#ZimbabweanLivesMatter: Can South Africa get it right this time?

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced during a press briefing, that his government has postponed independence day celebrations and discouraged locals from travelling to all affected countries, even though the country has no detected cases so far of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Harare on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

 

Amid a spiralling economic and political crisis, President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed the people of Zimbabwe on Tuesday 4 August. His speech, although sudden – four days after his government’s violent  clampdown on the July 31 citizen protests – was highly anticipated. There may have been a desperate hope in some sections of the bruised citizenry that the president would, perhaps in the remotest of ways, acknowledge their suffering and hint at atoning for the state’s brutality. However, the ‘crocodile’ neither acknowledged the legitimacy of the widespread grievances against his leadership nor took any responsibility for bringing the country to this precipice. Instead, President Mnangagwa argued that his administration “has been undermined by the divisive politics of the opposition, sanctions, cyclones, droughts and now COVID19”, and blamed widespread protests on “a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors.” The President’s speech exposed a tone deaf and intransigent government at war with its long-suffering citizens.

For the past two decades Zimbabwean citizens have engaged in diverse, valiant efforts to use every legally available avenue to expedite democratic reform. Many Zimbabwean citizens have made heroic efforts to shed light on the gross corruption and mismanagement that has characterised ZANU-PF’s rule and created a staggering man-made disaster. They are currently caught between a regime willing to go to any lengths to crackdown on dissent, the need to navigate the day-to-day difficulties of securing precarious livelihoods, and the fear of contracting COVID-19. In the face of an unrelenting regime and rising from the crushed hopes of 31 July 2020 protests, Zimbabwean citizens have grafted the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign onto ‘the energy and anger of the global’ outcry that #BlackLivesMatter. Can the South African government, whose President has taken  an unequivocal stance on #BlackLivesMatter continue on an indeterminate posture on the plight of its neighbour’s black lives? Their economic and political fate, as aptly observed by SAIIA CEO Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, is intertwined with its own and that of the region.

South Africa is ideally placed to push for change in Zimbabwe, with the two countries sharing many social, political, and economic ties. South Africa remains one of the country’s most important trading partners. Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of its total imports and exports 75 percent of its total exports to South Africa. However, despite the countries’ growing stake in each other’s fates, South Africa’s response to the deepening crisis across the Limpopo leaves much to be desired. Zimbabwe is now considered one of the four most food-insecure countries in the world, alongside Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan. More than 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s 15.6 million people are considered food insecure. Around one in three children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition. The country has the highest inflation rate in the world at around 800 percent, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects economic contraction of 10.4 percent in 2020, following a 12.8 percent contraction in 2019.

The healthcare system has collapsed, and every day Zimbabwean citizens face persistent fuel shortages and rolling blackouts. The number of Zimbabweans using illegal entry points along the Limpopo River to access medical services and basic commodities has dramatically increased in recent weeks,  heightening the chances of cross-border transmission of COVID-19 in both directions. As many desperate Zimbabweans will make the dangerous journey south, the South African government is poorly prepared to deal with an escalating migrant crisis. The country is wrestling with its own record unemployment levels. Increasingly, regional integration and the flow of people, commodities, knowledge and information means that insecurity anywhere is a threat to security everywhere, challenging the principle of non-interference which has guided foreign relations between southern African states and become institutionalized in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Decades of  non-interference, liberation politics, and ‘quiet diplomacy’ on behalf of the ANC has simply allowed a political and military elite in Zimbabwe to plunder the country’s resources, undermine democracy, and create an economic crisis with implications for the wider Southern African region.

A more urgent and concrete stance is imperative. It is befitting therefore that after what had seemed like another bout of silence, the Government of South Africa, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) ‘noted with concern the reports related to human rights violations in the Republic of #Zimbabwe’. However, from the Mbeki to Zuma administrations, this political gesturing is well-worn. Building on #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, a campaign that has attracted resounding regional and international intervention calls from ordinary citizens, celebrities, politicians, diplomats and multi-lateral institutions alike, it is now ‘easier for SA and the SADC to begin a meaningful engagement with all stakeholders’. But will they? South Africa in particular has an opportunity as a strategic arbiter to harness all these voices across multiple platforms that can begin the work of persuading stakeholders to come to the negotiating table. It is time for the South African government to boldly break out of the ‘liberation war-pact’ cocoon and stand with the citizens of Zimbabwe.

