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Monday, 23 July, 2001, 15:13 GMT 16:13 UK
Small arms: Keeping Africa at war?
The United Nations is currently hosting a conference on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

Every year millions of pistols, light machine guns and revolvers are manufactured and exported all over the world.

In Africa the abundance of small arms - such as simple pistols, rifles and machine guns - fuels the continent's conflicts.

In some parts of Africa an AK-47 automatic rifle can be bought for as little as $6. And because they are easy to carry they are often used by child soldiers.

But what can be done to curb the illegal trade in these small arms? Would better control of the legal manufacture and possession of weapons make any difference? Should export regulations be tightened?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The UN could play a major role in the control of small arms, especially to African countries suffering at the hands of crooks. But it is impossible to see how effective this role will be if the US, Russia, China and India oppose any such control. In the light of such powerful opposition, I believe our best bet is to require that countries involved in small arms trade with so-called freedom fighters and other rogue groups make their operations overt so that it is possible to know who is providing guns to whom. Surely, this is not a breach of any American citizen's constitutional right! That country should then be required to finance the UNHCR funding requirements for refugees directly affected. As a parting shot, knowledge of those selling such arms could help victims and sympathizers to hunt down the dealers and give them a first hand experience of what their arms are doing to innocent people.
Paul Collins, Liberia

We created the market in the very first place

Njuguna Mwangi, Kenyan in USA
Why is Africa in turmoil? I guess the answer is as complex as the gun trade across Africa. My reference to the issue can take me virtually up north, south, east and west of Africa, but that will not give me an answer either. The root cause of the African (destabilisation) problems are home-born! But do we use home-grown solutions to solve the myriad problems? No, we use the gun to suppress those we perceive to be our enemies, real or imagined. To do this, we hire arms dealers from developed countries to supply us with any weapon that can suppress our enemies. With a blind eye, we make our continent saturated with the arms, after providing a ready market to the western arms merchants. But remember, we created the market in the very first place. Blaming the western world for marketing their arms to Africa cannot solve the availability of guns in the continent. (Don't they place export quotas to our "inferior" products yet we don't do the same to their "superior" guns!).
Njuguna Mwangi, Kenyan in USA

Arms dealers need to be tracked, pursued and prosecuted for what they are; accessories to murder. The mass-killers of Congo, Burundi and Sierra Leone are helped along generously by western arms dealers keen to make a quick buck. Two hundred thousand people have been killed in Burundi since 1993. One of those was a UK citizen called Charlotte Wilson. The UN reports that 2.5 million have died in Congo in recent years. None of this would have been possible without the assistance of the arms dealers who make their living peddling death. It's time they were held to account.
Rich, UK

We all know who is doing what. Europe is playing a good game in this. Europeans should stop supplying weapons to the poor Africans to kill each other. European governments should do something with this serious and disastrous situation and stop supporting the African dictators and rebels.
Roble, USA

In the future the problem won't come from legitimate manufacturers of small arms. With modern technology it is becoming easier to manufacture small arms illegally - so how will we control that?
Chris Peterson, Canada

Is there any country in Africa that produces guns? It is those that are making a fortune from our conflicts by illegally selling weapons, to warring parties that can put a stop to gun sales in mother Africa.
Eseloghene, Nigeria

As a measure to reduce the use of small weapons there is need for governments in Africa through their enforcing agencies to ensure that only legalised institutions and individuals have the legal mandated to use weapons and for intended purposes. There have been circumstances when those individuals who have been given weapons for official use as law enforcers have abused their responsibility. In such circumstances then, the long arm of the law should not spare them. Strict control on borders should also be instituted to make sure that the proliferation of small arms from countries where there is lawlessness is being kept under control. Furthermore as a deterrent to illegal possession of small arms heavy penalties should be put place so that offenders get a lesson from this malpractice which has cost lives of innocent children, mothers and babies.
Charles Mkoka, Malawi

Africa must refuse being used as a ready market for small arms by simply refusing to buy them. The government can also enact laws that will not only tighten the importation of such arms but sue those western countries who keep hoping for more wars so that their goods can sell. How come it is only in Africa where arms are misused and abused?
Lilian Kimeto, Kenya.

The influx of illegal arms in Africa has contributed to civil wars, armed robberies as well as brutal killings. This is so because it is so easy to acquire these weapons. Once civil war has ended in a country the weapons find their way into another. As a result you find out that petty issues among politicians generates into a civil strife since these people have acquired arms within Africa whose source is the west.
Swema Mphepo, Malawi

The proliferation of small arms and their illegal use around the world is a terrible tragedy. In many African countries their illicit use has become a viable means of survival. Laws are continually circumvented and fundamental human rights violated. As part of a larger strategy that addresses the enforcement of laws regulating their use and transfer, we must consider the fact that many prominent personalities, groups and governments have vested interests in instability created in conflict areas, and are often complicit in perpetuating the vicious cycle. Serious steps must be taken to remove the shroud of secrecy that frustrates efforts to bring perpetrators to book.
Eddie Mandhry, Kenya

Most of these arms come from industrialised nations

Masilaha, Canada
Most of these arms come from industrialised nations like the US, Israel, Eastern Europe, China and the former Soviet Republics. These countries have to refrain from selling weapons to arms traffickers. If implicated they need to answer why they are doing so. African nations should stop supplying some arms to supporters to terrorise its citizens. Where there is demand there is supply somewhere. If we can stop the source, then we shall have reduced the ability to arm innocent citizens of one country to fight another's.
Masilaha, Canada

We cannot blame other countries for the arms crises in Africa. The heads of the individual nations in Africa are to blame for the illegal arms in their countries because they gain the most from it. Most of the leaders in Africa are corrupt, they look to self-gain instead of a collective gain. When the people in Africa wake up and demand change, then they'll get it. Meanwhile, let's not blame others for the problems we've created. We Africans must change the way we feel about each other, we must stop the hate, and we must stop blaming others for our problems and start to solve them ourselves.
Mariatu Kargbo, Sierra Leonean in U.S.A.

