Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa

Sources, Causes, Problems and Solutions

Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa
Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa

By Bernard Taiwo

Firearms have a long and significant history in Africa. From their early introduction into the continent, largely as items of trade, firearms have been intricately bound in the various forms of European intrusion into Africa, from the slave trade era to pacification and actual colonization.

Predictably, the history of firearms in Africa has attracted substantial scholarly attention over the past half a century. The sales of arms have become a serious security challenge in the world today. This is due to their lethally efficient nature, easy accessibility, indiscriminate usage, and the devastating havoc they are often used to wreak in many societies around the world.

The excessive availability of arms is the repercussion of the experiences of the Cold War. The rise in arms production and its proliferation dynamics have direct connection with the events that evolved during the Cold War. The United Nations Disarmament Commission (1995) reported that one factor bearing on the availability, circulation, and accumulation of arms, (small and light) weapons in many conflict areas, is their earlier supply by Cold War opponents. The role played by the Cold War in intensifying the production of arms was further reinforced by the activities of globalization. The global experience provided grounds for easy networking of arms dealers, easy procurement and transportation of arms, illicitly, across international borders, into weak states with porous borders and with weak or absent state control systems.

Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa
Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa

Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs) remain the most desirable out of all categories of weapons known to man. This is as a result of their cost and easy handling as they are cheap, easily accessible and easy to use as compared with heavy weapons (International Peace Institute, 2009).

Additionally, SALWs present their users with the opportunity of variation of usage. Put differently, Small Arms and Light Weapons provide users with a wide range of users, including defence, etc. This is the quickest reason behind the large number and profligacy of SALWs in circulation in South Africa, for instance.

READ MORE: Largest strike in decades brings Germany to a standstill

Accordingly, South Africa has more than six million SALWs in circulation, a fraction of the number of weapons in circulation in Africa. This, however, creates an opportunity for individuals with criminal intentions to employ such weapons to fulfil their intents. This, in turn, creates room for the transference of SALWs through unprotected and porous borders. And the security risks posed by the wide availability of SALWs are evident in the number of people killed on a global scale per year. According to Malam (2014), SALWs kill between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people annually. SALWs are prominent classes of weapons due to their portability and capacity to ensure defence. As such, they are in high demand and are also produced in large quantities. However, these weapons are, as earlier deposed, also illicitly trafficked and transported across state borders.

Incidentally, Africa is not excluded as over 150 million SALWs are trafficked in the continent annually. Apart from the number of recorded deaths, SALWs are known to fuel conflicts. Conflicts are invariably instigated and exacerbated due to the abundance of SALWs procured by criminal non-actors and national governments with state-owned financial resources.
Therefore, African countries have, in one form or the other, suffered from the proliferation of these weapons. This is evident through the frequent eruption of ethno-religious conflicts and crisis in the continent. Chad, Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, and other countries on the continent encounter ethnic and religious conflicts. These conflicts have and still find expression in civil wars, insurgency, terrorism and so on.

There is, however, a nexus between the proliferation of SALWs and conflicts on the continent. Small Arms and Light Weapons in their abundance, fuel the eruption of these conflicts and other forms of armed violence as the wide circulation of weapons leads to armed violence, gangsterism, orchestrated clandestine assassinations among other issues.

Among the nations with the most prominent issues of conflict and regular arms flow in Africa is Somalia. Somalia, a state in the horn of Africa, has endured perpetual conflicts since the 1980s. The roots of the conflict lay in political, socio-cultural and economic factors, chief of which is the competition for scarce resources among the unemployed of the society.

The numerous conflicts the nation has faced has generated a significant number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). And more probing is the malnutrition indices of children in Somalia and the many lives lost through the conflicts, directly or indirectly. It is estimated that about one million people have been killed since the inception of varied conflicts in Somalia in the 1980s.

In addition to the mass loss of lives, many have been displaced within the country. As of 2021, about 3.0 million people were displaced in the country (CCCM Cluster Somalia, 2021). The effects of the conflicts are not felt alone by the war-torn state. This is because, Somalia’s war has generated a situation of insecurity in East Africa which has given rise to terrorist organizations notably al-Shabaab.

The al-Shabaab has been responsible for several activities including the December 2010 attacks in Uganda and Kampala which culminated in the deaths of more than 75 people (Gumbi, 2015), and several recent, devastating criminal activities resulting in many casualties. While the war in protracted conflicts continuously ravage the East African state, linkages have been recognized between the fragile nature of the state and the extensive flow of arms and weapons into the state as the fragility of situations in Somalia are closely connected to the illicit flow of SALWs.

