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Small Arms: Their Effect on African Nations


This week in our feature series we’re covering the trade of small arms, light weapons and ammunition in Africa. Yesterday we heard about a UN conference reviewing progress and problems in dealing with the proliferation of small arms around the world. Tonight, the effect on the lives of Africans.

Jakkie Potgeiter, an expert on weapons trade in Africa’s civil wars, directs the arms management program of Safer Africa, an Africa-based NGO that deals with issues of peace and security on the continent. From Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, he told Voice of America English to Africa reporter Cole Mallard there are three dimensions to the arms trade in Africa: The first is the large number of such weapons on the continent; the second is the local arms and ammunition manufactured by African countries and sold within Africa; and the third is the influx of new weapons from outside the continent.

He says some weapons “are in the arsenals of government, but substantial numbers have been given to liberation movements, to rebel groups…and [the weapons] always remained in the bush; they’ve never been cleared out, collected or destroyed. There is also a substantial number that is under nobody’s control.”

Potgeiter says a major effect of illicit arms “is the rise and ever-increasing spiral of violent crime…where people use firearms to rob the daily existence from underneath communities.” He says another destructive impact is on socio-economic development: “The more insecure a community is, the less time a community can spend in developing themselves and the areas in which they’re living.”

Potgeiter says another factor is that there are places with no government, such as the eastern DRC. He says those wounded or killed from illicit arms are mostly 18 to 25 year old males, who are the “economically active section of the population…with wives and young children that cannot fend for themselves.” He says in areas of war and high crime, some women and children are killed directly from small arms fire, but for the most part, men are the direct victims, and women and children the indirect victims.

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