Small arms on a table and bullets

PEACE IN AFRICA: The advent of small arms and improvised explosive devices


The quest for peace in Africa has become more complex now than ever before. Some world-renowned initiatives have been tracking through research, the advent, and trends of trade in small arms, improvised explosive devices, and light weapons. The war in Libya; the insurgence of non-state actors in Mali; the uprising in some regions of Ethiopia and the perpetual internal conflict in South Sudan; the radicalized extremist violence occurring in Nigeria, Cameroon, Somalia, and Kenya all depict that it has become easier to conduct actions that lead to gross destruction of lives. There is an increased level of formal and informal schemes that have enhanced access to small arms. There are more possibilities now than ever before to improvise explosive devices using unconventional means and chemicals. All this has complicated the peace space.

A cursory look at reports on small arms, explosive devices, and security reforms provides some thoughts. Some reports on small arms and explosive devices include The Sentry under The Enough Project and the Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA) for Sudan and South Sudan under the Small Arms Survey series. There are reports by various security reform and stabilization missions by the United Nations (UN) and the European Commission as well as reports by peace agencies. 

The reports such as the Sentry Reports on South Sudan indicate that there are numerous actual gains to be made from trade and improvising small arms and explosives.1 The review also points out that the actual identities of beneficiaries are not always brought to the attention of the public The reports further indicate that at the core of local conflicts there seems to be an apocalyptic surge in the number of small arms, improvised devices, and light weapons. 

However, the reports have barely raised solutions that can work to create peace. The effort to address the space of small arms and improvised devices has relied on the use of power and position of authority as the basis for "control, restriction, prevention, to deny access and right to small arms" as indicated by the Small Arms Survey, Saferworld, the UN Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and other agencies and protocols.2

All the reports do not directly address the following questions: Who is benefiting, who is gaining, how much? To what extent is peace increased or decreased by the access to small arms and improvised devices? How are security reform and stabilization missions contributing or inhibiting this state of affairs?

In the Interest of Peace

In the interest of peace, the sale of arms is enveloped in the various UN conventions and protocols. Peace is also included in policy pronouncements from different arms-producing and arms-buying countries. The report of Bread for the World, Small Arms in the Hands of Children (2017), and other series of publications by the HSBA Small Arms Survey, Saferworld, and The Sentry are good examples of coverage on the prevalence of small arms, light weapons munitions, and improvised explosive devices. The reportage indicates an appalling decline in the management of access proliferation and trading in small arms.3 While that is the case, the fabrication and improvising of explosive devices mainly used when small arms are restricted is on the rise.4

In 1994, the book, The True Cost of Conflict5 by Saferworld, focused its summary on seven conflicts in the world. Its message primarily highlighted the effect of lives lost due to landmines and explosive devices. The book delineated in monetary terms the benefits gained by specific countries and named manufacturing companies engaged in the production of the landmines, the armed actors using them, and localities where the landmines were used.

The book then compared the benefits gained by small arms dealers to the loss of human lives and the maiming of many more who live a lower quality of a painful life due to the small arms and landmines. The spirit of the publication was that for so few dollars gained as a benefit, lives worth much more were lost in Mozambique, Angola, Sudan, and many other places. This fueled increased funding to the demining sector and demining in Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, among other countries.

This article asserts that peace in Africa and elsewhere in the world is not increased or decreased by the access of small arms or improvised devices; instead, deaths are increased. With this, the lives of children, women, and families bear the brunt of unwarranted use of small arms and munitions with locally fabricated and improvised devices.

Re-calibrating Reporting on Arms Trade

There is a need for the re-calibration of how to report on small arms. Already there is enough in the places and on the routes where small arms are found: the deaths, being in the wrong hands, the manufacturing, and who controls production. It would be useful to report with evidence drawn from the formal and informal sectors on small arms depicting the benefits and accrued gains. More concrete evidence is needed to depict who is benefiting, in what location are there key trade gains and benefits; by how many dollars, and where are the dollars kept or invested? Such information would become useful and would create innovations on how to address the advent of the proliferation of small arms by locality.