The wide availability of arms in the country not only fuels conflicts but also contributes to the insecurity of lives and properties. Despite the United Nations (UN) arms embargo on the conflict-ravaged state, SALWs still trickle in through numerous channels. Supplies of these weapons are made available by backers of warring factions in the state.

Eritrea allegedly supplied arms to the Somali opposition groups. The impact of the continuous flow of arms into the state is that the arms market and sales or trade are intensified in Somalia despite the arms embargo.

The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 is also another terrible conflict in the history of Africa. The Genocide was sparked by the death of Rwanda’s then-president Juvenal Habyarimana who was of the Hutu ethnic group when his plane was shut down by two surface-to-air missiles. While there is no consensus as to the perpetrator of the act, the death of President Habyarimana contributed to the already existing ethnic tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi. (Human Rights Watch, 2006).

Within hours of the President’s death, members of the Armed forces began killing those opposed to Hutu dominance, some of which were Tutsi. (Human Rights Watch, 2006). This sparked reprisal killings and the situation subsequently degenerated to genocide. More than 800,000 people were slaughtered during the genocide. (World Vision, 2008). Many were orphaned, widowed, and disabled while yet others became aid dependants.

Ultimately, the genocide ravaged the society and destroyed lives and properties. (Nikuze, 2014). Thus, this genocide and the proliferation of SALWs are closely linked. Enuka, (2012), asserts that the flow of arms particularly SALWs is central to the Rwandan Genocide. Before the genocide, militia leaders and members had received AK-47 assault rifles, mortars, grenades and other weapons from many backers. These weapons were procured with cash and in kind payments. Suppliers of these weapons included state and non-state actors. Notable states were China, Greece, Egypt, Poland, and South Africa (Enuka, 2012). The constant supply of SALWs to civilians as well as militia members increased the possibility of conflicts erupting.

Weapons Acquisition Flow Statistics

Africa’s Globalization expanded the arms market and created room for the emergence of sophisticated arms brokers. With the sheer number of companies producing arms rising, production of arms also increased.

Today, there are 650 to 700 million small arms circulating in the world. And about 10 million new guns and 18 billion units of ammunition are manufactured every year by 1,500 companies in over 100 countries – with the United States and the European Union producing about 75 percent of these.

Similarly, with about 20 billion units of military ammunition produced every year, there are small arms and ammunition enough to shoot every man, woman and child on the planet twice. Thus, arms have continued to account for increased rate of mortality on a daily basis, worldwide. According to Kytömäki, more than 5,000 people are killed as a consequence of armed violence daily and between 750,000 and 1,000,000 people are killed annually.

Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa
Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa

There is an estimated 150 million arms (small and light) in Africa, especially around the Horn, including Somalia, Ethiopia, Southern Sudan, Rwanda, the violent belt of Central Africa and many areas of West Africa.

In some countries like Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, possession of guns is almost synonymous with the people’s cultural lives; almost everyone carries a personal weapon. The undue availability of arms, especially in illegal hands, has continued largely to robbing the continent of essential peace and stability.
The global competition for Africa in arms sales and proliferation of military bases is also another dilemma that has affected peace and stability in Africa.

Africa, Global Ties and Firearms

Although there is no doubt that firearms have had a significant impact on Africa’s history, there has been little consensus on the subject beyond the fundamental acknowledgement, and the fact “that such weapons have had an impact on African history cannot be denied. The nature of that impact is more questionable as firearms are undoubtedly the most major technical invention to arrive from the Atlantic, and their impact on the continent has been passionately debated.

However, firearms were the most important commodity traded into Africa, owing to a lack of indigenous manufacture.

The Pre-colonial Era

The European weapons industry underwent substantial structural changes in the mid to late nineteenth century, resulting in the ‘creation of the world firearms market between 1856 and 1878,’ in which Western Europe, Russia, and the United States were key exporters. Large corporations transitioned from rail and general steel production to weaponry production as part of this process.

The German Krupp and the British Armstrong, both breech-loader pioneers, are two examples. During the imperial period, the fledgling small arms complex in industrialized Europe was bolstered, partly due to the expansion of corporate production. The establishment of DWM in Germany is a good example.

