Small but dangerous: Light weapons fuel conflict in Africa

Thursday October 07 2021
Dr Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN.

Dr Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN, presides over the Council’s briefing session on Small Arms and Light Weapons at the UN headquarters in New York on October 5, 2021. PHOTO | COURTESY |KENYA'S MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS


Africa’s wars and conflicts could be easier to deal with if countries tightened controls on the circulation of small and light weapons, Kenya has said.

Peace missions on the continent or elsewhere are likely to be undone as long as warmongers can easily access weapons, it argued before the UN Security Council on Wednesday night during a session on Small Arms and Light Weapons. This is the first signature event by Kenya’s Council Presidency to discuss peace operations.

Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Dr Martin Kimani, who is the President of the Council for October, told the session that most conflicts in the region have been fuelled by availability of illicit weapons, even when there exist initiatives to end the wars.

The UN Security Council should elevate attention for small arms to the same level it does for nuclear weapons, as the “continued proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons are worsening conflicts,” he said.

“They may be small and light, but that is exactly what makes them more dangerous especially when placed in the wrong hands. By their very nature, small arms are easy to acquire, easy to use, easy to transport and easy to conceal.”

Dr Kimani tabled Kenya’s proposal as the Council discussed the nature of weapons smuggling in the context of peace operations across the world.


The background of the discussion was regional conflict in Africa, a continent whose stability has punctuated most of the Council’s recent meetings on peace operations.

Kenya says small arms and other light weapons are behind the rising numbers of displaced people and lawlessness on the continent, and the weapons make it harder to negotiate peace as parties feel they can win through war.

“[They are] sparking refugee flows and internal displacement; strengthening terrorism; undermining the rule of law; complicating conflict resolution efforts; threatening and frustrating peacekeeping operations; and generally, fuelling a culture of violence and impunity.”

According to annual reports by the Small Arms Survey, since 2000, porous borders, corruption and lack of alternative economic ventures have fuelled trade in illicit arms, which are then used to carry out rustling, terrorism and fuel civil wars.

In the latest estimate, the Small Arms Survey said Kenyans may be holding up to 680,000 illicit weapons. This is in spite of Kenya’s annual disarmament programmes that often see the President set on fire the collected weapons.

In other neighbouring countries like Somalia and South Sudan, illicit weapons possession is higher as there are weaker controls on gun possession.

“The destructive global impact of illicit small arms and light weapons and their ammunition makes it an issue of international peace and security concern,” he told the Council.

“Indeed, their impact transcends contexts of peace operations which is our focus today, to other contexts of concern to this Council including the protection of civilians, counter-terrorism and children in armed conflict among others.”

The briefing session was meant to discuss the Secretary General’s report on small arms and light weapons smuggling. And the UN chief admitted lack of proper controls has fuelled conflicts in South Sudan, Central Africa Republic, Libya, Haiti, Somalia and Yemen.

As part of policy changes, the UN now requires weapons and ammunition management programmes for peacekeepers to stop leakages into wrong hands. Yet these policies exclude non-state actors like rebel groups and terrorists.

Ms Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament told the session that weapons smuggling has contributed to other problems such as excluding women from peace rebuilding programmes and hurting children’s future.

“In the context of UN peacekeeping operations, illicit flows of weapons can exacerbate the conflict dynamics, render arms embargos ineffective, endanger peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and local populations and complicate the implementation of peace agreements,” she said, suggesting the Council should address arms smuggling, crime and terrorism as related problems.

As children and women bear the most burden of conflicts, she called for a continued analysis between weapons proliferation and the respect for rights of children and women as well as prevalence of sexual offences.

The meeting was also addressed by Lt-Gen Badreldin Elamin Abdelgadir, Executive Secretary of the Regional Centre on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States (RECSA), and Mr David Lochhead, a senior researcher on matters of small arms.

Nairobi proposed what it called a comprehensive architecture to see international organisations collaborate with local authorities to stop illicit arms trade, support for regional programmes such as ‘silencing the guns’ by the African Union to manage use of weapons, enhancing the Security Council’s mandate to oversee disarmament, and supporting governments to manage their stock of weapons.

Kenya will be holding the rotational Council Presidency until October 31 and has used the occasion to float and agenda around Africa’s conflicts and how to use local solutions to end them.

Weapons smuggling, ethnic identity and hate speech, role of women and issues of violent extremism are among the topics to be discussed this month at the Council.