Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Africa: Weapons Stockpiles a Threat

Source: ISS
Weapons Stockpiles a Threat
Lauren Tracey,
Consultant, Arms Control And Disarmament, Development,
ISS Pretoria Office

On 16 February 2011 a series of explosions sent shockwaves through Tanzania as some 23 weapons storage areas went up in smoke at the Gongo la Mboto military base close to Dar es Salaam. The explosion killed approximately 20 civilians, injured 300 and displaced some 4000 inhabitants as it destroyed homes and a school close by. The reason for the blast remains unknown. The explosion is the second of its kind to hit the country and follows an explosion that occurred in April 2009 during an inspection of the Mbagala storage facility by the Tanzanian Peoples Defence Force (TPDF). The blast killed 40 civilians, injured hundreds and damaged and destroyed thousands of homes.

In Africa the devastation caused by inadequately managed weapons stockpiles affects countries both socially and economically. Socially these explosions impact on the development of the country by destroying the environment, which many inhabitants depend on for their livelihoods and survival. Furthermore, the impact felt by the communities surrounding the area after an explosion has occurred include the injuries and trauma sustained by the civilians which require many to receive medical attention and therapy. Economically, the clean up costs associated with such an explosion runs into millions - costs which many developing countries can seldom afford. These costs range from the destruction of infrastructure such as schools, businesses and houses which have to be cleared and reconstructed, to the technically challenging cleaning-up costs associated with the clearing of bomb remnants that have been flung around as a result of the explosion.

The African continent has experienced at least 27 known explosions in the last decade. With at least 9 in Mozambique, 4 in Sudan, 2 each in Guinea, the Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Tanzania, and one each in Angola, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Kenya, and Sierra Leone.

The need for effective stockpile management in Africa and more particularly in Tanzania has become an issue of paramount importance. The recent Tanzanian explosion highlights the need for urgent attention to be paid to improving the countries weapons and ammunition stockpile management. This includes putting in place proper systems and procedures.

Tanzania faces many challenges in securing and disposing of its small arms and light weapons (SALW) that have been surrendered and recovered and are waiting to be registered or destroyed. These challenges include: weak security measures that have been put in place to monitor state-held stocks as well as a lack of capacity to store the large number of weapons and ammunitions, to name a few. These challenges continue to contribute to the country’s inability to secure and manage its weapons and ammunition stockpiles.

Tanzania is signatory to the legally binding SADC Firearms Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and Other Related Materials. In terms of this document: “State Parties undertake to: enhance their capacity to manage and maintain secure storage of state owned firearms.”(Article 8)

Tanzania is also signatory to the Nairobi Protocol, a legally binding Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa, whereby signatory states are required to: “Establish and maintain complete national inventories of small arms and light weapons held by security forces and other state bodies, to enhance their capacity to manage and maintain secure storage of state-owned small arms and light weapons.”

In an attempt to assist countries in the implementation of such instruments the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (SARPCCO) secretariat in conjunction with other member states have developed Standard Operating Procedures for the Implementation of the SADC Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and other Related Materials (SOP’s) under the SADC Firearms Protocol which serve as a guideline for the implementation of regional standards to be followed in the implementation of the SADC Firearms Protocol. Similarly under the Nairobi Protocol a best practice guide has been developed to assist countries in the implementation and development of policies, review of national legislation, and to provide general operational guidelines and procedures on all aspects of SALW, which includes providing assistance in SALW stockpiles in both legal civilian possession and in state possession during peacetime.

Under both the SADC Firearms Protocol and the Nairobi Protocol Tanzania is required to establish and maintain effective weapons and ammunition stockpile structures and systems. The recent explosion however illustrates that there is still a need for assistance and improved monitoring and management of its weapons and ammunitions stockpiles.

In its 2010 country report on the Implementation of the United Nations programme of Action (UNPoA) on SALW the government of Tanzania highlighted the need for increased financial assistance to assist with the destruction of surplus, surrendered, recovered and obsolete stocks. There are however a number of other ways the government of Tanzania can improve the monitoring and management of its weapons and ammunition stockpiles. This includes making use of both regional and international best practices in the management and control of weapons and ammunition stockpiles. The SARPCCO SOP’s as well as the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse, for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC) are just two best practice guidelines (BPG’s) that could be used. These BPG’s are there to assist and guide countries in effectively managing and securing their weapons and ammunition stockpiles by enhancing the safe and secure storage of such weapons and their destruction and disposal.