According to 'Jane’s Intelligence Review' of 1996, the factory’s capacity is 20,000-60,000 bullets per day and local consumption is about two million bullets per year
By JUMA KWAYERA
KENYA WILL not close down its bullet factory in Eldoret despite being at the centre of concerted efforts to rid the region of illegal small arms and light weapons, National Security Minister Chris Murungaru told The EastAfrican last week.
He said the government would instead tighten scrutiny on the operations of the Kenya Ordnance Factories Corporation to ensure that its products did not fall into the wrong hands.
Dr Murungaru was responding to calls for the closure of the factory, if Nairobi, as the Focal Point of the regional campaign to mop up illicit arms and light weapons, was to make an impact. Kenya's bullet factory, which is one of more than 1,000 facilities in the world that produce munitions was the focus of the recent "Control Arms" campaign in Nairobi.
The campaign, co-ordinated by Oxfam International, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and human-rights watchdog Amnesty International, was launched simultaneously in 65 countries, 14 of which are in Africa. It aims at restricting the supply of small arms by "drying up the sources."
Kenya is a signatory to the March 2000 Nairobi Declaration, which sets the agenda for the pacification of the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa as a means toward economic and political stability. Nairobi is also host of the co-ordination secretariat of the national focal points of the 11-member states that are signatory to the agreement.
The secretariat is primarily charged with the collection of data on the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons in the countries by tracking movement of arms from the point of origin through transmission routes to end users.
The signatories to the Nairobi Convention are Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti.
While Kenya's critics say there is nothing wrong in the government trading in arms, they point out that the past and the present regimes in Nairobi have not been transparent in the manufacture and sale of ammunition.
"The United Nations recognises the right of governments to trade in arms. However, our point of contention is that the government must be accountable and transparent in its business. We need such information as who its customers are, the suppliers and the end users, without which the government can be held responsible for the rising level of insecurity in the region," Ochieng Adala the director of Africa Peace Forum, a conflict resolution NGO, said last week.
Uganda has a similar facility, which it has sought to justify by citing the long-running war with rebels in the north and hostility with Sudan.
Uganda army spokesman Shaban Bantariza told The EastAfrican last week that the bullets manufactured at the factory at Nakasongo were only for army use.
"But they also repair guns of a civilian nature belonging to local security companies," he said. "There is no way the factory can be contributing to the proliferation of illicit arms."
Despite findings by the three international NGOs that bullets from the factory could be stoking insecurity in northern Kenya, Dr Murungaru insisted that the government would strictly regulate the factory.
The minister would not, however, commit the government to the UN requirement that all countries with arms factories subscribe to independent inspection to ascertain the quantity and type produced as a means of regulating trade in the industry. By refusing to subscribe to the inspection requirement, Nairobi has followed the example set by leading arms manufacturers such as the US, Britain, Egypt and South Africa, which have rejected independent verification of their facilities despite ratifying the UN Arms Trade Treaty.
Mr Adala said that the refusal by Kenya to open up the factory to independent inspection had fuelled suspicion that a clandestine trade in ammunition from the factory might be promoting crime in northern Kenya through clandestine trade in the bullets.
The cost of a bullet or a "bean" as it is called in the small arms underworld is anything between Ksh5 ($0.064) and Ksh50 ($0.64), according Mr Adala.
A new report entitled Protection and Poverty: Community Weapons Collection Experiences in Northern Kenya says, "the momentum generated in March 2000 on the need to control the small arms regime in the regime has diminished, with slow progress in establishing a viable co-ordination secretariat in Nairobi and national focal points in most of the member states."
The Kenya Ordnance Corporation, code-named the Ngano (Wheat) Project, was mooted in the 1970s following former Ugandan President Idi Amin’s threats to annex western Kenya up to the Rift Valley, but did not get off the ground until 1989, when construction commenced.
The project, built by FN Herstal of Belgium, was completed in the second quarter of 1996.
According the Jane’s Intelligence Review (a publication specialising in arms production issues in the world) of 1996, the factory’s capacity is 20,000-60,000 bullets per day and local consumption is about two million bullets per year.
Dr Murungaru put consumption at "slightly higher than two million" because of the rising needs of the regular and administration police, the paramilitary General Service Unit and the army.
The minister said that production of the arms would be restricted to domestic consumption "in view of the civil and political wars in the neighbouring countries. It is not in our interest to sell goods that will further conflict in war-torn countries."
At the inauguration of the factory in 2000, the government said it would only manufacture ammunition for the training needs of the army and sale to neighbouring countries.
However, the government has never disclosed the amount and type of ammunition produced by the factory. Neither has the government disclosed the end-users of its products.
The EastAfrican established last week that the factory produces three types of bullets, namely, 9mm ammunition for the FN35 Browning pistol and the Sterling, Uzi or H&K MP5 sub-machine guns used by the armed forces; 7.62x51mm for the FN-FAL and the G3, the main rifles used by the armed forces; and 5.56mm ammunition, used by the Kenya police.
The factory does not have the capacity to manufacture ammunition for the AK-47, the most popular assault rifle in the region.