At a rather modest but ecstatic turn-over ceremony performed at the Executive Mansion grounds that harbors the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms (LiNCSA), between the former LiNCSA boss, Hon. Marvin Sackor and Atty. Teklo Maxwell Grigsby, II. the new Chairman of LiNCSA, Grigsby intonated in a firm gist his vision of a Commission that would be vigilant in the fight against the illegal sale of arms.
He didn’t fall diminutive of averring the targeted modes through which he intends to deliver on said vision, when he pinpointed his Team’s areas of concentration as in: - Education and sensitization programs; - Implementation of relevant community-based macro projects in exchange for arms collected and reported by the host communities; - Civilian arm registration marking, record-keeping, weapons collection and destruction of small arms and light weapons; - Networking and collaboration with Mano River Union Counterparts; - Decentralization, Deterrence and capacity Building.
Speed-reading through the laundry list of attention areas, I was thrilled, if not fulfilled, at the fact that education and sensitization are a key priority of the new LiNCSA, which corroborates the global call for increased public awareness, especially on the African Continent where the persistence and the complication of wars have been partly due to small arms proliferation. Although the proliferation of small arms generates a lot of money for those who manufacture and trade them, we, the people, continue to recompense a heavy price due to limited regulations employed to address the abuses those products cause.
As a matter of fact, the International Action Network on Small Arms, Saferworld, as well as Oxfam International have put it in perspective when they conveyed that armed conflict has cost Africa $18 billion each year and about $300 billion between the period 1990 and 2005 when 23 African nations, including Liberia, experienced war. Quite a lot of resources that, when saved, could be redeployed towards meaningful economic interventions that would uplift the African population out of poverty. We cannot also side-step the hard truth that Political instability in Africa continues to create more demand for small arms. Manufacturers of weapons know best the link between politics and weapons markets and are ever-present to take advantage of the weapons business it creates.
In addition to the illegal arms sales network, there is a link between the legal and the illegal trade that consists of illegally selling legally obtained arms. This is the core of the problem of small arms proliferation which violators are not interested in solving, but which policymakers and implementers MUST take a key interest in addressing. And it begins with increasing public knowledge and awareness of the very root of the challenges, which will then inform the solution curve. Consider Senegal for a case-study.
The availability of firearms in that country risked an increase of criminality and community armed violence and also facilitated many crimes such as cattle rustling, armed robbery or hold-up about four years ago. To combat this phenomenon in Senegal, the National Commission to Combat the Proliferation and Illicit Circulation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (ComNat-ALPC) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), through the Global Firearms Program, launched a four-year national campaign to raise awareness, collect, register and mark legal firearms and destroy illegal ones, with the financial support of Japan and Norway.
This campaign ran from 2014 to 2018 and realized an improvement in the traceability of firearms, as well as the awareness objective which made authorities and population aware of the danger of using Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). More than 1000 beneficiaries were reached through community engagements with women, men and young people in different areas considered to be the most affected by the phenomenon of the illicit circulation of SALW (border areas, manufacturing sites of artisanal firearms, etc.).
Messages disseminated by members of civil society grouped within the Senegalese Action Network on Small Arms (RESAAL) focused, inter alia, on national arms legislation, procedures for the purchase, carrying and possession of firearms, the voluntary surrender of illegally held firearms and the links between SALW and other forms of crime. A total of 17,298 firearms were marked in 2018, including 5,400 belonging to the paramilitary bodies (Customs, Water and Forests, Penitentiary Administration and National Police), 5,599 firearms from the National Gendarmerie and 6,299 from the National Army.
That’s the power of public awareness; everything else can follow. And that’s similar innovation, am inclined to believe, that Atty. Grigsby and team of professionals have signed up to strengthen peace and security as a strong pillar of the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).
The African Union has also strongly recognized citizens’ awareness as a major tool to combat trade in illicit small arms and light weapons which continue to cause untold suffering and pain, threatening the peace and security of the region.
However important, engaging public awareness on such a delicate issue of national importance is requiring of concerted stakeholders’ efforts, considering the somewhat limited consciousness level. The country’s illiteracy rate is placed at 39.2% (between ages 15 to 65) which poses a herculean challenge for knowledge building about the Commission’s activities. As such, rallying stakeholders’ involvement to include: the entire security sector, civil and religious societies, the mass media and the general citizenry, whose presence were reflected at the turn-over ceremony on yesterday, is the only sustainable way of achieving the goals of the Commission.
We can only hasten to entreat Atty. Grigsby and team of professionals at LiNCSA to continue on this good footing of collaboration and inclusive leadership to enable the attainment of sustainable peace and security in our borders. At the point when the public is adequately aware of the need by law to curb the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, then comes the acknowledgement that security, development and human rights are interconnected; whereby, LiNCSA’s action plans shall then be integrated into peacebuilding efforts, broader poverty reduction mechanisms and human security frameworks, all of which tie in to the remaining pillars of the new LiNCSA’s vision.
Written By: Ad Kawah, Development Communications Specialist.
The Author is a Development Communications Specialist and a Regional Maritime University (RMU) trained with Regional Competence in Maritime Communications as well as Maritime Safety & Security in the Gulf of Guinea. He can be reached at Email: [email protected] or Mobile #: +231 886207962 / 775 849643.