Combating Arms trafficking and smuggling in Central Africa – What Strategies?

By Eugene Arnaud Yombo Sembe

Since the end of the Cold War, Central Africa has been greatly marked by illicit proliferation and circulation of arms. The consequences are quite perceptible in the context of armed conflicts, such as civil wars, separatist wars and transnational terrorism carried out by Boko Haram. These weapons circulate wildly and uncontrollably, particularly in the Central African sub-region. How can we better control arms transfers? What strategies are needed today to limit the proliferation and illicit circulation of arms in the sub region? A strategy that applies at national, continental, sub-regional and international levels would be effective in stopping the phenomenon.

Despite the negotiations within the framework of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa (UNSAC) [1], the Central African Convention for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition, Parts and Components that can be used for their manufacture, repair or assembly, also known as the Kinshasa Convention, aims at regulating Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) and combating their illicit trade and trafficking in Central Africa, many reasons can justify the proliferation and circulation of arms in Central Africa’s sub region. Among them, are sociopolitical factors, armed conflicts, movements of refugees and uncontrolled international business of arms. Equally, some features also facilitate the illicit and anarchic circulation of arms in the sub-region: lack of coercive international legislation, ambiguous regulation of certain arms like Kalachnikov (AK-47), lack of a credible instrument on the assessment of arms and lastly, physical characteristics of those arms. Those arms circulate abundantly due to the lack of control in Central Africa’s subregion, facilitated by techniques of transfer activated by traffickers and because of inadequate control along custom posts as well as corruption.

Uncontrolled proliferation and anarchic circulation of arms have several negative consequences in the sub region.

The Central Africa region seems to be a ‘Triangle of Death’. The region is known for its armed conflicts, gangs and banditry and is often described as outside of state control or as ‘ungoverned territories’. A key outcome of the large scale illicit trade and proliferation of arms in the region is that gun violence, terrorists’ attacks, dynamics of highway robbery, rebels and kidnapping are recurrent experiences for residents. The cross-border dimension of this arms trafficking and smuggling makes it a threat to regional security in Central Africa. In the Central African region, acquisition of arms increases the duration of conflicts and violence, and contributes greatly to massive migration of civilians, violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, all of which are not favorable to women and children. As an under-prioritized form of transnational organized crime, arms’ trafficking is related to other organized crimes like Boko Haram terrorism in Cameroon, secessionists’ movements in Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon, rebels and traffic of drugs and precious minerals in each country of the Central Africa region, especially Central African Republic.

To end uncontrolled proliferation and circulation of arms, efforts must be made at national and sub-regional levels.

At each national level, states have to negotiate with each other the reduction of stocks armaments; create mechanisms or instances of dialogue in order to permit pacific arrangement of conflicts so as to block any chance for a crisis to one to be turn into armed conflicts. Another recommendation is the national reinforcement of the state’s presence and their willingness to encourage cooperation between countries in order to facilitate the control of frontiers and fight against arms trafficking. Governments could also try to fight against corruption and poverty, particularly vis-à-vis security forces and custom personnel in charge of controls alongside the frontiers. Particularly, governments of the sub-region should establish democracy and inculcate the practice of good governance in order to block social tensions and arms conflicts, as primary sources of arms accumulation.

At the sub-regional level, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) has to initiate a certain number of actions: to reinforce mechanisms of control which have shown limits and create other mechanisms that are more efficient and contribute to the Council of Peace and security in Central Africa’s (COPAX) special organ for the control of arms. ECCAS also needs to reinforce capacities of security institutions and associate civilian experts in the fight against illicit circulation of arms; accelerate the process of harmonization of national legislations on arms and reach to an interdiction regime which includes authorizations–not the current authorization regime which includes interdictions. It means that the principle of arms regulation, on the contrary on the so-called “authorization regime” which is being put in place and meaning that people are allowed to get arms when they are authorized to do so, should be change by putting in place the interdiction regime, with the intention to prohibit the possession of Arms as a principle. In that perspective, ECCAS should also create a sub-regional observatory on arms to collect information on illicit movements of arms and munitions, to control frontiers in order to prevent and stop illegal movements of arms and munitions

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Eugene Arnaud Yombo Sembe is a former Governance and Democracy Analyst at the Nkafu Policy Institute. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Yaoundé II, Department of Political Science. He holds a Masters in political science (University of Yaounde II) and another Masters in Governance (Panafrican University Institute of Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences). He previously was an associate researcher at the Paul Ango Ela Foundation in Yaoundé.


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