Africa, Headlines

GHANA: Indecisive On Small Arms Control

Francis Kokutse

ACCRA, Dec 4 2008 (IPS) - It is estimated that there are eight million small arms in circulation in the West African subregion, with grave consequences for the region’s security.

“[The weapons have] led to civil wars in the past and fuelled some of the ethnic clashes all over the region. Some of these arms have found their way into the Niger Delta in Nigeria,” says Baffour Amoa, President of the West Africa Network on Small Arms.

“There is no way that one can give the exact figure on illicit arms,” he told IPS. “It is estimated that Ghana has about 200,000 of such arms in circulation.”

Amoa said many of the conflicts recorded in the region would not have been possible without the proliferation of small arms. He mentioned the Russian arms dealer, Victor Bout, who was among those who delivered illegal weapons that fuelled the crises in both Sierra Leone and Liberia the 1990s.

Today, arms from the civil war in Cote d’Ivoire are increasingly finding their way into Ghana.

The issue is of particular concern for the Ghanaian government with general elections taking place in December. The Ghanaian authorities fear that with illegal arms circulating in the country – and some of these have been used in recent communal conflicts in the north of the country – there is the possibility that some disgruntled politicians could use these arms to create problems in the country.

Baffour Amoa says that as “Ghana’s elections draws near, there are signals that some of these illicit arms are likely to be used to create trouble in the country.”

In some parts of the north, there have been reports of gun shots during clashes between supporters of rival political parties. In August, two people were killed in Tamale when supporters of the two leading parties, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the main opposition party, National Democratic Congress (NDC) clashed after a political rally.

Emmanuel Kwesi Enning, a security expert and research fellow at the Kofi Annan International Peace Keeping Training Centre in Accra cautioned the government publicly that the country’s security was sliding and could explode with the slightest action.

He noted: “Pockets of violence and militarism experienced during the primaries of the ruling NPP and the on-going limited voter registration exercise have the tendency of jeopardizing Ghana’s security, if they are not nipped in the bud.”

Further stirring the pot was a report on an Accra FM station by a former inspector of Police, Albert Johnson, claiming that some arms and weapons that disappeared from the Police Armoury at Tamale in the north of the country were later used in armed robbery and conflicts in the region.

A former deputy defence minister, Tony Aidoo has accused the government of engaging in gun running. “In 2002 the ruling New Patriotic Party government decided to bring arms into the country under suspicious circumstances,” he told IPS. “The security services were not involved with the procurement and the importation or its evacuation from the ports.”

Aidoo added: “The clandestine nature of the discharge of the arms and weapons is a concern because no one knows exactly how much was brought into the country.”

At the time, he said, the government announced that the arms were to be used by an elite force that was being trained to protect dignitaries. “These arms were sent to locations that had nothing to do with the national security apparatus and to date no one knows where these arms are.”

Ghana’s minister of state for the interior, Nana Obiri Boahen, said the government is doing all it can to control the proliferation of weapons in the country. In addition to guns smuggled into the country, a significant number are made by local gunsmiths, and the Ghanaian authorities are now torn between “saving the skills of those whose lives depend on arms production and simply banning the industry which presently creates a security threat,” said Boahen.

In areas where guns are known to be manufactured, such as in the eastern part of the country around Nkonya, the industry is very difficult to control because the people have become evasive using all forms of tricks to beat the security agencies. There are no statistics for how many people the industry employs, but Boahen says it has become an important trade.

“We have noted also that they are very skilled in the art of producing these small weapons and some people have called for the government to permit the industry and only control it through tracing and marking to know where and who produces what.”

However, this runs counter to the direction that the regional body, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is taking. The ECOWAS Small Arms Control Programme (ECOSAP) was set up five years ago to build the capacity of national commissions on small arms and civil society to help defeat the phenomenon.

“Unfortunately, only seven countries out of the eight countries required – Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Gambia and Nigeria – have since then ratified the regional convention on small arms,” says Nana Boahen. While Ghana’s government in November destroyed a quantity of confiscated small arms, it is not clear when it will ratify ECOSAP.

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