THE PROLIFERATION of small arms and light weapons remains a serious threat to regional security.
Murder, poaching, cattle rustling, robbery, carjacking and acts of terrorism, among others, have been greatly fuelled by the continued proliferation of illicit firearms.
The many porous borders between regional countries, which are hard to control, are the most used to smuggle small arms between countries, which are later used to commit crimes.
Speaking to The New Times, last week, in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, the East African Community Secretary-General, Dr Richard Sezibera, acknowledged the challenges of combating illegal possession of firearms, but said with collective efforts, they will eventually address the issue.
"Illegal weapons are a challenge to the region, but we are dealing with them," Dr Sezibera told this paper after witnessing the destruction of over 3000 recovered firearms. "That's why we are bringing together partner states to find a solution."
Last week, EAC member states-Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi-ratified the Security Protocol, which provides a clear approach on how to tackle security threats in the region.
With the protocol, the five states will collaborate in various security areas, including the control of small and light arms.
The protocol outlines a joint cooperation in developing policies, measures, mechanisms, strategies and programmes to control the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons.
This means member states will have to act together to eradicate the firearms and put an end to their illegal trade and use.
Dr Sezibera said the partner states have already instituted measures and strategies to control the proliferation of illegal arms in order to avoid having them fall into the hands of criminals.
Among the measures include public awareness programmes so people can voluntarily surrender their arms to authorities as well as routine operations to search and recuperate the weapons from the population.
They also include destroying of recovered or surrendered arms, supply of mobile arms marking equipment, construction of model armouries and supply of arms storage equipment adapted to remote outposts.
"All these efforts have been directed at enhancing the management of state owned and licensed arms and also minimising recirculation of recovered or surrendered arms," Dr Sezibera said.
Last week, officials from the five EAC member states witnessed the destruction of over 3,100 illegal firearms at Ukonga Prison Ground, about 15 kilometres from Dar-es-Salaam.
Speaking at the event, Dr Sezibera commended the regional efforts to tackle the issue in the region.
For the last six years, more than 200,000 weapons and 400,000 tonnes of explosives have been destroyed across the EAC partner states, Dr Sezibera said.
The coordinator of small arms and light weapons in the country, ACP Sam Bruce Karemera, said, "Rwanda has been appreciated for its fruitful efforts in disarmament."
Tanzania's vice-president Mohammed Gharib Bilal called on the general public to collaborate with security organs in search of people who illegally possess firearms.
Bilal said some 500,000 firearms are still in the hands of criminals in the region. The individuals continue to threaten life and security, he said.
"We have a serious challenge to eliminate security threats and challenges posed by illegal possession of firearms in the region," Bilal said, adding, "Let us join hands to curb illegal small and light weapons."