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Africa: Illicit small arms market thrives
NewsNotes, March-April 2010
Vol. 35 No. 2

The challenge to control the flood of small arms and light weapons into and through Africa is an enormous one. In mid-February, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) reported that a new cache of 30,000 bullets was seized by police in Narok, a town on the outskirts of Nairobi. The ammunition was found on the premises of a man already facing charges for a separate arms seizure. The following piece is based on articles on the IANSA website and the Afrik.com website.

The bullets were manufactured by the government-owned Kenya Ordinance Factory Corporation, which produces ammunition for Kenyan security forces or government agencies. Police have traced the source of the bullets to a government armory in Nairobi. A local businessman, his wife and the administration police chief were charged with illegal possession of arms and are currently facing trial.

Camlus Omogo from IKV Pax Christi, an IANSA member in Nairobi, said, “This revelation brings to the fore questions as to how secure is the factory, including how the bullets are distributed to the armed forces. It seems there is weakness in the control of the production and distribution or there might be cases of corruption within the factory.”

Over the past months, other allegations have surfaced about state ammunition finding its way into civilian hands. A study by the Small Arms Survey provides strong evidence of a systematic unofficial initiative to supply government ammunition to the Turkana pastoralists in northern Kenya. The police supply almost 50 percent of the ammunition that circulates illegally in Turkana, ostensibly to allow the pastoralists to defend against rival groups in Sudan and Uganda. This practice not only fuels the armed violence in Turkana but also makes ammunition available for use in crimes ranging from roadside banditry to targeted assassinations.

The Turkana North District lies in one of the most conflict-prone regions of East Africa and the Horn of Africa. The use of guns is connected to cattle rustling, roadside ambushes, crime and commercial vendettas. The competition for land and natural resources, inter-ethnic rivalry, poor governance, criminal activity and a steady supply of guns and ammunition exacerbate local insecurity.

At almost the same time, the Russian newspaper Vremya Novostei reported that a Ukrainian weapons company has been shipping arms to rebels fighting in Darfur.
According to the data that appeared in Kiev, the Ukrainian company Ukrspetsexport supplied artillery systems and small arms with the assistance of intermediaries through the territory of Eritrea. If true, this would be a violation of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions 1556 and 1591, adopted in 2004 and 2005 respectively, which prohibited the sale or supply of arms and military equipment to all warring parties in Darfur.

The report claims that Ukrainian small arms and ammunition, including anti-personnel mines and antitank mines, were also delivered to the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) through a private company registered in an offshore zone.

Ukraine is a silent perpetrator of African conflict through its policy of arms proliferation. In 2008 Somali pirates hijacked a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 Soviet-era T-72 tanks and other weapons. Its seizure drew international attention.
In 2009, a Ukrainian plane, loaded with ammunition, allegedly heading for the militants in the Niger Delta, was detained in Nigeria.

According to Konye Obaji Ori, last year’s report on small arms in the Kanwa Defense Review monthly magazine claimed that militaries in north and south Sudan were engaged in an arms race that risks plunging the nation back into civil war ahead of elections and the referendum.

The report also incriminated China and Iran, accusing them of being the main sources of weapons that were adding to turmoil in the country. According to the magazine, last year China sold Sudan an unknown number of WS-2 multi-launch rocket systems. This is the first time this system has been exported by China to any country.

Faith in action:

In October 2009, Secretary of State Clinton said that the United States “is committed to actively pursuing a strong and robust treaty that contains the highest possible, legally-binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons.” Write to Secretary of State Clinton, thank her and indicate your strong support for this commitment. Send a copy to your senators.

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