The importance of international cooperation and assistance to improve stockpile management in Africa

This article was written by Félix Kokou Aklavon, member of the International Advisory Council (IAC) and the Togolese Action Network on Small Arms (RASALT) for the Small Arms Monitor during the preparatory committee for the 2012 Review Conference on the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms (PoA).

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The manufacture, sale, stockpiling and illicit circulation of small arms and ammunition has always represented a major danger for civilians. The most recent proof is the explosion of an ammunition depot in the Congolese capital, killing more than 250 and causing the disappearance and displacement of thousands of others.

Unfortunately, Brazzaville isn’t the first of these tragedies in Africa. The following cases, occurring both before and after the adoption of the UN Programme of Action, must also be remembered:

-      The fire and explosion of an ammunition depot at the airport of N’djili in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in April 2000, killing more than 104;

-      The fire in an ammunition depot in Conakry, Guinea, in March 2001 (42 deaths);

-      The explosion of an ammunition depot in the barracks of Ikeja in Lagos, Nigeria, in January 2002 (more than 1,000 deaths);

-      The explosion of an ammunition depot near the airport of Maputo, Mozambique, in 2007 (more than 100 deaths);

-      The explosion of an ammunition depot in the military camp of M’Bagala in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2009 (28 deaths).

These repeated incidents pose the problem of stockpiling of small arms and ammunition in the world, and particularly in Africa. The militarisation of cities, where hospitals are often under-equipped and sometimes non-existent, shows that the millions of dollars spent in the acquisition of ammunition should be spent instead to build and better equip hospitals and schools.

How do international assistance and cooperation relate to the management of arms flows and stockpiling?

Here and now is the opportunity to call on States to elaborate, adopt and implement national action plans on small arms and ammunition. As the African Group and the non-aligned movement have emphasised in their statements on Monday, international assistance is crucial to support the implementation of national actions plans in developing countries. In particular, funding from overseas development budgets should be allocated to support stockpile management, through measures such as regular inspections of stockpiles and the development and maintenance of inventories. As many stockpiles in Africa are situated in cities and towns, it is also necessary to consider their relocation away from densely populated areas.

Does the international community need to wait for yet another tragedy to react? How many deaths do we need to wait for before realising and changing the situation? Through the UN Programme of Action on small arms, the whole world can and must take appropriate decisions and steps, and send a strong signal of their commitment to millions of victims and survivors.