DIRCO’s emphasis on government to government engagement, reported to have been initiated through a telephonic call between Dr. Naledi Pandor and her Zimbabwean counterpart Dr. Sibusiso Moyo, seems to thwart any hopes for including citizen voices. Dr. Pandor’s non-committal reference to ‘South Africa’s readiness to assist if requested’ does not imbue confidence of a radical departure from previous administrations. President Mnangagwa’s 4 August speech and Government Spokesperson Nick Mangwana’s press release (two days later) declaring reports of human rights violations as ‘false’ are not a request for assistance. South Africa now needs to build the diplomatic muscle required to crack through Harare’s hardball defence. Through the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign, the Zimbabwean citizens’ request for assistance has been unambiguously echoed and clearly endorsed regionally and globally. As well noted by the Executive Director of Good Governance Africa, Chris Maroleng, ‘…it is incumbent on…especially…government… in South Africa to stand up and basically call on the government of Zimbabwe to cease and desist from such anti-democratic behaviour.’ South Africa has a unique opportunity to get it right this time. Many are ready to assist.

This article originally appeared in Business Day.

 

Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.

Gun trouble in the green city in the sun

Kenya: the arms race

Kenyan authorities are grappling to answer the question of how large numbers of illegal firearms have ended up in civilian hands

Kenyan government minister George Saitoti (R)
inspects a cache of illegal firearms in Nairobi in
March 2010 before it is set ablaze as part of
a government campaign to mop-up illicit small
arms and light weapons that are at the centre of
violent crime in Kenya and Africa.
Photo: TONY KARUMBA / AFP

Referred to as the “green city in the sun”, Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, hosts more than 100 multinationals, including the United Nations Environment Programme. It is seen as a city with solid business magnetism and rich culture, and it is home to the second oldest stock exchange in Africa. But that is as far as Nairobi’s picture glows. The death rate from guns in Nairobi is 33 for every 100,000 people per year. Factoring in its population of 3.5 million, this means that on average, a gun death occurs once every nine hours, 25 minutes and 49 seconds. The high crime rate is tied to the fact that there are six illegal guns in the hands of every 100 Nairobians. The 2018 Annual Crime Report by the National Police Service indicates that there were 4,954 crime cases in Nairobi in 2016.

This went up to 7,434 in the succeeding year before dipping slightly to 7,128 in 2018. This is almost six times higher than the same rate in north-eastern Kenya, which borders two volatile countries – Somalia and Ethiopia. The organised crime rate in Ethiopia was at 1,122, 1,323 and 1,490 in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively. In the same period under review, in Nairobi 10 police officers were killed in 2017, and 11 in 2018 compared to three officers in central Kenya in each of the same years. The Kenyan police expect crime rates to increase in 2020 due to growth in the illicit trade in firearms and the rise in drug abuse. In 2018, 192 firearms were recovered and 19 surrendered. Of these, 121 guns were reclaimed from Nairobi County, representing 63% of the total guns recaptured in the country.

Experts associate the sale of illegal weapons, which has hit crisis proportions, with high crime rates in Nairobi. According to the Institute for Security Studies, a think tank based in Pretoria, black marketers sell about 11,000 guns in Nairobi every year. Most of them enter Kenya through the porous borders of Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda. Due the nature of the borders, cross-border crime continues to be a challenge, Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai told Africa in Fact. He says Kibish in Turkana County has emerged as a hotspot for such incidents. Security personnel and criminals from Ethiopia and Uganda, he says, come through the border and confront Kenyan civilians and security officers. At the Kibish border point, 70 km from Nairobi, there were a total of 26 reported incidences in 2018, resulting in 11 deaths – 10 civilians and a police officer.

Once inside Kenya, the firearms are transported to major urban areas such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Narok, and Kisumu, to cities and slums where sales are fast, guaranteed, and the returns are higher. The arms merchants know which routes to use and which ones to avoid, says Aggrey Mwakisha, a security analyst based in Lunga Lunga at the Kenya-Tanzania border. Mwakisha says the guns traders are so powerful that they even influence the transfer of individual members of the security apparatus who they deem unfriendly to their cause. Their organisation and logistics resemble those of drug dealers, he notes, and that some of the most common ways of transporting arms include the use of police vehicles, ambulances, and trucks disguised to look like they are carrying grain or transporting animals to market. The police say that Eastleigh is one of the main places in Nairobi where guns are sold.

