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In a recent World Council of Churches (WCC) consultation, participants analyzed the impact of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in Africa’s sub-regions. They pointed out that more than sixty percent of deaths in battle-related conflicts are caused by small arms, and billions of dollars are spent every year on small arms.

The consultation was organized by the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 22 to 25 November.

“Armed conflicts cost Africa some eighteen billion US dollars annually,” said Abdelkader Abderrahmane, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies. He went on to say that “inadequate security measures and weak institutions in the concerned countries are creating fertile ground for the perpetuation of such stealthy activities in Africa.”

Abderrahmane noted that for most suppliers of small weapons, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only a very small share of exports. “Countries that export arms to countries in sub-Saharan Africa are responsible for providing a significant portion of the major arms supplied to the region as a whole,” he said.

At the consultation, Masimba Kuchera, a member of the CCIA and a human rights activist from Zimbabwe, presented cases from Mozambique and Zimbabwe showing how SALW has left severe impacts on people and communities.

Speaking on the civil war in Mozambique in the 1970s, Kuchera said that events “destroyed the country’s nascent infrastructure, separated and displaced families, creating millions of refugees and internally displaced people and killing thousands.

Despite the fact that the civil war is over in Mozambique, he said its “impacts are still manifested”.

“In Western Africa, Mali is in the forefront of SALW proliferation, with extremist groups operating in the north of the country,” said Baffour Amoa, president of the West African Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA).

He went on to say that conflicts which have plagued the Western Africa region include “wars and destabilizing acts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, Côte d’Ivoire and Niger.” Therefore, these countries are experiencing the “worst effects of small arms proliferation”.  

“In addition to SALW, drugs and human trafficking are also part of the problem,” added Amoa.

The WCC’s coordinator for accompanying churches in situations of Conflict, Semegnish Asfaw, highlighted the dilemma of women and children affected by SALW.

“Women are victims of small arms both in times of relative calm, and in times of armed conflicts,” she said. “It happens often that children become victims of war as they become displaced and vulnerable due to SALW-fuelled violence.”

“As small arms are light, accessible and easy to use, child soldiering has become a major problem in various conflicts in Africa,” Asfaw continued. She said that for girl children this situation becomes worst, as they face additional marginalization and stigmatization when they return in their respective communities.

In a presentation on ecumenical responses to advocacy on combating SALW, the Rev. Shirley DeWolf, moderator of the CCIA working group on peace and security, said, “for our struggle against illicit and irresponsible use of SALW to succeed, the ecumenical movement will have to dedicate itself with increased tenacity, passion and urgency”.

DeWolf reminded participants that the church’s engagement in curbing SALW proliferation should be embedded in its current work. “‘Small’ and ‘light’ may refer to the comparative size of these weapons, but from where we sit we can see nothing small or light about their impact on all aspects of life in Africa.  This struggle belongs on the agendas of the full range of our church programmes”, she concluded.

Read also:

Faith groups fight proliferation of small arms in Africa (WCC news release of 23 November 2012)

African churches address peace and security issues (WCC press release of 31 January 2012)

WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs

WCC member churches in Africa