The answer to the above question is definitely "yes" - the countries devastated by these arms are Somalia, Angola, Liberia, DRC, Sudan, just to name a few. Therefore peace-loving Africans would really appreciate enormously if the rest of the world would impose a continent-wide arms ban.
Bashe Kahin, USA

The United Nations should strongly condemn those countries which supply arms to countries in Africa

Albert P'Rayan, Rwanda
Who supplies arms to the African continent? Is it not those countries which speak about peace and human rights? The western society is partially responsible for all the conflicts in Africa. The United Nations should strongly condemn those countries which supply arms to countries in Africa. The African mineral wealth is being used by rich, developed nations such as USA, France and Belgium. Then should be an end to it.
Albert P'Rayan, Rwanda (Indian)

The people of Africa are faced with great poverty and needs of all kinds to maintain a reasonably good life. Then, why should one use arms and weapons to add to their misery? Look how people are suffering in Somalia due to the proliferation of arms and their indiscriminate use by militias and the warlords. Easily available arms and weapons were also the cause for long years of guerrilla warfare in Ethiopia before the secession of Eritrea.

A similar situation is also going in the Sudan. In general, the illegal and widespread arms trade has created rich arms dealers, arrogant government and guerrilla leaders, social, economic and cultural woes. Therefore, I believe one way out of this problem will be a complete embargo of arms trade to such volatile corners of the world like the horn of Africa. Without the weapons, there will be no chance for arrogant leaders to play with the lives of the society, and societies could resolve their differences peacefully through dialogue.
Dagne Tolla, Ethiopia

Trade in small arms has been going on for years and would definitely continue in spite of the attempts of the international community to impose sanctions on countries that deal in illegal arms and to tighten control over the export of these deadly weapons. What matters here is not the manufacture and sale of the arms but the resolve of the African people to refrain from taking up arms against their fellow men. If Africans begin to see themselves as one big family, the progress of which is hinged on the contributions of each member, and their continent as an environment in which peace and tranquillity ought to be preserved, then the question of wars resulting from illegal trade in weapons would hardly arise.
Ernest Cole, The Gambia/Sierra Leone

Too many gunbearers do not have any idea as to why they carry arms

Rodney Lobo, Norway
Certainly Africa is the one continent that is scourged by wars. Several factors have to be considered in trying to curb the amount of arms on the continent. One is of course to work for a freeze on exports of arms to Africa. Secondly, soldiers and officers have to be educated and some probably re-educated. Too many gunbearers do not have any idea as to why they carry arms. Many African leaders have to realise that power should be used to improve the situation of the people and not for themselves and their henchmen. The AU should now show what it is worth by being actively engaged in preventing the suffering that wars and armed conflicts have imposed on the innocent of the continent. We want peace and we want it NOW!
Rodney Lobo, Norway

Dare I say that intent and purpose cause more damage than arms? The Rwandese genocide was efficiently carried out by machetes and nail-studded clubs. An overwhelming percentage of these guns are periodically legitimate or illegitimate throughout the continent. Guns only make one's intentions and statements much more clear and to the point.
Eric Rwiliriza, Rwanda

I seriously think the West should stop selling arms to Africa. Africans are not known to manufacture guns.
Sedinam Akpedonu, Ghana

Most illegal assault rifles in South Africa are a legacy of past conflicts

Ian, South African in USA
Most illegal assault rifles in South Africa are a legacy of past conflicts and wars in Angola and Mozambique. These dead wars have left many displaced soldiers without income, and thousands of spare AK-47s lying around. Selling old stockpiles of AK-47s from a defunct war is now a livelihood to many, and until such time as these weapons are slowly reeled in, it will probably continue to be that way.

It is not so much the influx of illegal weapons which keeps many sub-Saharan countries at war, but the stockpiles of weaponry already there. Obviously illegal weapons trade takes place, but eradicating what already exists should be a priority because these are the guns fuelling the money used for importing more.
Ian, South African in USA

The attempt to control the illicit trade in small arms, landmines and other lethal weapons, whose effects have proved to be a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions, is being hampered largely by the US and other countries in Europe and Asia, whose companies profit from the production and trade in such lethal weapons.

The formation of the African Union gives Africa a chance to form a united front and build the continental capacity through common laws that make it a prosecutable crime for any foreign country or firm to trade in illicit arms with non-state groups and individuals in Africa, as well as common institutions that monitor and control such trade. The African Union has a big task on its hands to ensure African states have a monopoly of the instruments of force, if the union is at all to succeed. An effective African Union needs functioning states.
Anthony Musonda, Zambian student in Germany

See also:

09 Jul 01 | Africa
Africa in the firing line
12 Jul 01 | Africa
Plea for small arms curbs
10 Jul 01 | Africa
US blocks small arms controls
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