The neighbourhood is sometimes referred to as “small Mogadishu” due to its large population of Somalis. A senior officer at the Department of Criminal Investigations, who requested anonymity, says that at least two small guns and about 100 bullets are sold in the area every day. At some black markets in Eastleigh, guns are leased out at a price of between Sh15,000 ($150) and Sh50,000 ($500) a night, depending on the “assignment”. A bullet, he adds, is sold for Sh500 ($5). This is Sh400 ($4) more than the retail price at Lwakhakha, on the Kenya-Uganda border, which is well known for its coffee bean smuggling. Meagre salaries, coupled with poor working conditions, have also seen some security officers getting involved in criminal acts, renting out their guns or selling bullets to criminals, for example. Most of the guns held in Kenya are unlicensed, according to a June 2018 briefing paper by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.

These firearms range from improvised craft weapons, like self-loading pistols, to factory-made handguns, rifles and shotguns – many of which are associated with the growing number of breakins, muggings and hijackings. The Small Arms Survey estimates that there is slightly more than one gun per 100 civilians in Kenya. Out of the 650,000 private firearms, only 8,136 are licensed. Kenya’s stockpile of privately-owned guns is larger than those of its East African peers: Uganda has 331,000, Ethiopia stands at 377,000, while Rwanda’s stack is 66,000. Ironically, the number of guns in private hands in Kenya is much larger than the 45,790 held by the military and 51,527 in the hands of the police. No wonder, then, that Kenya recorded 2,305 gun related deaths in 2014 and 2,261 in 2015 (During the same period, the UK recorded 14 and 11 deaths caused by guns, respectively.)

How large numbers of guns have ended up in civilian hands is a question authorities are still grappling to answer. A source at Kenya’s Central Firearms Bureau says the country has strict guidelines on arms acquisition in place, but these are frustrated by corruption, incompetence and political intimidation. No thorough vetting is done before applicants are issued with gun licences, according to the same source; civilians without sufficient training in the use of small arms can still become licensed firearms holders. In late 2018, Internal Security Minister Fred Matiang’i disbanded the entire Firearms Licensing Board and appointed new board members. The minister also suspended the licences of all firearms dealers and ordered them to be vetted afresh.

The chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Kagwiria Mbogori, notes that the demand for illegal arms in Nairobi has been rising since October 2011, when Kenya launched Operation Linda Nchi (Operation Protect the Nation) against Al-Shabaab in Somalia following a series of extremist attacks and kidnappings of foreigners in the northern part of Kenya. Mbogori says the use the arms against civilian targets is rising. She warned of “declining security dynamics” if the arms supply was not stemmed urgently. In her view, the crucial influence on the illicit arms trade in Kenya is poor security in unstable countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, northern Uganda, and southern Ethiopia. Given the reality of porous borders and ill-equipped security agencies, preventing the proliferation of arms in Kenya will take concerted internal and external efforts.

The best way to deal effectively with illegal small arms sales is by intensifying intelligence gathering, Mbogori argues. The sources and mechanisms of arms acquisition and distribution channels need to be monitored and addressed in particular, she adds. According to Kenya’s 2019 State of the National Security report, some 650,000 light weapons are privately owned countrywide. In a media briefing on the state of security on October 18, Kenyan government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna said it had come up with a raft of strategies to address the proliferation of illicit arms. These strategies would be applied not only in Nairobi but the whole of the country. As part of this, the government says it has developed a draft national policy on small arms and light weapons and a Small Arms and Light Weapons Control and Management Bill.

Once it is made into law, the Bill will be augmented by the Protocol on the Prevention, Combating and Eradication of Cattle Rustling in Eastern Africa of August 2008 and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which it will soon ratify. Meanwhile, the internal security ministry says it is implementing “stiff measures” to control the private ownership of guns. Early in 2019, the ministry called on all people possessing illegal firearms to surrender them to the relevant authorities. And in addition to the measures taken against gun dealers, Matiang’i has ordered the fresh vetting of 4,407 private gun owners suspected of having acquired their weapons illegally, or through corruption. Matiang’i says the vetting exercise has been successful so far, with those found to have obtained their licences through corruption losing their firearms, although he did not supply figures.