In the late 1800s, DWM acquired smaller firms such as Mauser and invested in new manufacturing facilities and weapon designers such as Georg Luger. DWM became known for its cutting-edge small-arms technology and grew to become one of the major small-arms producers. The self-loading pistol was one of DWM’s creations. Sadly, Africa was impacted by the gun revolution in a variety of ways. The Europeans dumped large quantities of surplus weaponry as they rearmed with breech-loaders in the 1860s and 1870s, and repeating rifles in the 1880s. Many of these arrived in Africa via the coastal or trans- Saharan trading routes.

The Indian Ocean trade route appears to be crucial in the proliferation of breech-loaders across Africa. Breech- loaders are said to have arrived in East Africa as early as 1886. Prices on firearms going to Zanzibar, Portuguese, and French East Africa in 1897 were higher than prices of firearms going to West Africa that year, implying that the firearms sold to East Africa were newer or of higher quality, with one possibility being that East African imports contained more breech-loaders than West African imports. A number of studies have shown that Africa received very large quantities of obsolete weapons after the breech-loader revolution.

Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa
Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa

In portions of West Africa in the 1860s, one gun was imported per 103 persons every year. It is estimated that East Africa imports approximately 100,000 weapons per year. According to Beachey, “In the second part of the nineteenth century, firearms were widely used in East Africa.” His research discovered that “the arms trade in East Africa was linked with the invention and employment of new types of fire-arms in Europe,” alluding to the way East Africa got outmoded weaponry from Europe following the breech-loader revolution. However, in the mid-1880s, breech-loader guns began to be shipped in significant quantities to East Africa, shortly following their introduction into European conflict in the late 1870s. Pankhurst looked into the supply of small arms to Ethiopia, at the end of the nineteenth century and discovered that the initial trade supported the assumption that mostly outmoded weapons were supplied.

According to primary data, Italy and France profited handsomely from the sale of arms to several Ethiopian kingdoms through their protectorates. In France and Belgium, dealers bought outdated guns and sold them in Ethiopia for up to five or six times more. Ethiopia paid for the arms imports in part with cash and part with ivory, gold, and civet. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century, Ethiopian monarchs’ armaments had improved in quality.

In one armaments transaction in 1884, the Italians agreed to furnish Menelik (an Ethiopian regional ruler) with 50,000 Remington rifles and 10 million ammunition in annual instalments over a ten-year period. In 1891, a Russian lieutenant in Ethiopia estimated that Ethiopia had received 100,000 rifles from Italy, France, and Britain in the previous two decades, while other estimates varied from 80,000 to 120,000.

During this time, arms imports from Russia, Greece, and Switzerland were also noted. Arms sales from Europe were frequently routed through Djibouti to Ethiopia. Pankhurst claims that Ethiopia bought more weaponry of higher quality and quantity than other African countries. The Ethiopian army was mostly outfitted with contemporary rifles and revolvers, although other countries had received vast supplies of antiquated weapons.

Armed soldiers were also present in the Ethiopian army, but firearms were usually reserved for chiefs elsewhere in Africa. By the early 1880s, practically all Ethiopian soldiers were armed. Between 1906 and 1935, a special European weapons control pact targeting Abyssinia only reduced imports of small arms and ammunition.

The above narrations have shown how large-scale small arms imports were made available through international trade and alliances between foreign representatives and national and regional rulers during the early imperial period. At the period, private production, merchants, and transit points were all common features of the small weapons trade.


The common consensus is that under colonialism, the colonial state was the exclusive source of armaments for Sub-Saharan Africa. The differences between the imperial and colonial periods have been outlined by sources. In 1911, the Governor of the East Africa Protectorate described the ‘arming of the locals’ in the East Africa Protectorate’s border areas ‘notorious,’ claiming that it was “practically impossible to prohibit the entrance of arms” from France and “other foreign origins.”

The British Governor offered that “we shall arm our locals with old rifles of our own manufacturing,” based on a proposal by the Governor of Italian Somaliland, while seeking a multilateral agreement among European colonial powers to limit weaponry and ammunition supplies through Djibouti. The proposal was, however, out rightly rejected by the British Foreign Office. While underlining the importance of ‘controlling the supply of arms and ammunition to the natives in Uganda and the East Africa Protectorate’, it was in any case, seriously doubted arming natives with rifles of an old pattern, as it would be possible to exercise but little control over the rifles and they would probably be traded away, while ammunition would have to be supplied by the Government which might possibly be used against the Protectorate troops.

The correspondence demonstrates a shift in European thought regarding small weapons control during colonialism, as European concerns and domains of influence were expanded from export controls to import controls and considerations of gun ownership as part of the transition from imperialism to colonial rule. According to existing customs statistics, colonial authorities streamlined weaponry imports over time, reducing the scale of weapons influx while limiting the source countries.

