Security experts in West Africa are still worried about what they describe as high proliferation of small arms and light weapons in many unauthorised hands in the sub-region.
They describe the situation as worrisome, especially in the era of delicate elections in the sub-region, adding that small arms and light weapons could facilitate illicit activities such as narcotics trade, organised crime and brute violence.
They mentioned some of the countries where small arms and light weapons had been used to cause mass destruction and undermine development as Sierra Leone, the Niger Delta in Nigeria, Liberia and some parts of Ghana.
The experts were speaking at the opening of a 10-day training programme taking place in Accra, Ghana to build the capacity of security personnel to control the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in ECOWAS.
Participants comprised members of National Commissions of Small Arms and Light Weapons in member countries as well as staff of partner institutions at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC).
The first to speak was the Commandant of the KAIPTC, Major General John Attipoe, who confirmed that the multiplication of small arms and light weapons was prevalent and a disturbing phenomenon in the sub-region.
He said the centre had decided to take up the responsibility to build the capacities of National Commissions for Small Arms and Light Weapons as well as staff of partner institutions in West Africa because of the “era of delicate elections around the sub-region”.
Major General Attipoe commended the Japanese government for supporting the three-year programme targeted at training 400 people.
For his part, the Assistant Director of the Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution Department of the KAIPTC, Dr Thomas Jaye, described small arms and light weapons as “our weapons of mass destruction” and a major cause of post-election violence in West Africa.
He said the menace had had serious impact and was thwarting the advancement of the political as well as economic progress of member countries.
He said experiences in West Africa showed that the small arms and light weapons in the hands of unauthorised people were factors in the eruption of civil wars, communal conflicts and instability in Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Niger Delta and parts of Ghana.
Dr Jaye said the menace of small arms and light weapons should not be isolated from the wider issues of security but be treated as a major national issue.
Mr Keiichi Katakami, Japanese Ambassador to Ghana, expressed worry that despite the encouraging levels of development in the region, protracted conflicts and their escalation were becoming more pronounced in the affected countries.
He pledged his country's commitment to assist in all efforts aimed at combating the menace, hence the provision of over $3 million to support the programme.
Story by Donald Ato Dapatem
& Jennifer Dornoo