Africa declares war on small arms proliferation

With the end of war in different African countries: Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, DR Congo,  the proliferation of small arms increased in the regions. When a country signs for ceasefire or a peace agreement, it trades its weapons, but a good number of the weapons are circulated and dumped in neighbouring countries posing problems for the region. Millions of illegal small arms fall into the wrong hands and find their way into criminal bands. Not only have these weapons prolonged several violent conflicts, but their uncontrolled spread within the continent poses a grave danger to domestic and regional security creating social instability. This results in escalating crime rates.  Increasingly, criminal groups are operating across borders. This shows the importance of cooperation and program coordination within neighbouring states.


In most African countries in the last decade there has been an increase in the number of reported cases involving illegal use of firearms. The rise in armed robberies and homicide can, in part, be attributed to a proliferation of illegal guns coming from across the borders. Lack of security and long-term social instability has a negative impact on the economy and on investors.  This makes the progress in development and employment very difficult, a further cause of social unrest.


The personal perception of insecurity, subsistence, cultural aspects and criminality remain major drivers for the demand of small arms inAfrica. Other problem is the management of stockpiled ammunition and the need for new policies and strategies to target the root causes of the illicit proliferation of small arms in the continent. In recent years constructive changes have been achieved, but there is still need for continued efforts in tackling the problem.


The illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) remains a pressing security challenge inAfrica. The existence of uncontrolled arms is a multi-dimensional problem that is deeply intertwined with other broader security issues and has implications for development. Remotes areas near borders are breeding grounds for trade in illegal arms. In some countries even children below the age of 16 are involved in the smuggling of small arms and light weapons, due to poverty. Tackling the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) remains a challenge for governments and regions.


African Regional Agreements to curb the proliferation of small arms


To answer the challenge of the proliferation of small arms in Africa, national governments, regional bodies and international organizations have mobilized. Countries are engaging in bilateral and multilateral efforts aimed at reducing proliferation and increasing controls on a regional level. A series of regional Protocols, Conventions and Agreements have been signed to prevent and combat the excessive and destabilising accumulation of SALW within the regions. Countries in the regions have agreed to strengthen efforts to curb the proliferation of arms, to amend regulations and adopt stricter regulations for the control of the weapons. The result is the cooperation between governments, police, army, security services and civil society.

These agreements have sought, amongst other objectives, to make the illicit production and possession of small arms a criminal offence, to ensure/promote the destruction of stocks of surplus weapons and to introduce tighter control measures over weapon stockpiles and arms transfers. Three prominent sub-regional agreements have been negotiated on the continent covering the majority of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1999, the OUA adopted the African common position on small arms and light weapons.

In 1988 the ECOWAS countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Ivory coast, Gambia, Ghana, guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo) declared a Moratorium on the import, export and manufacture of light weapons in member states for a renewable period of 3 years.

In 2006, the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons was adopted.  This is a legally binding convention that grew out of the Moratorium.

To continue de fight against the proliferation on small arms that came to be with the ECOWAS Moratorium on small arms transfer signed in 1998, the member states signed the ECOWAS Convention on small arms in 2006. In 2009 the Convention became fully operational and in 2010 eleven member-states (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo) ratified it. The Convention provides for a ban of arms transfers by member states with possibility of exemption for the legitimate defence and security needs, law enforcement and participation in peace support operations. It provides for the prohibition, without exception, of arms transfer to non-state actors without the approval of the importing country.


In 2000, 10 countries of the Great Lakes and of the Horn of Africa Regions (Burundi, DR Congo, Djibouti; Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda; Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda) signed the “Nairobi Declaration” that in 2004 became the “Nairobi Protocol”, signed by the 10 previous countries plus Seychelles. This was the first legally binding agreement on small arms in this gun-affected Eastern African region. Today 14 countries have signed the Nairobi Protocol.  The Regional Centre on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States (RECSA ) coordinates the activities of the Nairobi Protocol.


In 2004, the 14 countries (Angola, Botswana, DR Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe) of the Southern African Development Community signed the SADC Firearms Control Protocol.  States in the region have engaged and successfully cooperated to coordinate several arms control initiatives, particularly in joint cross border arms and ammunition collection and destruction operations.  Since 1994, a secretariat based in Harare, Zimbabwe, SARPCCO (the Southern African Regional Police Chief's Co-operation Organization), part of SADC, has been coordinating the implementation of the SADC firearms protocol.


One of the means used by many countries to determine the magnitude of small arms and light weapons proliferation in the country and to fight against it is the establishment National Focal Points, where police, government departments, army, security bodies and civil society collaborate and are responsible for implementation of the national plans on arms reduction.  Rural and urban communities are often involved in the Focal Point regarding security issues. 


The Secretariats of these Conventions and Protocols in different African countries and regions organize national and regional workshops to form mid- to senior-level civilian, security, police and military officers, and government officials to focus on practical steps and measures to enhance regional and national capacity to tackle the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Countries and regions have undertaken mapping and studies on the current situation of weapons and people's responses to the problem.


The EU and the AU collaborate on strengthening peace and security in Africa


The Joint Africa-European Union (EU) Strategy was adopted at the EU-Africa Lisbon Summit in 2007.  A chapter of this strategy is dedicated to Peace and Security, specifically in the fight against illicit accumulation and trafficking of firearms and explosive materials. 


Under this strategy, the European Union (EU) is financing a project “Fight against the Illicit Accumulation and Trafficking of Firearms in Africa" that will last three years. The Project is to be implemented on the African Continent with the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the Regional Bodies fighting the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) and Regional Police Chiefs Organizations (RPCOs).  The project seeks to enhance synergies amongst governments, police and regions and to strengthen relevant institutional and civil society actors, including African Regional Police Chief’s Organizations and Law Enforcement Agencies through enhanced cooperation, information exchange and implementing capacity within and among the different African regions.


AEFJN and arms control


AEFJN supports the regional agreements in Africa for a greater control of firearms and collaborates with the secretariats.  AEFJN is a also member of IANSA (the International Action Network on Small Arms), a global movement against gun violence present in all African countries and regions, to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms by securing stronger regulation on guns in society and better controls on arms exports. If you are ready to collaborate write to AEFJN or to


Begoña Iñarra

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