Arms shipments to Sub-Saharan Africa were restricted under the Brussels Act and national legislation. However, in order to carry out its law enforcement, military, and effectively discharge border control tasks in the colonies, the colonial regiments imported weaponry themselves. The colonial power frequently kept a small army on hand in the colonies, which was armed entirely by the same nation. According to annual colonial reports, the East Africa Protectorate purchased weaponry and ammunition worth GBP 27,396 in 1912–13 (about GBP 2.8 million now) and GBP 27,253 in 1913–14 (approximately GBP 2.7 million today), with 89 percent coming from the United Kingdom. Arms and ammunition imports fell to GBP 21,263 (about 0.96 million today) in 1920–21, with 74% coming from the United Kingdom. The colonial authority in Ghana bought 6,087 weapons and pistols for GBP 24,273 in 1917 (about GBP 300 per weapon in today’s pricing) and 1,745 guns and pistols for GBP 10,461 in 1918 (nearly GBP 365 per weapon in today’s prices). Over the two years, 200,000 pounds of gunpowder were imported, according to the investigation.

In the years 1926–31, Mozambique spent USD 65,519 on weaponry purchased from Portugal and Portuguese possessions (equal to about USD 0.9 million today). In the years 1926–1931, the Italian colonies in North Africa and Africa’s horn (including Eritrea and Somalia) bought weaponry worth USD 226,800 (USD 3.6 million in today’s money) in the ongoing balkanisation and partitioning of Africa that promoted the illicit trade in firearms and ammunition by the western world, at this time.

Meanwhile, between 0.5 and 0.7 percent of global imports were reported by the Belgian Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi between 1926 and 1931 (USD 7.4 million in current terms). Belgian colonies imported guns worth USD 186,000 between 1931 and 1936. In 1909–1914, Nyasaland (Malawi) imported less, with a total value of GBP 10,523 (GBP 1.05 million in current rates), with the majority coming from the United Kingdom. Nyasaland had a tiny group of colonial rulers and settlers at the time. Between 1920 and 1924, South Africa, which had a significantly bigger white governing elite and was not covered by the Brussels Act, imported weapons, pistols, and revolvers for GBP 218,573 (GBP 11.5 million in today’s money).

In the period 1926–1931, South Africa’s imports accounted for 1.2 – 2.2 percent of global imports, or around USD 18 million at today’s values. South Africa’s imports of weaponry and ammunition climbed from 4.6 to 8.5 percent of global imports between 1931 and 1936, amounting to almost USD 200 million today. According to a recent baseline investigation identifying sources of small-caliber ammunition, ammunition only produced by France from 1950 to 1980 (7.5 mm 54 mm for bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles) were still widely found in Ivory Coast in 2014.

In 2012, identical ammunition was seized in Niger and in Liberia in 2013. Research evidence found that the Soviet Union also produced and supplied ammunition to African countries from 1950 to 1955. During the period, ammunition was typically specific, and rifles could only use cartridges from a few manufacturers, keeping importers dependent on the same supply throughout the time. Despite the fact that colonial powers were often the primary source of supply, the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers has documented Angolan imports of small arms worth USD 1.7 million from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States between 1962 and 1974 (during the liberation war), as well as minor imports from a number of other countries. The Cold War Era Arms imports to Africa increased dramatically after colonial independence.

Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa
Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa

New independent regimes sought arms imports as a means of governing the new governments, which they often did forcefully. During this period, arms control agenda was almost entirely focused on superpowers, (Weapon of Mass Destruction) WMDs, and big conventional weapons. Data on permitted (Small Arms and Light Weapons) SALW transfers dating back to the 1960s was collected from the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfer (NISAT) database.

The most complete source of SALW transfers during the Cold War is this database. Because of the paucity of state-provided records, as well as the broad geographical and historical coverage, it’s difficult to discern accurate trends through time, but they do hint to interesting developments from the colonial period. To begin with, the figures show significant discrepancies in imports by African countries. Furthermore, imports into Sub-Saharan Africa indicate that nations were able to diversify their arms acquisitions among numerous exporters, and that the same state frequently obtained weapons from both the Eastern and Western blocs. According to NISAT, Ethiopia imported SALW from the United Kingdom (USD 1.5 million), the Soviet Union (USD 1.8 million), Germany (USD 2 million), the United States (USD 2.3 million), Yugoslavia (USD 3.3 million), and Italy (USD 3.8 million) during the Ethiopian–Somali War in 1977.

