Our series on small arms trade in Africa continues this evening with a look at how weapons make their way to the continent. Wars bring in large numbers of them, but there are other channels as well.
Rick de Caris is senior program officer for Safer Africa, an NGO based in South Africa that works on peace and security issues on the continent. VOA English to Africa Service reporter Angel Tabe asked him who supplies these small arms and how they get to Africa. “Manufacturers, not too worried to whom they sell, corrupt government officials have access to [weapons] that are not controlled, so they simply sell or stockpile. You’ve also got large quantities of arms buried in caches or readily available from other conflicts.”
Since some government officials are themselves involved in illicit arms sales, De Caris advocates a management system with stringent checks and balances. “What one should do is start…an effective stockpile management plan aimed at reducing or removing the arms that are not needed…so that you don’t have a single person in charge of an entire armory.” He says some regulations already exist to take care of that. “You’ve got the United Nations Program of Action; South Africa and eastern Africa have got their own protocols, which are legally binding documents.”
There aren’t many manufacturers or any formal weapons markets in Africa, but a major control problem as raised by De Caris is the ability to reproduce or adapt them locally. “Gunsmiths either copy the original or make something themselves. That is of course very difficult to control.” He says Africa’s history of conflict only fosters the market and recommends the adoption of policies to effectively resolve conflict in the continent.
De Caris says there are 500 million firearms in individual hands in Africa. “The whole security question is one of the main reasons Africa finds itself where it does. And even though Africa cannot afford other basic needs, it will trade its resources for firearms. Unscrupulous dealers sell for anything they can lay their hands on; during the cold war, each side brought in arms to support their side; African countries are very rich in natural resources. Unfortunately, these resources are used for the shipment of arms.”
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