It has become increasingly clear that as complex security challenges emerge and evolve, old ones still persist. The end of the cold war witnessed the significant proliferation of intrastate conflicts, including guerrilla warfare wherein Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) became the preferred choice of warlords to pursue their brutal aspirations (Peace Building Initiatives, 2011a). Saferworld (2011) argues that SALW are desirable because they are highly portable, deadly, easy to conceal and manipulated to kill millions of people. Therefore, the fundamental issue that requires increased international attention is “The Proliferation and Misuse of Small Arms and Light Weapons in West Africa”, which according to the Department of Criminology (2015) is the most tangible threat that undermines international peace and security. The Department of Criminology (2013) further highlights that the availability of SALW especially in post-conflict environment undermines security and the rule of law, and has adverse effects on the promotion of democracy and good governance, national reconciliation, the protection of human rights, and socio-economic development.
Frey (2004) notes that the global estimated figure of firearms is 640 million which are utilised to kill thousands of people every year. The Small Arms Survey (2003; 2004), cited in the report of the UN Secretary-General (2008), states that over 1,000 companies in about 100 countries are involved in the manufacture of nearly 8 million small arms annually. It further estimates that at least 300,000 people are killed annually as a result of the misuse of these weapons. For instance, SALW account for between 60 and 90 percent of loss of lives during conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Cote d’ Ivoire and Mali. Therefore it is not shocking that they have been described by the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as “weapons of mass destruction in slow motion” (Krause, 2007a:1).
It is against this backdrop that Campaign for Security Everywhere (CASE), a non-governmental organisation working in the areas of security, human rights and justice in Sierra Leone, makes its position very clear in terms of combating the illicit proliferation, circulation and trafficking of SALW, which is in accordance with the 1999 ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and other related Materials (Aning, 2008). This was well-intentioned by the Authority of Heads of State in order to achieve sustainable peace, stability and development in West Africa. However, ECOWAS has been confronted with numerous challenges, including violent conflicts, in its bid to achieve its initial objective of regional economic integration since its establishment in 1975. It is nevertheless glaring that all these conflicts have been underpinned by the proliferation and misuse of SALW.
To this end, CASE seeks to assist ECOWAS member states in combating the illicit proliferation, circulation and misuse of SALW through advocacy and sensitisation, lobbying of authorities, and also strengthen relevant institutions and civil society actors through capacity building to put an end to this complex and multidimensional phenomenon. The Peace Building Initiative (2011b) suggests tangible ways of regulating the flow and use of illicit SALW including their production and control of movement, regulating civilian possession and use of weapons, and the collection and destruction of weapons as means of getting out of this security conundrum at the national, regional and global levels. Overall, the effective and efficient coordination and collaboration among relevant actors are also quite significant in yielding the synergistic effect of combating the proliferation and misuse of SALW.
Experience has shown that security vacuum frequently follows the end of armed conflict. During this period, people trust SALW for self-protection especially in situations where the security forces are part of the conflict. In addition, some regard their weapons as means of livelihood and are therefore confident in keeping them. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2003) notes that while it is indeed acceptable that licit arms are quite essential in the maintenance of law and order, the uncontrolled proliferation and misuse of such items grossly undermines stability. Consequently, the effective and efficient control of SALW is without doubt a prerequisite for sustainable peace, security and stability in any post-conflict environment.
In a nutshell, the complete eradication of SALW is a significant step in restoring justice and security in post-conflict environments, and therefore should be the utmost priority of the relevant actors including the international community. Arms do not distinguish between sexes, age, tribe, rich, poor, disabled, educated, illiterate, or religious denomination. So let us all join hands together in harmony to completely eradicate this complex reality for the sake of ourselves and posterity.
The issue of SALW is transnational in nature which further complicates the matter especially due to cultural and legislative disparities, and lack of political will on the part of member states to end the menace (OECD, 2007). Moreover, Krause (2007b) argues that contextual differences on the issue of SALW pose a major challenge especially in post-conflict situations where the proliferation of SALW undermines peace, security and development.
Additionally, despite clear international standards that have been well articulated, members of the security forces including the police, military, intelligence forces, and other state agents, are in most cases found guilty of committing serious human rights violations using SALW. A typical example of this occurred in Guinea where pro-democracy demonstrators were shot and killed at the stadium on 28th September 2011. Another fundamental problem in the control of SALW is that actors involved in the sales and trafficking of SALW including terrorist groups, drug barons, and other organised criminal groups are politically and economically powerful, and have the resources to bulldoze their ways to achieve their selfish interests.
In conclusion, the issue of SALW is highly political involving numerous gladiators especially at the strategic level, and the complexities involved make it very difficult to address. However, these are likely surmountable if national accountability, transparency and control mechanisms are strengthened, coupled with strong political will at all levels of implementing the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (IPI, 2009).
Aning, K. (2008) ‘From ‘voluntary’ to a ‘binding’ process: towards the securitisation of small arms’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 26 (2):169-181.
Department of Criminology (2013) Security and Rule of Law in Post-Conflict States, Leicester: Department of Criminology, University of Leicester.
Department of Criminology (updated 2015) Conflict and Global Risks, Leicester: Department of Criminology, University of Leicester.
Frey, B. (2004) ‘Small Arms and Light Weapons: The Tools Used to Violate Human Rights’, Human Rights, Human Security, and Disarmament 3: 37-46.
IPI (2009) ‘Small Arms and Light Weapons: Task Forces on Strengthening Multilateral Security Capacity’, IPI Blue Paper No. 5, New York: IPI, available at http://www.ipacademy.org/media/pdf/publications/salw_epub.pdf.
Krause, K. (2007) ‘Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy’, Coping with Crisis Working Paper Series, New York: IPA.
OECD (2007) OECD DAC Handbook of Security System Reform: Supporting Security and Justice, Paris: OECD, available at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/43/25/38406485.pdf.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2003) Handbook of Best Practices on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Vienna: OSCE, available at http://www.osce.org/fsc/13616.
Peace Building Initiative (2011) Small Arms and Light Weapons, Peace Building Initiative website, accessed on 11 January 2016, available at http://www.peacebuildinginitiative.org/index.cfm?pageId=1732.
Saferworld (2011) Small arms and light weapons, Saferworld website, accessed on 12 January 2016, available at http://www.saferworld.org.uk/what/small-arms-and-light-weapons.
UNSG (2008) ‘Small Arms’, S/2008/258, New York: UN, available at http://www.un.org/disarmament/convarms/SALW/Docs/SGReportonSmallArms2008.pdf.