Unfortunately, there are no figures for Somalia at this time. Sudan purchased SALW from a dozen countries in the mid-1970s, mostly from Europe but also from China, Egypt, the Soviet Union, and the United States; the two largest exporters were China (USD 0.9 million) in 1974–1975 and the Soviet Union (nearly USD 3 million) in 1973 to1975. Former colonial powers continued to be the most important suppliers. During the period 1970–1975, the DRC imported a total of USD 7.7 million in small guns, mostly from Belgium.

Although Senegal imported small arms (on a limited scale) from a dozen other countries in the East (China, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union) and the West (specifically, Canada, Germany, Greece, Poland, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, the United Kingdom, and the United States), as well as a couple of African countries (Gabon and Benin), France remained the largest supplier, exporting small arms worth USD 21.1 million from 1962 to 1981. In the 1970s, Liberia imported USD 1.4 million worth of firearms, with 1.3 million of those classified as non-military or hunting firearms (the military weapons supplied by the USA and the non-military from the UK). According to records, the Ivory Coast had the biggest imports of SALW from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. Between 1964 and 1985, France provided the great bulk of SALW to the Ivory Coast. Between 1964 and 1974, Ivory Coast imports were USD 7.5 million, and USD 30 million between 1975 and 1985. In comparison, from 1995 and 2003, imports totalled USD 17.2 million. In response to persistent ceasefire violations and a deteriorating humanitarian situation, in 2004, the United Nations Security Council placed an arms embargo on Ivory Coast, now Cote d’Ivoire. The resolution permitted the delivery of firearms and related material, as well as technical training and assistance, solely for the support of or use in the reconstruction of the defence and security forces of the Ivorian Government of National Reconciliation. Such deliveries had to be approved in advance by the appropriate Sanctions Committee.

Following the ban in 2011, France sold SALW for around USD 50 million, Bangladesh sold SALW for USD 8.3 million in 2006, and Pakistan sold SALW for USD 72.6 million in 2011, all of which aided the Ivory Coast’s security sector reform. The formation of national armed forces in newly independent African republics resulted in a significant increase in conventional armament shipments to Africa in the 1950s and 1960s.

The total number of imports remained low, owing in part to the former French colonies’ continued participation in the French defensive system. The weaponry trade between Europe and Africa was driven by economic incentives rather than political restraints. South Africa, for example, imported more big conventional guns than the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa combined in 1969, while being under a UN arms embargo.

Thus, former colonial powers continued to be the largest suppliers of major conventional arms to Sub-Saharan Africa by 1971, accounting for only 30% of the region’s supplies. One rationale was that European countries such as France, Italy, and the United Kingdom supplied military assistance to former colonies and countries where the donors’ nationals made up a big proportion. These schemes frequently involved recipient states purchasing armament in exchange for free training, guidance, or infrastructure from the supplier state. The cold war period heralded a return to free arms trade with African governments and non-state actors as trading partners, spurred on by national self-determination discourses, state sovereignty ideals, the growth of modernization theory, and Africa’s integration into the Cold War.

The multilateral transparency regime collapsed at the international level. Instead, the United Nations implemented a new arms control regime known as the arms embargo. The weapons embargoes included both targeted sanctions and conditionality, which could be used to influence state behaviour or even regime change in importing states, based on the trade denial idea formulated in imperial and colonial arms control practices.

Post-Cold War Global Competition for Africa

Historians have proposed a variety of narratives to explain the arms trade and its impact on Africa over time, with differing emphasis on themes like technology, local concerns, cultural symbolism, and European influence, In the 1990s and 2000s, a more coherent narrative or discourse about armament arose. This narrative has made two primary points about the small arms trade: the scale and dynamics of the small weapons trade in the post-cold war period were mainly unpredictable; and the negative impact of small arms on security was significantly bigger in the post-cold war period than at other times.

The dominant small arms narrative described the post-cold war period as characterized by intense proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW). Small arms and light weapons proliferation is primarily a post-Cold War issue. Despite the fact that vast amounts of small arms and light weapons were transferred into developing countries during the Cold War, it is strange that the proliferation problem has worsened as a result of its end. The rapid spread of small guns in the 1990s, particularly in Africa, prompted Michael Klare to invent the phrase “the Kalashnikov Age” to describe the post-Cold War era. According to Darkwa, “The prevalence of SALWs in West Africa can be traced back to the mid to late 1960s.”