Matiang’i says about 40 organised criminal groups are operating in Kenya, including one known as the Mombasa Republican Council, based in Coast Province, and the notoriously violent Mungiki gang in central Kenya. “Organised criminal gangs pose a headache to … national security. There is growing recognition that the intersection between organised crime and terror groups is deepening and becoming more complex,” he said on September 27 2019 when he launched a crackdown on Mungiki in Gatundu, central Kenya. Mutyambai said in a statement to newsrooms in May 2019 that the government had redoubled its efforts to curb illicit firearms and that doing so was crucial to the success of Kenya’s agenda for economic growth, known as the “Big Four”, which was unveiled by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018.

This plan sees security as one of four elements required for long-term investment and sustained economic development. Kenya continues to invest in internal security by equipping the police, improving their welfare and embracing a multi-sectoral approach to fighting insecurity, Mutyambai said. But Nairobi County Governor Mike Sonko differs. He blames the high number of gun-related crimes in the city on youth unemployment, which stands at an average of 39.1%, according to the 2017 UN Human Development Index. “Many youth still possess illegal guns in Nairobi,” he told Africa in Fact. “Action needs to be taken against them, but for this to yield fruit, the police need to work closely with the community. The governor says he is working on pro-youth policies aimed at generating opportunities for young people to earn a living.

These include “engaging with” young people, developing alternative sources of work and income, and driving enrolments at technical training colleges that will “arm” young people with employable competencies, he told Africa in Fact. Meanwhile, young people say that deeply ingrained corruption and nepotism continue to frustrate their ambitions for employment. Jacob Macharia, 26, has an accounting degree from Kenyatta University, but it’s been four years since he graduated and he has yet to find a job. Unless you know someone “up there” in either the public or corporate sector, he says, you won’t even be shortlisted for a job interview. “The exasperation of joblessness” and the need to survive drive many people in Nairobi to buy firearms and engage in crime, he says. But that’s not an option for him, Macharia insists. He refuses to pay for a job, and says he may have to “retire” to his rural home in Nyeri, central Kenya, to work in the not-so-promising farming business.

Eddy Oduor is an economist and a statistician with more than 15 years’ experience in data analysis. He runs an independent research firm in Nairobi, Kenya, that consults on trade, regional integration and infrastructure.

Gun trouble in the green city in the sun

Kenya: the arms race

Kenyan authorities are grappling to answer the question of how large numbers of illegal firearms have ended up in civilian hands

Kenyan government minister George Saitoti (R)
inspects a cache of illegal firearms in Nairobi in
March 2010 before it is set ablaze as part of
a government campaign to mop-up illicit small
arms and light weapons that are at the centre of
violent crime in Kenya and Africa. Photo: TONY KARUMBA / AFP

Referred to as the “green city in the sun”, Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, hosts more than 100 multinationals, including the United Nations Environment Programme. It is seen as a city with solid business magnetism and rich culture, and it is home to the second oldest stock exchange in Africa. But that is as far as Nairobi’s picture glows. The death rate from guns in Nairobi is 33 for every 100,000 people per year. Factoring in its population of 3.5 million, this means that on average, a gun death occurs once every nine hours, 25 minutes and 49 seconds. The high crime rate is tied to the fact that there are six illegal guns in the hands of every 100 Nairobians. The 2018 Annual Crime Report by the National Police Service indicates that there were 4,954 crime cases in Nairobi in 2016.

This went up to 7,434 in the succeeding year before dipping slightly to 7,128 in 2018. This is almost six times higher than the same rate in north-eastern Kenya, which borders two volatile countries – Somalia and Ethiopia. The organised crime rate in Ethiopia was at 1,122, 1,323 and 1,490 in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively. In the same period under review, in Nairobi 10 police officers were killed in 2017, and 11 in 2018 compared to three officers in central Kenya in each of the same years. The Kenyan police expect crime rates to increase in 2020 due to growth in the illicit trade in firearms and the rise in drug abuse. In 2018, 192 firearms were recovered and 19 surrendered. Of these, 121 guns were reclaimed from Nairobi County, representing 63% of the total guns recaptured in the country.

