Fighting firearms in Eastern Africa

22.11.2009 16:32 by Jose Luis Gutierrez Aranda (comments: 0)

A way of diminishing the proliferation of small arms

Jinja destruction of weapons
Jinja destruction of weapons © IRIN


KAMPALA, 15 March 2007 (IRIN) - Laws to control illegal trafficking of small arms across East Africa and the Horn should be harmonised to make them more effective and curtail instability in the region, according to analysts. 


The call was made at a meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, as Kenyan authorities destroyed 8,000 illegal weapons recovered by the police over the past few months. The destruction, in Nairobi's Uhuru Gardens, brought to 12,000 the number of guns destroyed in Kenya over the past few years. 


"We are trying to harmonise laws because criminals have been taking advantage of loopholes in the legal framework in different countries. We shall strengthen the legal systems so that a crime in one country remains a crime in another," Richard Nabudere, coordinator of Uganda's National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons, said in Kampala. 


The meeting is being attended by government officials and specialists from the region. Participants are preparing draft legislation that could be used for uniform policies and regulations aimed at curbing illegal firearms proliferation. 


Nabudere said an estimated 400,000 small arms were in circulation in Uganda, including 150,000 believed to be with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). "In Uganda we have had a bad political history. Governments have been toppled, and when soldiers run away, they carry their guns to unknown destinations," Nabudere said. 


Illegal weapons are neither registered with the police or military, nor licensed to civilians. Surveys done two years ago show more than 40,000 small arms were located in Uganda’s northeastern Karamoja region alone. 


"We carry out surveys and estimations with the help of international partners and the Central Arms Registry by first visiting these areas to know how many people could be armed and then we make our reports," he said, adding that at least 60,000 such arms were destroyed by Ugandan authorities in 2006. "In September at Nsambya we destroyed 57,000 and a month later burnt 3,000 more in Jinja," Nabudere added. 


More than 600,000 illegal weapons are estimated to be in circulation across East Africa and the Horn. Kenyan authorities estimate that 100,000 illegal weapons exist in the country compared with 4,000 that are properly licensed.

"There is a need to increase surveillance along our porous borders and also draw up legislation dealing with the problem of small arms proliferation which must be implemented by all governments in the region," he said. "We need to have a law in place which must give the same punishment to all those involved in the illicit trade of arms across the Great Lakes region." 


Coordinators of Focal Point International from 12 countries in the Great Lakes region are expected to launch a ‘Week of Action against Small Arms and Light Weapons’ in Kampala on Friday. Planned activities include visits by participants to patients in hospitals who were shot with illegal weapons. 


According to Nabudere, the presence of illegal arms has been both the result and cause of political instability. In Kenya, the weapons are used by criminals in armed robberies and murder as well as cattle raids. Most come from Somalia, south Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 


"We are surrounded by unstable neighbours who are conflict-stricken; wrong characters have used that chance to acquire arms from these countries," Nabudere explained. It was important to invest more in the peaceful resolution of conflicts, improve governance in the region and address economic problems that have encouraged people to resort to the gun to eke out a living, he noted. 


"There is a need for strong states and cooperation between states to fight this crime," he said. 


According to Francis Sang, executive secretary of the Nairobi-based Regional Centre on Small Arms, studies have shown that about three million guns exist in sub-Saharan Africa. The most common weapons are the G-3 and AK47 rifles, as well as pistols like the US Colt, Browning, Beretta and revolvers. 


Other countries in eastern Africa that have recently destroyed illegal guns include Ethiopia (7,000), DRC (4,000), Rwanda (6,000) and Burundi (200). 


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