Given, however, the reduction in government control over small arms in the aftermath of the Cold War, as well as the fact that West Africa was not a target for the proxy wars of the superpowers, this period did not witness the large-scale distribution of arms to Cold War satellite states. It can, therefore, be assumed that the majority of arms in circulation in the sub-region were relatively new and a product of post-Cold War dynamics.

According to Bourne, “From the mid-1960s through 1989 …the now famous global weapons trade arose, displacing the private trade in surplus arms and minor gifts from colonial powers, which had fuelled limited SALW spread.” Bourne also states that, the post-Cold War period saw a remarkable growth in the number of SALW manufacturers, which is partly explained by the re-emergence of commercial providers and a broad dispersion of SALW technologies and stocks.

As a result, the worldwide SALW market has shifted from a supplier-driven market to a buyers’ one. After the conclusion of the Cold War, the proliferation of small guns really took off, partly due to globalization and partly due to an increase in weapons stocks ready for export. Several authors have highlighted the rise of small guns in Africa as a result of armed forces downsizing and changes in procurement patterns in the north in the early 1990s.

Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa
Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa

Following the conclusion of the Cold War, the former Soviet Union bloc, in particular, has been accused of dumping surplus weapons and ammunition in countries with ongoing conflicts, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to Amnesty International, between 1999 and 2002, Russia significantly increased its supply of Kalashnikov firearms to African countries. Russian weapons are also said to have made their way to African crisis zones via third countries, commercial intermediaries, and international brokers. The UN reported one significant incident in which Victor Bout’sAir Cess business secretly transferred weaponry to the DRC in exchange for diamonds. Much of the reportedly related weaponry is said to have originated in the former Soviet Union. Africa as a whole is said to import weapons from Ukraine worth almost one billion dollars per year; a figure that has been rising since the 2000s. Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are said to be the top African buyers of Ukrainian weapons. However, Ethiopia was the recipient of one of the largest documented deals in recent decades. 10,000 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles were among the weaponry imported, which included both major conventional armaments and small arms. Ukrspetsexport, a state-owned corporation, has sold not only Ukrainian guns, but also surplus weaponry from Ukraine’s armed forces that it inherited from the Soviet army.

Arms Sales, and Insecurity in Africa

Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia had labelled small arms proliferation “one of the primary drivers of armed conflict.” Small arms “contribute to an increase in the size and pace of killing, the risk of sickness, and the possibility of violations of international humanitarian law,” according to the Small Arms Survey. During the 1990s, an unchecked flow of small arms into Africa’s Great Lakes regions armed government and non- government military forces, killing 1.5 million people in just four years. Between 1998 and 2001, it is believed that around 250,000 civilians were shot and died in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

According to the United Nations, small arms are used in more human rights violations than any other weapon.


Recognising the damaging impact of conflicts on Africa’s development, African heads of state pledged to eradicate violence from the continent by 2020. They intended to bring peace to citizens and ensure that the burden of conflict was not passed down to the next generation of Africans. African politicians welcomed the proclamation, which became known as the Silencing of the Guns in Africa by 2020 (STGIA2020) programme, as a significant commitment to dealing with conflict. Given the central role of peace in Africa’s socio-economic growth, achieving the declaration’s goals was expected to make a substantial contribution to efforts aimed at repositioning Africa, worldwide, and making progress toward Agenda 2063’s goals.

READ MORE: 2023 Gubernatorial Elections: A credible alternative? || AFLM Special Editorial

STGIA2020, as one of Agenda 2063’s 14 flagship programmes, intends to “end all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, and violent conflicts, as well as avoid genocide. “Aspiration “4” of Agenda 2063 contains details of Africa’s goals to be realized through STGIA2020. This confirms the desire for a peaceful continent and the establishment of working systems for peaceful conflict resolution at all levels. It underscores the need of instilling a culture of peace and tolerance in children and youth, as well as harmony at the grassroots level, so that diversity management becomes a source of wealth and social and economic transformation. This goal, however, is related to others that aim to address the root causes of violence. poverty, unequal access to opportunity, a proclivity for exclusion and marginalization in governance, weak governance, injustice, and the squandering of development possibilities are only a few of them.

STGIA2020 is not the AU’s first attempt to end all violent conflicts on the continent. In 1963, the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was partly driven by an understanding that in order to attain ‘human progress, conditions for peace and security must be established and maintained’ in Africa. The OAU was specifically tasked with ensuring that governments intensify their efforts to achieve a better living for Africa’s peoples. The OAU’s transformation into the AU in 2002 was influenced in part by the OAU’s shortcomings in the face of conflicts and other types of instability on the continent. When the African Union (AU) took over from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 2000, African leaders were conscious of the fact that the scourge of conflicts in Africa constitute a major impediment to the socio-economic development of the continent and of the need to promote peace, security, and stability as a prerequisite for the implementation of our development and integration agenda.

