Southern Africa to Curb Proliferation of Illicit Light Arms
15 February 2000
by Tinashe Madava
There is an urgent need to tackle the proliferation of light weapons in southern Africa, as these have
become a threat to prospects of long-term peace, security and development in the region.
According to a report by Sarah Meek, Buy or Barter, The History and Prospects of Voluntary
Weapons Collection, communities in southern Africa have abandoned their traditional, negotiated
mechanisms of conflict resolution and management. Meek says that the communities are shifting
towards "resolving violent situation with solutions equally violent".
" Although in its infancy, a culture of violence has begun to emerge in the region, threatening
democracy and development," says Meek in her report.
This has resulted from the proliferation of illicit arms in southern Africa. Illegal small arms are the
most commonly used in the perpetration of crime, contributing to the high levels of instability,
extended conflict and violence in the region;
The United Nations Panel of Government Experts on Small Arms defines "small arms" as
including revolvers, and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault
rifles and light-machine guns.
Since most countries in the region have gone through armed conflicts, some firearms from
that era are now finding their way into wrong hands resulting in an increase in gun-related
The head of the International Policing Organisation's (Interpol) sub-regional office in southern Africa,
Frank Msutu, said that his organisation is working hard to tackle the problem of the illicit arms from
the highest office of national governments in the region. He said Interpol has sought the help of the
Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as the Southern African Regional Police
Commissioners Co-ordinating Organisation (SARPCCO) resulting in the latter's July 1999 summit
declaration on small arms.
According to the SARPCCO Declaration on Small Arms, the ministers responsible for policing in the
region agreed to pursue, within the context of southern Africa, those steps which may be taken to
combat small arms trafficking.
Among the issues under consideration are prohibitions on civilian possession of automatic and military
weapons; co-ordination of procedures for the import, export and transit of small arms shipments and
ensuring the registration of all small arms in a country .The ministers also agreed to ensure that proper
controls are exercised over the manufacture of small arms to prevent their entrance into the illicit
Last August's SADC Council of Ministers meeting in Maputo noted that the conflicts that have taken
place in the region over many years have led to a proliferation of arms. This, they agreed, also
contributed to an increase in criminal activities such as armed robberies and illicit trafficking in small
arms. They resolved that member states needed to combine efforts to combat the use and trafficking in
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"The issue of firearms is very sensitive and countries are not prepared to share intelligence information
on firearms. We have, however, managed to encourage the countries to share information since this
will help the region to curb gun-related crime," said Msutu.
According to Janee Rambocus, in a paper prepared for the NGO, Safeworld and the Institute for
Security Studies seminar, the recognition within the southern African region of the nature and extent
of the problem of light weapons proliferation together with a demonstrable willingness to take action
has encouraged the European Union to explore cooperation with SADC governments.
The development of a Southern African regional action programme on light arms and illicit trafficking
was given high level approval by the EU and Southern African Foreign Ministers at their meeting in
November two years ago.
"Despite this level of commitment, there have been, in fact, few projects undertaken which have
directly targeted the issue of light weapons proliferation, such as support for weapons collection
initiatives or technical assistance around marking and registering of light weapons," says Rambocus in
a paper entitled Assistance Programmes for Tackling Light Weapons Proliferation in Southern Africa.
However, there are several programmes supported by the EU member states with an indirect impact on
the availability of light weapons such as assistance for community policing and judicial or military
The programmes include the collection of small arms for destruction in exchange for items of practical
daily use, in Mozambique under the Germany organisation, Dienste in Ubersee.
There is therefore significant scope for further developing EU assistance, in partnership with southern
African countries, at the regional and national level in order to meet the needs and priorities of the
SADC member states.
According to Msutu, the southern African region is leading in combating the proliferation of firearms
in Africa. However, there is need to consolidate the efforts being made policy-wise by actual
implementation of the resolutions made. (SARDC)