A proliferation of small arms is fueling conflict and instability in East Africa.
The ongoing pre-election violence in Kenya and the ‘war on terror’ will deter domestic and international investors, business people and economists say. These fears are valid given that illicit weapons are said to be hidden in parts of Kenya, especially in the Rift Valley Province.
On 9 December 2009 and on 2 February 2010, thousands of bullets, army uniforms, thousands of litres of fuel, plane batteries, war trucks and many other weapons were discovered in Narok, Kenya. The entire Kenya media reported the discovery. Strangely, the authorities have either chosen to ignore the matter or been unwilling to investigate.
The problem stretches back decades: in 1992 more than 800 Kenyans lost their lives in less than one month in political violence. Senseless killings continued from 1992 to 2008 with heavy loss of life and property.
But in 1991, thousands of arrows were intercepted at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on arrival from South Korea. Again, the entire Kenyan media covered the story. The Kenyan government confiscated the arrows, but no investigations were carried out. One year later, in 1992, those same arrows were used in attacks.
How the arrows confiscated in 1991 found their way into the bodies of those who were killed in the attacks of 1992 is a puzzle that is extremely hard to unravel.
The weapons discovered in Narok were confiscated by the Kenyan government in the same manner as the intercepted arrows in 1991. No one was arrested and prosecuted over the arrows and no one has been arrested and prosecuted over the discovery of the weapons in Narok.
The confiscations are linked to the problem of small arms on the African continent. About 30 million light weapons are in circulation in sub-Saharan Africa. Such weapons are Africa’s primary tools in armed conflicts. They have also contributed to a rise in the incidence and lethality of criminality, the erosion of social services and a decline in economic activity across the continent.
It is believed that 79 per cent of small arms and light weapons are in the hands of civilians, 19 per cent in police and military hands and 2 per cent with armed groups and insurgents. Sub-Saharan Africa has suffered more than any other region in the world because of illicit small arms and light weapons - about 20 per cent of Africa’s population experienced civil wars during the 1990s.
The proliferation of illicit small arms is a cross-cutting issue, stemming largely from lack of proper regulations and the inability of African governments to exercise their authority. Despite the fact that there are laws to control the influx of arms, governments are unable to enforce these laws.
Kenya has long been a major transit point for weapon shipments destined to war torn countries in the region. Arms proliferation in East Africa has reached crisis proportions and this has fuelled insecurity and crime.
To stress the point, in the year 2000 Kenyan police recovered between 1,800 and 2,000 unlicensed guns per month in the capital city of Nairobi, and about 5,000 illegal firearms remained in circulation in the capital city, according to estimates. In other parts of Kenya, in the Northern Rift Valley provinces 95 per cent of households are thought to be armed.
During the armed political violence in the Coast Province in 1997 a total of 104 people were killed in the violence, 133 injured and 100,000 displaced.
Between 1991 and 1998, politically motivated ethnic violence in the Rift Valley Province took 3,500 lives and displaced over 400,000 people.
Apart from Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, the 3,700-kilometre Somali coastline continues to be a danger area. Apart from arms smuggling, tons of illicit drugs find their way to this region through unauthorized sea points. The drug barons and arms smugglers beat security systems by using speed boats, fishing boats, yachts, dhows and foreign ocean-going FOC vessels to ferry illicit cargo from the high seas to beaches anywhere along the coast.
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