Small arms trade: A deterrent to peace

Small arms trade: A deterrent to peace

One of the factors making conflict varile in our region (Greater Horn and Eastern Africa) is "access to small arms." This is made possible by the existence of a thriving arms trade and arms trade routes with agents and buyers, investors, and users of arms.

Most of the small arms trade is done outside normal formal trade. Laws to manage the movement of arms exist. However, the enforcement mechanisms are conducted by fellow human beings. Invariably then, the factors of principled values, principled practices and adequate level of pay to law enforcers are laid aside, making arms trade possible.

Auxiliary personal benefits and exposure to danger undermine law enforcement. Law enforcers often condone or turn their ears and eyes away from the players in small arms trade for what they perceive to be benefits that outweigh the personal and professional effort in surveillance and action to stamp out small arms trade. Moreover, small arms trade also poses serious personal threats to law enforcers at all levels. Where law enforcers experience levels of vulnerability personally, they avoid the likely consequences they might encounter if they enforce the law.

Arms trade is carried out across genders and all age sets. Movement of small arms is complimented by the use of informal routes and informal means of carriage. Donkeys, camels, contrabranding (declaring cargo is one thing when it really is another: e.g. grenades declared as coconut), among other means.

Another aspect of access to small arms is through improvising, not necessarily using the conventional arms, but rather types of weapons that facilitate achieving similar or more serious damage as they would when conventional arms are used. This has been used with radicalized extremist violence more than in other forms of conflict. For this to happen, the choice of the use of easily available substances that are not easy to detect has been the backbone of this type of small arms trade.

Small Arms Survey had published a handbook entitled Gender-responsive Small Arms Control: A Practical Guide which you can download from their website. It is a helpful resource that makes a small contribution to the addressing of small arms trade. As peacebuilders, we (including MPI) should be  covering access to small arms as part of our discussions about peace. In one of the classes during my training this was raised as a matter needing consideration.

Kisuke Ndiku is a research practitioner on peace in the Eastern Africa Region and an MPI alumnus (2013). He Heads Research and Organizational Development at PRECISE, "an Africa-based agency that has evolved to offer services to other agencies, companies, organizations, government ministries and departments, in capacity strengthening addressing professional needs of quality competence for internal growth and effective practices in Africa since 1995."


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