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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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War declared on small arms proliferation

Botswana has commenced nationwide consultation for the development of more effective measures and sound strategies for the long -term control of fire arms and for the enhancement of public safety.
Mqondisi Dube

This has been driven by the fear that Botswana's progressive economy might attract 'undesirable elements. The Botswana government has decided to amend the Arms and Ammunition Act to curb the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

The amendments, President Festus Mogae says, are aimed at making it illegal for any form of brokering and outlaw the illegal manufacture, trade or diversion of such weapons.

With the end of war in Mozambique and the ceasefire in Angola, efforts to curb proliferation of small arms in the region are intensifying.

Fears have been mounting that with the cessation of fighting in the two Southern African countries and the continuing Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) war, small arms and light weapons will find their way into the hands of most people, resulting in escalating crime rates.

Safer Africa, a regional body based in South Africa involved in the fight against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, says it is worried that even children below the age of 16 are involved in the smuggling of small arms and light weapons.

Slu Hlongwa, the Director of Civil Society and Community Development Programme (Safer Africa), says the prime cause of children being involved in small arms and light weapons proliferation is poverty.

Botswana is ahead in the Southern African region in its bid to establish a National Focal Point, which will determine the magnitude of small arms and light weapons proliferation in the country.

Hlongwa says Botswana has made stride in implementing some of the recommendations from the African Conference on the Implementation of the United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms held in Pretoria, South Africa in 2002.

She says of all the regional declarations in the continent, the SADC and Nairobi Declaration were respected but in West Africa, the ECOWAS Declaration has suffered because of the continuous proliferation of small arms and light weapons from countries affected by war like Liberia and Sierra Leone.

"When a country signs for ceasefire, it trades its weapons, like Angola, but some of the weapons are circulated and dumped in neighbouring countries which poses problems for the region," Hlongwa says. She was speaking at a workshop conducted by Safer Africa in Gaborone last month.

The Commissioner of the Botswana Police Service, Norman Moleboge says they are conscious of the fact that unregulated and uncontrolled firearms contribute to heightened levels of social instability in the form of conflict, violence and other social disorders in the country as a whole.

"While Botswana is more fortunate than its neighbours with respect to the illicit proliferation of firearms, there has recently been an increase in firearm related crimes," Moleboge says.

Since the beginning of 2001, a total of 142 firearms were used in cases that resulted in either the loss of life or potential loss of life. The cases included 51 murders, 29 suicides and 26 attempted murders. Statistics released by the police this month (January) show that of the nearly 2000 violent crimes in 2003, 90 per cent involved the use of firearms obtained illegally.

"Armed robberies are common and the investor confidence is starting to diminish as some of them have fallen victim to these armed attacks. As police organizations, we record on a daily basis fatalities resulting from weapons obtained illegally," Moleboge says.

As part of their efforts to raise public awareness, the Botswana Police, with Safer Africa as a partner, will involve the rural communities.

Hlongwa says it is crucial for information to be simplified for the benefit of those in the remote areas. Such areas, Hlongwa notes, can be used as breeding grounds for trade in illegal arms.

Botswana has so far completed the geo-political mapping stage, which looks at the various geographical aspects of the country. The next stage will involve the attitude mapping, which will gauge people's response to the problem of small arms and light weapons proliferation.

Mogae, addressing the same workshop, says in the last decade there has been an increase in the number of reported cases involving illegal use of firearms.

He says the rise in armed robberies and homicide can, in part, be attributed to a proliferation of illegal guns coming from across the borders.

The Botswana President says the end of war in some Southern African states has led to small arms and weapons falling into the wrong hands.

"A large number of weapons are in the hands of criminal syndicates. The criminal groups originally operated within the boundaries of states, but it is becoming increasingly evident that they have begun to operate across borders," Mogae says.

He adds that Botswana cannot be satisfied with the measures that it has adopted, as there was a need to full ycooperate and coordinate programmes with those of neighbouring states.

Southern Africa is the only region with a legally binding Protocol for the Control of Firearms and Ammunition and Other Related Materials.

The National Focal Point in Botswana was established in April 2002, subsequent to continental and regional agreements. Non-Governmental Organizations and some government departments form the focal point.

While Botswana is the only country that is nearing completion of a national focal point, Namibia, Mozambique and Tanzania are in the implementation stage.

Botswana has kept communication lines open with their Southern and East African counterparts, as networking is vital to fight the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

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