Experts associate the sale of illegal weapons, which has hit crisis proportions, with high crime rates in Nairobi. According to the Institute for Security Studies, a think tank based in Pretoria, black marketers sell about 11,000 guns in Nairobi every year. Most of them enter Kenya through the porous borders of Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda. Due the nature of the borders, cross-border crime continues to be a challenge, Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai told Africa in Fact. He says Kibish in Turkana County has emerged as a hotspot for such incidents. Security personnel and criminals from Ethiopia and Uganda, he says, come through the border and confront Kenyan civilians and security officers. At the Kibish border point, 70 km from Nairobi, there were a total of 26 reported incidences in 2018, resulting in 11 deaths – 10 civilians and a police officer.

Once inside Kenya, the firearms are transported to major urban areas such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Narok, and Kisumu, to cities and slums where sales are fast, guaranteed, and the returns are higher. The arms merchants know which routes to use and which ones to avoid, says Aggrey Mwakisha, a security analyst based in Lunga Lunga at the Kenya-Tanzania border. Mwakisha says the guns traders are so powerful that they even influence the transfer of individual members of the security apparatus who they deem unfriendly to their cause. Their organisation and logistics resemble those of drug dealers, he notes, and that some of the most common ways of transporting arms include the use of police vehicles, ambulances, and trucks disguised to look like they are carrying grain or transporting animals to market.

The police say that Eastleigh is one of the main places in Nairobi where guns are sold. The neighbourhood is sometimes referred to as “small Mogadishu” due to its large population of Somalis. A senior officer at the Department of Criminal Investigations, who requested anonymity, says that at least two small guns and about 100 bullets are sold in the area every day. At some black markets in Eastleigh, guns are leased out at a price of between Sh15,000 ($150) and Sh50,000 ($500) a night, depending on the “assignment”. A bullet, he adds, is sold for Sh500 ($5). This is Sh400 ($4) more than the retail price at Lwakhakha, on the Kenya-Uganda border, which is well known for its coffee bean smuggling. Meagre salaries, coupled with poor working conditions, have also seen some security officers getting involved in criminal acts, renting out their guns or selling bullets to criminals, for example.

Most of the guns held in Kenya are unlicensed, according to a June 2018 briefing paper by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey. These firearms range from improvised craft weapons, like self-loading pistols, to factory-made handguns, rifles and shotguns – many of which are associated with the growing number of break ins, muggings and hijackings. The Small Arms Survey estimates Kenya: the arms race that there is slightly more than one gun per 100 civilians in Kenya. Out of the 650,000 private firearms, only 8,136 are licensed. Kenya’s stockpile of privately-owned guns is larger than those of its East African peers: Uganda has 331,000, Ethiopia stands at 377,000, while Rwanda’s stack is 66,000. Ironically, the number of guns in private hands in Kenya is much larger than the 45,790 held by the military and 51,527 in the hands of the police.

No wonder, then, that Kenya recorded 2,305 gun related deaths in 2014 and 2,261 in 2015 (During the same period, the UK recorded 14 and 11 deaths caused by guns, respectively.) How large numbers of guns have ended up in civilian hands is a question authorities are still grappling to answer. A source at Kenya’s Central Firearms Bureau says the country has strict guidelines on arms acquisition in place, but these are frustrated by corruption, incompetence and political intimidation. No thorough vetting is done before applicants are issued with gun licences, according to the same source; civilians without sufficient training in the use of small arms can still become licensed firearms holders. In late 2018, Internal Security Minister Fred Matiang’i disbanded the entire Firearms Licensing Board and appointed new board members.

The minister also suspended the licences of all firearms dealers and ordered them to be vetted afresh. The chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Kagwiria Mbogori, notes that the demand for illegal arms in Nairobi has been rising since October 2011, when Kenya launched Operation Linda Nchi (Operation Protect the Nation) against Al-Shabaab in Somalia following a series of extremist attacks and kidnappings of foreigners in the northern part of Kenya. Mbogori says the use the arms against civilian targets is rising. She warned of “declining security dynamics” if the arms supply was not stemmed urgently. In her view, the crucial influence on the illicit arms trade in Kenya is poor security in unstable countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, northern Uganda, and southern Ethiopia.

