This week’s observance of UN Small Arms Destruction Day on July 9 calls attention to the continuous challenge of combating illicit arms trafficking. The U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction program helps countries safeguard weapons inventories and keep them out of the hands of terrorists and criminals. In Africa, in addition to many Humanitarian Mine Action programs, we partner with countries to destroy excess weapons, build secure storage facilities, and train storekeepers.
African countries and regional organizations have committed to stem the illicit proliferation of weapons on the continent, primarily to prevent insurgents and other non-state actors from accessing weapons and fueling conflicts. The United Nations Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects, also known as the UN Program of Action (POA), is the backbone of African regional and continental initiatives to address these goals. These initiatives include the African Union’s flagship campaign “Silencing the Guns by 2020” and the Economic Community of West African States Convention on Small Arms.
We support African countries’ efforts to identify weapons and ammunition in excess of defense requirements and destroy them safely. Destroying excess munitions guarantees they will never fall into the wrong hands and frees up storage space for serviceable items. Since 2002, we have funded the destruction of 357,904 small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) and 7,374 U.S. tons of ammunition in Africa alone.
Another way to stop illicit weapons proliferation in Africa is to improve the security of storage facilities. We work with partner forces to build or upgrade armories in areas that are vulnerable to pilferage or attacks or where an accidental depot explosion poses a grave risk to civilians. From the Sahel to the Horn of Africa, and Angola to Tanzania, the Department of State constructed or refurbished 505 facilities and provided another 1,800 units of equipment, such as gun racks or steel lockers, to protect against diversions. In the Sahel, terrorists have attacked security force bases where CWD programs had built or upgraded armories. The security enhancements prevented the terrorists from looting these armories.
Our assistance includes building the capacity of partner forces to manage their stockpiles in line with international standards. We trained over 2,500 storekeepers and armory managers in Africa, including train-the-trainer courses to retain the capacity well into the future. One of our implementers, the Regional Centre for Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa, and Bordering States (RECSA), uses a roster of African trainers to lead storekeeping courses. We recently supported RECSA to develop and translate a stockpile management guide into Swahili so that Tanzanian police can learn best practices in their own language.
We also provide training and equipment so that governments can mark their weapons with a unique code to facilitate tracking and improve accountability. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we partner with the National Commission for Control of Small Arms and Reduction of Armed Violence to mark military and police weapons in the eastern provinces. To date, the teams have marked over 35,000 weapons.
It is in the national interest of the United States to assist African partners in the strengthening of their stockpile security and management practices in the fight against transnational crime and terrorism. Assistance in the implementation of the UN POA, such as the assistance we provide to our African partners to deny criminal and terrorist access to weapons, is one step we can collectively take towards that goal.
Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $3.7 billion in CWD assistance to over 100 countries, including $488 million of assistance to 36 countries in Africa – making the United States the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction. For more information, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Mr. Michael Tirre serves as a Program Manager in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.