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17.03.2009 Feature Article

Curbing the Small Arms Menace

Our country has recently recorded massive violence and armed robbery. And this goes to show the extent at which small arms has proliferated. It is with this concern that I have decided to use this piece to share a few ideas as to how we can deal with the problem.

According to the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs, small arms destabilizes regions by sparking, fueling and prolonging conflicts, obstructing relief programmes,undermining peace initiatives, exacerbating human rights abuses, hampering development and fostering a culture of violence. Peace and security are the fundamental prerequisites for social and economic prosperity hence for any country to thrive issues as small arms should be seriously looked into.

Small Arms is defined by the 1997 Report of the United Nations Panel of Government Experts on small arms as weapons designed for personal use. Examples of these are self loading pistols, assault rifles, rifles and carbines, sub machine guns, and light machine guns. These ammunitions are exactly the ones used in the violence we record in our nation and in the sub region. 90% of human casualties worldwide are caused by small arms. 8% of the world's small arms can be found in West Africa. Over the years, the availability and misuse of small arms has led to the destruction of economies and environment, the breaking up of families and communities and has also caused serious physical and psychological wounds to large sections of population. The net effect is untold human suffering, excruciating poverty, deepened underdevelopment, more violent conflict and the absence of peace.

Here in Ghana, a 2006 baseline survey has revealed that there are about 100,000 small arms in the country. What is most scary is that the rate of production is at the local level and is increasing.

Our communities in conflict may already be going through the above mentioned problems. So then, the question now is how do we solve the small arms proliferation problem?

As a solution, I will strongly push forward the need for our leaders to seriously comply with the recommendations of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (UNPOA)championed by our own ex-UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan

At the national level, the UNPOA recommends that:
1. There should be well laid out laws, regulations and administrative procedures concerning small arms. And if these exist, they should be strictly adhered to.

2. Illicit Activities should be criminalized. In other words, people illegally in the small arms business should be arrested and prosecuted. Those who are also illegally possessing small arms should be also be made to face the full rigours of the law.

3. National Coordination Agencies and National Points of Contacts should be established to further strengthen the fight to curb the menace. In this regard, I would like to urge the ministry of interior to strongly revive the Commission on Small Arms.

4. Proper records should be kept on all ammunitions available. They should actually be marked also so as to ensure the easy identification of illegally circulating weapons. This process we can officially call Marking, Record Keeping and Tracing.

5. Export, Import and transfer controls should be put in place to prevent, for example, the illegal import of weapons. Here our borders should be tightened security wise to prevent the leakage of SALW into the country.

6. Illegal weapons in circulation, when found should be collected and destroyed

7. There should be Public Awareness, and Confidence-Building Programmes to educate the public on the dangers of small arms.

8. Surplus arms should be destroyed instead of selling them off cheaply on the international market.

9. An international code governing arms sales, to restrict transfers to those who flout international standards of non-aggression, human rights, and democratic governance should be adopted.

10. Clamp down on illegal trade by improving national customs controls and standardizing export regulations.

11. Buy-back programs, amnesty and other methods of collecting weapons already in circulation should be expanded.

12. New production of small arms should be limited, and arms industries reduced

Aside these, security personnel should be motivated. They should also be given better salaries and incentives so they don't leak out some small arms illegally to the public as a result of hunger or poor conditions of service. Craft production must also be seriously checked. The Ghana Arms and Ammunitions Law prohibits the manufacture of firearms. Hence BlackSmiths who manufacture firearms should be made aware they are in contravention of the law, and their activities brought to a halt. Amnesty periods, for people to hand in their weapons should be implemented and rewards should accompany the returning of the weapons.

I believe when these things are done, we can easily curb the small arms menace in our country. I therefore charge the authorities concerned to begin to act swiftly.

Martin Nana Baffoe Pieterson
Martin Nana Baffoe Pieterson, © 2009

This author has authored 9 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: MartinNanaBaffoePieterson

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