Given the reality of porous borders and ill-equipped security agencies, preventing the proliferation of arms in Kenya will take concerted internal and external efforts. The best way to deal effectively with illegal small arms sales is by intensifying intelligence gathering, Mbogori argues. The sources and mechanisms of arms acquisition and distribution channels need to be monitored and addressed in particular, she adds. According to Kenya’s 2019 State of the National Security report, some 650,000 light weapons are privately owned countrywide. In a media briefing on the state of security on October 18, Kenyan government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna said it had come up with a raft of strategies to address the proliferation of illicit arms. These strategies would be applied not only in Nairobi but the whole of the country.

As part of this, the government says it has developed a draft national policy on small arms and light weapons and a Small Arms and Light Weapons Control and Management Bill. Once it is made into law, the Bill will be augmented by the Protocol on the Prevention, Combating and Eradication of Cattle Rustling in Eastern Africa of August 2008 and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which it will soon ratify. Meanwhile, the internal security ministry says it is implementing “stiff measures” to control the private ownership of guns. Early in 2019, the ministry called on all people possessing illegal firearms to surrender them to the relevant authorities. And in addition to the measures taken against gun dealers, Matiang’i has ordered the fresh vetting of 4,407 private gun owners suspected of having acquired their weapons illegally, or through corruption.

Matiang’i says the vetting exercise has been successful so far, with those found to have obtained their licences through corruption losing their firearms, although he did not supply figures. Matiang’i says about 40 organised criminal groups are operating in Kenya, including one known as the Mombasa Republican Council, based in Coast Province, and the notoriously violent Mungiki gang in central Kenya. “Organised criminal gangs pose a headache to … national security. There is growing recognition that the intersection between organised crime and terror groups is deepening and becoming more complex,” he said on September 27 2019 when he launched a crackdown on Mungiki in Gatundu, central Kenya. Mutyambai said in a statement to newsrooms in May 2019 that the government had redoubled its efforts to curb illicit firearms and that doing so was crucial to the success of Kenya’s agenda for economic growth, known as the “Big Four”, which was unveiled by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018.

This plan sees security as one of four elements required for long-term investment and sustained economic development. Kenya continues to invest in internal security by equipping the police, improving their welfare and embracing a multi-sectoral approach to fighting insecurity, Mutyambai said. But Nairobi County Governor Mike Sonko differs. He blames the high number of gun-related crimes in the city on youth unemployment, which stands at an average of 39.1%, according to the 2017 UN Human Development Index. “Many youth still possess illegal guns in Nairobi,” he told Africa in Fact. “Action needs to be taken against them, but for this to yield fruit, the police need to work closely with the community. The governor says he is working on pro-youth policies aimed at generating opportunities for young people to earn a living.

These include “engaging with” young people, developing alternative sources of work and income, and driving enrolments at technical training colleges that will “arm” young people with employable competencies, he told Africa in Fact. Meanwhile, young people say that deeply ingrained corruption and nepotism continue to frustrate their ambitions for employment. Jacob Macharia, 26, has an accounting degree from Kenyatta University, but it’s been four years since he graduated and he has yet to find a job. Unless you know someone “up there” in either the public or corporate sector, he says, you won’t even be shortlisted for a job interview. “The exasperation of joblessness” and the need to survive drive many people in Nairobi to buy firearms and engage in crime, he says.

But that’s not an option for him, Macharia insists. He refuses to pay for a job, and says he may have to “retire” to his rural home in Nyeri, central Kenya, to work in the not-so-promising farming business.

Eddy Oduor is an economist and a statistician with more than 15 years’ experience in data analysis. He runs an independent research firm in Nairobi, Kenya, that consults on trade, regional integration and infrastructure.