Accounting for Benefits of Small Arms

The benefits of small arms are more than just the sale and resale of a gun and munitions. The sale of bullets and other supplies that keep the guns working creates benefits. The use of the gun and when and where it is used create gains and benefits, too! An example of some coverage with evidence on this has been captured by The Sentry on its reportage of South Sudan.6

The use of guns and locally fabricated/improvised devices creates greater gains and benefits, but for whom? The use of guns in the blood-mining operations, particularly in Africa, is at times linked to renowned land-owning, mining, and oil companies of industrialized countries. This needs to be exposed with their names, addresses, their earnings, and benefits. They then need to be brought to account responsibly. The Enough Project on South Sudan of 2020 is one such report.7

Criminalization or Legalization, Not Enough!

Criminalization or legalization of small arms is not enough! As reported in the media, lessons from the US on access to guns in the hands of adults and families tell us clearly that this is also a route for guns into the hands of children. How does a family end up with more than two pistols, a gun, and also have more than a handful of an assortment of legalized guns? This type of self-defense defeats logic. This article avers the use of approaches that engage with communities and local governing structures on how to address this phenomenon. This would offer opportunities for local solutions on the proliferation and use of small arms. 

Increased Restriction and Control are not an Answer Either

Early on, the use of vehicles to massacre innocent persons (France 2016) was witnessed, but the latest in radicalized attacks involves the use of knives. In Somalia, there is open access to large quantities of small arms and light weapons, yet non-state actors choose to use improvised devices. This is a trend elsewhere in the world. For instance, the use of vehicles to massacre innocent persons in France (2016). The latest in radicalized attacks involves the use of knives. But what is the meaning of all this when France is setting up a War Academy in DR Congo (UN/AFP June 2020)?8 Moreover, France supports training police and the other armed units of the government. A part of the support is the supply of small arms and munitions as indicated in Security Sector Reform in DR Congo reports.9 How are these efforts equipped if not with guns, munitions, and more guns?10

Beneficiaries in the Access and Use of Small Arms are Formal and Informal, Legal and Illegal

Actual beneficiaries include: 

Operatives and facilitators of access and logisticians who make small arms and other substances for improvised explosive devices accessible.

Law enforcement officials are part of the beneficiaries and continue to gain with underhanded benefits in their jurisdiction. Some legal users of guns also benefit for instance from renting an official gun for informal non-state operations in mining, wildlife poaching, and other informal uses.11

The real big fish are always ever in the background, and their roles in the whole scheme are often not exposed fully. They earn and gain from the deaths and maiming of persons not involved at all in the whole fray. They act and operate both in the formal (authorized legal context) and informal sector (non-state and informal trade context).

The real faces in these categories need to be exposed with evidence, based on their identities, benefits, and the gains they make out of small arms and improvised devices. For peace to prevail in the world, it is not just about the mind and heart; it is the soul and the creation of peace spaces and relations that contribute to humanizing living together.

Kisuke NDIKU is a peacebuilding practitioner and an independent Consultant in Kenya working in the Greater Horn and East Africa Region. He works with PRECISE, a regional agency, with advisory, consulting, coaching, mentoring, training, program design, development, and evaluation services. He has served on boards of organizations and as a Country Representative of donor agencies and has held portfolios as Director and Advisor to agencies.

The Sentry, (Oct 2020). State of Prey Proxies, Predators, and Profiteers in the Central African Republic See also Looted Funds Used to Buy African Real Estate (July 2020). -

The Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control, and Reduction of small arms and light weapons in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa (2004),

ENACT, (2018) Africa in 'Arms Research funded by EC;

Col. Nganga F. (2008) Effects of Proliferation of Small Arms in Sub-Sahara Africa -

5 Bhinda, N., Cranna, M., Eavis, P., & Earthscan. (1994). The true cost of conflict. London: Earthscan Publications.

6 The Sentry, (2019). The Taking South Sudan -

7 “The Sentry, Publication Series: "Al-Cardinal: South Sudan’s Original Oligarch” [October 7, 2019]; “Untapped and Unprepared: Dirty Deals Threaten South Sudan’s Mining Sector” [April 2, 2020]; “Making A Killing South Sudanese Military Leaders’ Wealth, Explained” [May 27, 2020]

8 UN accuses multiple countries of quietly sending arms to DR Congo -

9 Role of the EU in Security Sector Reform in DR Congo, (2020) -

10 DCAF/International Security Sector Advisory Team Publications-

11 Human Rights Watch, (2020. PLAYING WITH FIRE -

Photo: MONUSCO Photos, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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