There is one weapon in circulation for every 20 people in Africa, according to a report released on Tuesday.
The 2003 edition of the Small Arms Survey, a report by the Geneva-based organisation of the same name, says about 30 million light weapons are in circulation in sub-Saharan Africa.
This, the report says, is far fewer than previous estimates have suggested.
The unchecked spread of small weapons has exacerbated African inter-state conflicts, contributed to human rights violations, undermined political and economic development, destabilised communities and devastated the lives of millions of people.
However, the survey says armed conflict is on the decline in Africa and regional agreements to limit small arms are being put into place.
"The prospects of combating the problem of small arms proliferation and misuse in Africa might be more positive than generally assumed," says the report.
In addition to increased crime and permanent disabilities, the report says that the proliferation of small weapons discouraged teachers and children from going to school and farmers from taking their goods to the market.
Increased violence also affected revenue collection for social expenditures in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Previous estimates have put sub-Saharan Africa's cache of small arms - defined as weapons that can be carried by one person - as high as 100 million.
The European Union as a whole is the largest small arms exporter followed by the US and the Russian Federation.
In recent times several African governments have destroyed small weapons confiscated from those holding them illegally.
The illegal weapons stack goes up in flames
In March, Kenyan authorities put to the torch 1,000 firearms confiscated from urban criminals and nomadic cattle herders.
Nearly 7,000 more semi-automatic rifles and handguns were to be destroyed in the same way.
They weapons were put to the torch as part of a regional drive against violent crime in East Africa.
The move follows an agreement reached in 2000 by the leaders of 10 states in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region to try to stamp out small arms proliferation.