Nairobi — All firearms in the Great Lakes Region, East Africa and the Horn of Africa will soon be marked with country codes, force code and serial numbers in the fight against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
A workshop organised by the Regional Centre on Small Arms and held recently on Kenya's South Coast was told that 12 manual arms- marking machines have already been purchased through funding from the US government and will be distributed to each member state. The centre's member countries had in a previous meeting agreed on a December deadline to mark and create an arms database.
However the centre's research and gender officer, Francis Wairagu said the organisation will also purchase the recommended electronic arms-marking machines by June this year. Mr Wairagu said the organisation had purchased manual machines since they do not require electricity in case the users are in areas that lack electricity.
He said it was important for the member states to be provided with the electronic machines, which mark weapons and add it to the database at the same time.
The centre's political liaison officer, Capt Julius Kithamba, said the marking of arms by the member states will be done in line with the International Standards Organisation, with a code given to each state. All small arms in Kenya, for example, will be marked with a star, followed by the country code KE and then the initial of each of the armed forces disciplines for arms held by government security agencies.
"For example a firearm allocated to the Kenya Army will have a star, KE, followed by KA, whereas if it belongs to the Kenya Police, it will be marked with a star, thenKE, followed by KP and then the firearm's serial number," he said.
Cap Kithamba said besides marking of firearms, Kenya will also set up a database for all firearms held by individuals as well as governments.
The centre's member countries are from the Great Lakes Region, East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Participants were drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Sudan, Seychelles, Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The key speakers were Kenya's Police Commissioner Maj-Gen Hussein Ali, the centre's executive secretary Francis Sang and his deputy Tharcisse Midonzi.
Maj-Gen Ali underlined the importance of information on the sources, routes, culprits, quantities and other information that could be used in the control of small arms proliferation.
He reaffirmed Kenya's commitment to the speedy implementation of the Nairobi Protocol and the best practice guidelines that require that all member states mark their legally acquired arms by the end of this year.
He urged all member states to expedite the marking of their small weapons and light weapons and create the required databases. "We must bear in mind that failure by one state to do so, will compromise the entire regional effort," he said.
Mr Sang said the databases to be created by the member countries will aid in the tracing of firearms from the manufacturer to the eventual owner. This, he noted, will enable states to detect illicit manufacture and trafficking of small and light weapons.
He added that Tanzania and South Africa are among the few countries on the continent that have advanced electronic databases on small arms.
The participants recommended the provision of electronic arms marking machines, since apart from creating a database, they can also brand 1,500 arms a day while the manual ones mark only 500 firearms.
Participants were in agreement that if the states were provided with the electronic machines, they would be able to beat the December deadline.
On the regional security situation, the workshop heard that the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons has aggravated internal security in Somalia as well as posing a threat of peace in neighbouring states.
Somalia's Deputy Police Commissioner Bashir Mohamed Jama said the bulk of the small arms in the wartorn country are in the hands of terrorist groups, warlords, militia, clans and the business community, thus interfering with efforts to end internal conflicts.
Mr Jama said the Somalia government alone cannot contain the proliferation of small arms in the country because of the large number of weapons in the hands of warlords, militias and civilians.
In an interview with The EastAfrican, Mr Jama said the interim Somalia government under President Abdillahi Yusuf lacked the capacity to curb the proliferation of illicit arms.
He said that neighbouring states must help Somalia, noting that if they did not, they would end up being affected, since the illicit weapons are smuggled into Kenya by militias and civilians fleeing conflict in the country. He said he could not deny that the spillover of illicit weapons from his country has led to smuggling of weapons into Kenya and other states, which later end up being used by criminals.
However, he said his country was working closely with the Kenya government and other neighbouring states to curb the spillover of small arms, which have aggravated insecurity in the region.
"My country is working with Kenya and other member states to curb smuggling of illicit arms. In this way we shall clear our name because everybody is pointing a finger at Somalia though some of the illegal arms do not come from my country," he said.
He appealed to the international community to assist in the field of capacity building to enable the training of police and soldiers in how to curb proliferation of illicit small and light weapons.
On the other hand, he said, civilians ought to be educated on the need to surrender firearms in-order to hasten recovery from the effects of civil strife.
"The transitional government is faced with the tough task of disarming civilians, since the bulk of the firearms are in the wrong hands compared with those which are legally owned by the state," he added.
"We need international support if we are to succeed in disarming terrorist groups, warlords, the militiamen, clans and the business community," Mr Jama said.
He said 12 out of the 16 districts in Mogadishu are currently under the full control of the government while the remaining ones are affected by sporadic violence.
He added that his government would implement the branding of small arms and create a database to combat illict arms proliferation.
Sylvestre Kibeceri, a co-ordinator of the Burundi National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons, said his country needed to disarm civilians who illegally possess the bulk of firearms.
He said that, according to a study carried out in 2005, there were an estimated 100,000 illegal firearms. The government then initiated a disarming process, and to date, 10,000 firearms have been recovered from civilians.
Mr Kibeceri said the integration of the 12 member states in tackling illicit arms proliferation will go a long way towards tracing and recovering illegal arms.
Eric Kayiranga, from Rwanda, said the problem of small arms proliferation in Rwanda was still a major challenge, since illicit arms are still in the hands of civilians.
He said that so far, his government had recovered 15,000 small arms and light weapons, while 7,500 of them have been destroyed.
A senior police officer from Sudan, Mohamed Saeed, said his country had rolled out a strategic plan aimed at disarming civilians.
He noted that the Khartoum government has made progress in disarming fighters in both Southern and Northern Sudan in an effort to tame insecurity in the country.
By the close of the conference, member states reaffirmed their commitment to produce small arms progress reports at a small arms conference to be held in New York in July.