A plague of greed and illegality

Small arms and light weapons: an African overview

State fragility and political instability continue to create an ever-increasing demand for small arms and light weapons

Arms and ammunition recovered from Boko
Haram jihadists are displayed at the headquarters of the 120th Battalion in Goniri, Yobe State in north-eastern Nigeria in July 2019. Boko Haram’s decade-long campaign of violence has killed 27,000 people and displaced about two million in Nigeria. The insurgency has spilled over into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting formation of a regional military coalition to defeat the jihadist group.
Photo: AUDU MARTE / AFP

Following the end of World War II, Africa’s period of independence induced euphoria and sense of the prosperity that would follow the decolonisation of Africa did not last long. The continent became part of the Cold War battlefield. The Cold War was essentially a clash of ideologies and economic models, with the traditional West and the Soviet-dominated East bloc competing to gain influence and expand and develop their overseas interests. Africa posed a tempting – and wealthy – prize to the winner. The continent has an abundance of natural and mineral resources, overseen by untested and weak governments, and also a range of strategic locations. During this period Africa was characterised by fragile and failed states, and virtually synonymous with wars and assassinations, coups d’état, civil wars, covert operations and destabilisation (Africa’s first self-orchestrated regime change occurred in Egypt in 1952, when the reigning monarchy there was overthrown).

As a result, the continent also became an uncontrolled dumping ground for military weapons and equipment, primarily from the now defunct East Bloc. But the problems did not end there. A rise in terror-inspired movements, transnational organised crime and acts of genocide followed the end of the Cold War. Along with collapsed economies and failing governance, government brutality and crackdowns have added to a rising sense of anger, discontent, and fear among many African populations. Any government is defined by the people involved and the institutions they adopt. The government is the direction-giving mechanism of the national trajectory, and it is responsible for the development and implementation of the policies that guide, direct, and safeguard that trajectory. Policies require action and implementation, but the continent’s governments have often failed to implement them – especially policies related to governance, security and stability.

This generates failed or fragile governments, which exploit tensions and conflict, incentivising armed criminal networks, anti-government movements and proxy forces, and allowing safety and security failures to gain traction. Given their political and social instability, many governments have strengthened their power bases and sought to improve the quantity and quality of their security forces. Often they have done so by making use of both regional and foreign government security services and equipment. Continuing instability has, additionally, led to an increase in the involvement of foreign governments and private business organisations providing governments with services that range from private security to military training and related services – often with little to no oversight. Conversely, anti-government movements have established their own militias and have armed themselves, sometimes by raiding government arsenals. Similarly, domestic and transnational criminal networks have been able to buy, steal, and sell weapons to further their criminality.

The often-glaring deficit in (multi)national intelligence and the inability of security forces to act pre-emptively have also incentivised anti-government movements and criminal groups, allowing them to act almost with impunity. Additionally, porous borders have enabled armed groups to act transnationally and find safe havens in neighbouring countries, enabling armed action against civilians and governments. Political fragility and instability, along with the erosion of national security, have led to an increased demand for weapons. For example, over the period 1990 to 2005, armed conflict cost Africa approximately $18 billion per year, according to a 2009 report by the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN). The collapse of the Libyan government in 2011, for example, allowed criminals and jihadist movements to raid abandoned and uncontrolled Libyan government arsenals.

Large quantities of these weapons were moved across Africa, finding their way to groups such as Boko Haram (BH) in Nigeria (according to a captured BH member interviewed by the author in Nigeria in 2016), Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (more commonly known as Al-Shabaab) in Somalia, and the Allied Democratic Force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Similarly, weapons are being “lost” by law enforcement officers and military personnel on a frequent basis. In a recent case, a South African policewoman was found to have been “renting out” her service weapon to pay her debts. Available data on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons suggests that approximately 100 million weapons are available in Africa. It is, furthermore, estimated that 59% are civilian-owned, 38% in possession of government armed forces, 2,8% owned by law enforcement agencies and 0,2% in possession of armed groups, according to a February 2018 article on the AllAfrica website.

Civilians who do not choose sides or participate in violence or the small arms trade pay a heavy price for their governments’ lack of accountability and oversight of their light weapons and civilian firearms. Armed anti-government and criminal groups are able to recruit followers from a disgruntled civilian population – or coerce their cooperation. Ongoing instability and cross-border conflicts, along with armed organised transnational criminal groups, have increased the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. According to the UN Security Council’s report on small arms (S/2008/258, dated 2 June, 2009), “the dividing lines between underdevelopment, instability, fragility, crisis, conflict and war are increasingly blurred; the small arms issue is therefore intertwined with the security, development, and human rights preconditions for sustainable peace. Present-day conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and peace building require multi-dimensional interventions”, according to the AFJN report mentioned earlier.

