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African MPs unite in Kampala to tackle illicit arms trade

Illicit arms being destroyed in Karamoja recently

Illicit arms being destroyed in Karamoja recently

Some Members of Parliament from across Africa met in Kampala over the weekend to discuss mechanisms for enhancing the prevention and reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) - related violence, a persistent global concern.

The meeting, held at Fairway Hotel, included participants from the Parliaments of Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Comoros, Madagascar, and Uganda. They attributed the increasing armed conflicts, human trafficking, civil wars, and domestic violence in many African countries to the uncontrolled trade of SALW.

Statistics from the African Union Committee on SALWs survey indicate that almost 80 per cent of illicit small arms and light weapons in Africa are unregistered and unmarked. Additionally, according to the United Nations, more than 40 million firearms are imported.

Lawrence Biyika Songa, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Forum on SALWs and MP for Ora, urged his colleagues to address issues such as limited education and opportunities that entice young people to access firearms.

“We should not wait for these small arms and light weapons to be in the public and then we talk about their prevention. We must check the root causes like competition for natural resources by external people that want to interfere with the affairs of the region based on their interests or geopolitical issues,” MP Songa said.

Songa further highlighted the link between wildlife trafficking and the use of SALW, noting, “People trafficking in wildlife are accompanied by SALW and it goes all the way from East Africa to the Horn of Africa. Therefore, there is no market for wildlife in Africa and we need to address this issue not only as Uganda but at East African, continental, and international levels because people who are making others use firearms to hunt or do poaching of wildlife, the market for this wildlife is in the East, China, and other countries of Asia.”

It is understood that factors such as the illegal trade in wildlife, minerals, and other natural resources, geopolitics, poaching, external influence, and low education have paved the way for the illicit trade in firearms in Uganda and Africa as a region.

The regional seminar of the Parliamentary Forum on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) aims to build the capacity of parliaments and find solutions to managing the illicit arms trade through legislation and appropriation. The forum’s key objective is to silence guns in Africa by 2030.

Dr. Raphael Chegeni, an MP from Tanzania and president of the Parliamentary Forum on SALW, emphasized the urgency of addressing the illicit trade in firearms.

“Recent research points to the fact that more than 260,000 men, women, and children lost their lives in small arms-related violence in 2021,” Dr. Chegeni said.

He warned that without urgent solutions, the region is headed for more trouble due to increased access to small arms and light weapons.
Internal Affairs State Minister, Gen. David Muhoozi, in his keynote address, noted that the issue of SALW remains a significant hazard both regionally and globally. He highlighted the regulated and unregulated flow of firearms as a primary concern, requiring innovative measures from parliamentarians, who serve as voices of the people and play crucial roles in legislation, appropriation, and oversight.

Uganda, in particular, has implemented several laws and policies to prevent the illicit trade in firearms. These include voluntary disarmament, the destruction of illegal armories, the destruction of over 2,000 redundant firearms, and the fingerprinting of state, civilian, and private company firearms to ease the tracing of criminal activity.

“This forum of Parliament is one arm that has been mobilized to support the fight against the spread and illicit use of small arms and light weapons. We have made significant progress in fingerprinting firearms, and soon we will update on our progress,” Muhoozi said.

When asked why Uganda continues to experience gun-related killings despite the processes for identifying criminals taking a long time, Gen. Muhoozi told The Observer that fingerprinting is akin to using a padlock.

“Do you know something called a padlock? Since the invention of padlocks, have people stopped breaking into houses? What padlocks do is make it a little bit more difficult to break into a house. Likewise, fingerprints ease investigations,” Muhoozi said.

Florence Kirabira, the national focal person and head of the office coordinating small arms and light weapons in the country, mentioned that a draft of a new law, code-named Small Arms and Light Weapons Control, is in progress. Uganda’s Firearms Act of 1970 has limitations on the regulation and management of firearms, making full regulation challenging.

According to Kirabira, the Firearms Act of 1970 no longer suits the current societal changes and innovations.

“We are saying that the Act can no longer suffice, and we need to replace it with an enabling law that can handle all those challenges, gaps, and emerging security threats. We are adhering to regional and international commitments so that we can manage the guns in the hands of civilians, state, and private security companies,” Kirabira said.

With the new law in place, it is hoped that practices such as marking and destroying excesses and regulating imports, exports, and manufacturing will be embraced, similar to those seen elsewhere.

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