Nairobi