State fragility and political instability in Africa continue to create an ever-increasing demand for small arms and light weapons by governments as well as anti-government forces and criminal networks. January – March 2020 47 Small arms and light weapons manufacturers and suppliers understand and exploit the links between political instability and the armaments market. The market space has opened up to illegal arms deals and the movement of arms by both legitimate and unscrupulous arms dealers. There is evidence that legally obtained arms find their way onto the black market, where they are sold to whoever needs them – or can afford them. Political instability and conflict have enabled private security companies (PSCs) and private military companies (PMCs) uncontrolled access in Africa. Typically, these companies have a number of roles, including offering private-sector security training and operations such as protecting high-value assets, critical industries and people. Other services include training law enforcement personnel and armed forces.

Many PSCs and PMCs abide by the laws of their hosts and work at making a positive impact, but some use the continent’s endemic instability and conflict to further their own aims. PSCs have been known to arm ill-trained personnel and to exercise little control over the weapons issued to security guards. “Misplaced” weapons usually go unreported. Meanwhile, an influx of small arms and light weapons is also due to governments evading the UN’s Programme of Action on Small Arms and its International Tracing Instrument (available on the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs site). This is particularly driven by governments aiming to expand their interests through armed conflict, either overtly or covertly. In addition to the illegal arms sales networks, there are links between the legal and the illegal trade where legally obtained arms are sold illegally. Anti-government movements, inspired by religion and supported by sectarian governments – frequently viewed as “rogue governments” – have resulted in a dramatic rise in sectarian violence, especially in North, West and East Africa.

These governments typically support regional anti-government movements in other countries, financially and morally, and by providing arms – evading UN arms controls where possible. These religious anti-government movements are gaining traction, spreading their tentacles southward as they do so. This means that the flow of weapons into previously stable regions has increased, creating ungoverned spaces controlled by armed anti-government movements. The recent deployment into Mozambique by the Russian PMC “Wagner Group” highlights the problems involved when a PMC is unprepared for its mission(s) and attacked by anti-government forces. Wagner Group members, working alongside Mozambique troops, were ambushed in northern Mozambique in late October 2019, according to a report on the Moscow Times website, and suffered numerous casualties. The antigovernment forces seized all of their weapons and equipment. Non-state actors have contributed significantly to the uncontrolled trade in small arms and light weapons.

Armed political opposition groups, secessionist movements, terrorists, criminal networks, transnational herdsmen and hunters and poachers have all added to the uncontrolled movement of this weaponry. These groups typically occupy ungoverned spaces or areas where there is little law enforcement, enabling them to use weapons to secure their own safety while exercising control over these areas and the people who live there. These groups often fund themselves by resorting to armed criminality. The proliferation of small arms and light weapons has become an impediment to the socio-economic development of many African states. Security policies, including policies aimed at controlling the flow and use of arms, cannot be implemented by fragile or failed governments. In some cases, policies are unimplementable, or make no allowance for managing and monitoring the proposed approach and legislation. Within this complex and dynamic environment, the oversight and control of small arms and light weapons are tasks that will continue to plague governments.

As noted, the lack of oversight has impacted on communities, countries and regional landscapes, resulting in a rise in armed criminality and endangering innocent civilians. It has, furthermore, prevented the delivery of economic, humanitarian and social aid, and contributed to the displacement of people and uncontrolled migration. As discussed, the uncontrolled movement and use of small arms and light weapons is indicative of poor or non-existent governance and a lack of effective security measures and policies. The proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Africa has direct, indirect, and consequential impacts on the human resources of the continent. Annually, thousands of innocent people, law enforcement officers and soldiers are killed or wounded by weapons in the hands of antigovernment groups and criminal gangs.

Governments that refuse to act decisively – and without dedicated and driven political will to improve governance, law enforcement and security – incentivise armed action against the state and against the populace. This lack of performance adds to the greed and illegality of unscrupulous arms manufacturers and traders. There is little doubt that small arms and light weapons in Africa will continue to proliferate if governments continue to neglect the politics and governance, and if they lack effective policies to reduce illegal gun control.

Eeben Barlow has served as a division commander, battalion commander, and Special Operations Group commander for several African armed forces, where he holds the rank of major general. He has authored several books, frequently speaks at conferences, and lectures at numerous African and foreign universities on conflict and war in Africa. He is chairman of STTEP International Ltd.