As a result, the African Union adopted the goals of supporting peace, security, and stability, as well as democratic ideals and institutions, public involvement, and good governance, human rights and long-term economic, social, and cultural growth on the continent. To achieve these goals, the Assembly formed the Peace and Security Council (PSC), which is responsible for, among other things, promoting peace, security, and stability in Africa, in order to guarantee the protection and preservation of life and property, the well-being of the African people and their environment, as well as the creation of conditions conducive to sustainable development. The African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), which consists of structures/institutions, legal frameworks, policies, norms, and guiding principles, supports the PSC.

In a nutshell, AU policymakers have previously considered or implemented a variety of gun-control measures. These include policy decisions, institution creation, and measures made under the auspices of the APSA and AGA to promote peace and governance. Global Competition for Africa and Arms Sales, Military Bases: What Prospects for Peace in Africa?

Ending all violent conflicts in Africa and reduction of arms importation, proliferation and military bases, especially illegal military bases may seem very tasking. However, substantive progress can still be achieved if the various actors and institutions identified play their respective roles in contributing towards silencing the guns. Suggesting a way-forward, will beAU be centred as a viable continental organization that has the potential of providing peace and stability in Africa? These are outlined below:


Because there is a lack of conceptual clarity at the continental policy level about what STGIA2020 is and is not, the initiative’s scope had been too broad, and it has been implemented on an unsustainable timeframe. For the endeavour to succeed, the African Union must focus on defining issues such as the import, circulation, and availability of guns (or even just SALWs), as these play a crucial role in the continent’s war. STGIA2020 should be focused on the African Union’s efforts to control weaponry rather than ending Africa’s conflict or bringing peace to the continent. Attempting to eliminate any conflict produces considerable overlaps with the APSA and AGA, as well as many other AU agencies, in terms of function and goal. Since the commencement of STGIA2020, there has been very little progress. The AU should have dropped the 2020 deadline and instead, proclaimed it a multi-year AU programme encompassing a variety of projects concentrating on the many facets of Africa’s conflicts and insecurity.

The AU can then engage with the UN, development partners, the commercial sector, and civil society players to conduct projects that address various aspects of Africa’s insecurity concerns as part of a multi-year programme. The African Union should take proactive measures to address the numerous issues and roadblocks that STGIA2020 had faced since it started. It should use the African Human Security Index (AHSI) to monitor and evaluate the Master Roadmap, as well as establish a standard reporting form, document activities taken to silence the weapons, and support a strictly scientific assessment of interventions in various circumstances.

It should fully support the STG2020 unit’s work, improve coordination and collaboration within the AU Commission, and define the division of labour in terms of policy formulation, adoption, implementation, and monitoring, as well as progress assessment, between the AU, Regional Economic Commissions, Regional Mechanisms, and member states. The effort should be led and owned entirely by Africans. The African Union should hold African and international arms producers, as well as unlawful foreign military sites, accountable for the bloodshed they cause on the continent.

A fundamental flaw in the initiative was the lack of a monitoring and evaluation mechanism to assess progress in the execution of STGIA2020. This needs to be remedied immediately. However, AU member states lack capacity on a variety of fronts and may have had difficulty establishing STGIA2020 monitoring and reporting units. As a result, the AU should have created a section that concentrates on arms control data and monitors attempts to control arms. This unit must be placed in the PSD. It shall report on national progress and the situation of small arms and light weapons import and circulation on the continent to the yearly AU meetings.


Member states should design and implement action plans, prioritize the building of strong, functioning national institutions, and fully implement policies and procedures to avoid, manage, and resolve all forms of conflict as main drivers of STGIA2020. Member states should promptly submit annual updates on their efforts in this area to the AU’s STGIA Unit as soon as possible, and avoid engaging in actions that contradict STGIA2020’s goals. AU member states should be urged, supported, and enabled to sign, ratify, and completely domesticate all AU instruments and decisions relevant to the promotion of peace, justice, governance, and development, because violence is partially a governance problem that can be avoided.

This includes participating in the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) process and following its recommendations.


