Arms trafficking in West Africa




GRIP, the Group for Research and Information on Peace and security, has produced a report on arms trafficking in West Africa. It focuses chiefly on the two countries that have experienced conflict recently, the Ivory Coast and Mali. The conflicts strengthen the traffic in illegal arms which are of themselves the ‘fuel’ of conflict, a fuel that is almost inexhaustible as, once the arms are no longer needed in one place, they are illegally trafficked elsewhere and continue to feed other conflicts in other places.


The research behind this study involve the period from 2009 to the present day when arms trafficking, which has always been virulent in the region, has intensified.


To end up in the Ivory Coast or Mali, the arms have to pass through other countries (in Mali’s case, a closed country). The cargos often come from neighbouring countries that are deeply involved in this illegal trade. For many years, Burkina Faso has been involved and so too has Sierra Leone. Other countries in the region such as Nigeria, Senegal and the Gambia are suffering from internal conflict with armed groups or criminals.  This, too, encourages the movement of illicit arms. Even if the type of conflict and situation varies from country to country, the proliferation of arms is common to all countries in conflict.


The study presents an overall view of the limits to arms transfer currently in operation in West Africa, including the latest embargos. As it is often the case that armed groups need the arms, they can only acquire them illegally.  The industrial production of artisanal weapons and munitions has gained importance in Mali and has contributed to this illegal trade.  The circulation of arms from one country to another and the ensuing proliferation of small arms has become a real security problem, not only for the country concerned, but for the whole region.


As in other regions, arms trafficking is often linked to natural resources.  The Ivory Coast used to pay for its arms with oil revenue; Burkina Faso was paid in cocoa or diamonds; in Mali, arms were paid for with money from drugs and human trafficking (western hostages).


The West’s responsibility for the proliferation of arms in the region is far from insignificant. North America and Europe produce and sell arms even to regimes that violate human rights, while supporting armed groups that are fighting against regimes that they would like to see disappear.  While armed groups in one region might be considered to be terrorists by several western states, similar groups in other countries are supported by these same states who even send them arms.


Source: GRIP






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