The AU’s building blocks, RECs and RMs, should act as vital links between the AU and member states in order to achieve the STGIA2020 goals. They should create regional action plans and collaborate closely with their member states to implement the Master Roadmap by hosting meetings to raise awareness of STGIA in their areas. Importantly, RECs and RMs should improve their institutional capacities and efficiency in implementing the AU’s APSA and AGA frameworks, as well as press their member states to resolve intrastate and interstate border-related problems.

Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa
Insecurity and Weapons Proliferation in Africa

To all well-meaning global citizens, it is worrisome that news about the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Africa does not catch international attention. For instance, a recent small arms survey within the borders of Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali showed an increase in smuggling and trafficking activities due to high local demand for illicit firearms.

Experts have alluded to the fact that between 2016 and 2020, Russia, the US, France, Germany and China accounted for 76% of major arms exports to Africa. This makes them the four largest exporters of major arms across the continent. More concretely, a scholar in Military Studies, Khanyile (2022) disclosed that while Russia commanded 20% of the market share in Africa, second only to the US (37%), France accounted for 8.2%, Germany 5.5%, and China 5.2%.

He further explained that at 7.3%, Africa is not a significant importer of major arms compared to Asia and Oceania (42%), Middle East (33%) and Europe (12%).

The West is not alone in this dangerous business. For instance, in pursuance of its economic, military and political ambitions, China has made Africa its little Mecca, and or Jerusalem. It would be recalled that in 2019, former US Vice President Mike Pence came hard on the Chinese for exporting “the very same technological tools that it uses in its own authoritarian regime,” notably arms and surveillance technology.

Studies by Australia’s Lowy Institute and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) seem to reinforce these views when they found that arms imports from China accounts for 17% of the total African arms imports between 2013 and 2017, amounting to a 55% increase over the previous five-year period.

Security experts have maintained that Russia is building its way to gaining a base in Africa and so increasing its export map for arms on the continent. Moscow has, within the last two decades, managed to deepen its connection with Africa, becoming the biggest arms supplier on the continent in the process.

In May 2020, Deutsche Welle reported that Russia’s state arms seller, Rosoboronexport, had announced in April the first contract to supply assault boats to a country in sub- Saharan Africa. According to the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia accounts for 49% of total arms exports to Africa. These arms exports are ferried to Algeria, Egypt, Sudan and Angola. African states are often termed as unstable countries, which pose as international threat due to the unwholesome activities of terrorist groups. For instance, the fall of Libya, wars in Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Congo, and terrorist attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, Burkina Faso, as well as in other North African countries like Chad, Niger, Algeria, to mention a few, has left Africa as a continent of black smoke.

In strategic patterns, Africa is again repartitioned for global trade with a view to expanding interactions with its leaders for the benefit of the West and the Asian Tigers. The initial motive of such deals are often hidden until promises are made about trade and investments, with African leaders realizing too late that everything is laid in concrete.

READ MORE: Obasanjo explains why he was against Soludo’s governorship ambition

The mere pledge to support economic relations on the continental level does not actually translate to resolving conflicts across the continent. Rather than assist in crisis prevention, the super powers would rather prepare strong-worded messages offering assurances that global terror would be dealt with. This rhetoric curative, rather than preventive measure, indicates full or partial culpability on the part of the defenders of the democratic institution, with all its ingredients of upholding human rights, ensuring freedom and justice.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, although states may not intentionally supply materiel to armed groups, the lack of clear stringent risk assessments on weapons and ammunition exports to areas prone to diversion, such as Africa, can prevent efforts at curtailing broader illicit arms deals. It suggested the leveraging of multiple data sources towards enhancing the monitoring of the ammunition trade, noting that this would help curb unauthorized activities.

All in all, the UN has a big role to play in addressing this anomaly. While there is urgent need for more transparency in the small arms and ammunition trade, it behoves on the super powers of the world to wean their appetite from overindulging in arms deal across Africa. On its part, the African Union (AU) must show leadership by urging its members to seek home-grown solutions to challenges bedevilling the African continent, on one hand and express willingness to utilize key technologies, on the other hand. That way, overdependence on “Greek gifts” would be curtailed, just as the ancient, yet timeless values of Africa – reconciliation, dialogue and Ubuntu or togetherness – would catalyse and catapult the continent to greater heights of peace, stability development and progress, in the long run.


Ejiroghene, A. O. (2020) Arms Trading and Weapons Proliferation in Africa: Implications for Nigeria, Premium Times, Insecurity in Africa: The long arms of the West and China, By Justine John Dyikuk, October 27, 2022. Audu, B. J. (2021) Global Competition for Africa, Small War Journal.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

2 × three =