The African Union (AU) Commission on Saturday disclosed an urgent need to collect illicit weapons in possession of civilians in Africa as an estimated 40 million weapons presently under the possession of civilians across the continent.
The statement was made by Smail Chergui, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, in a statement issued in relation to the Africa Amnesty Month, which is the implementation of the AU theme of the year 2020 “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”.
The Africa Amnesty Month, which is an integral aspect of the African Union Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa, was declared during the 29th summit of the AU that was held in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia back in July 2017, which declared the month of September of each year as the Africa Amnesty Month for the surrender and collection of illicit arms.
“We are currently undertaking the collection of illicit weapons in possession of civilians. The AU Peace and Security Commission, in partnership with Small Arms Survey, undertook a Mapping Study on Illicit Small Arms Flows in Africa recently and one significant finding of the study, was the number of civilian-held weapons in the African continent, which was estimated at forty million as of 2017,” the AU Peace and Security Commissioner said.
According to the AU, the estimated 40 million civilian-held weapons in the African continent accounts for about 80 percent of all arms on the continent.
“This includes private individuals, registered businesses such as private security companies, and non-state armed groups. This is as opposed to the estimate of the continent’s armed forces and law enforcement agencies that hold less than 11 million arms,” Chergui said.
From the 40 million civilian-held weapons, about 5.8 million are recorded as being officially registered, while about 16 million are unregistered. The status of the remaining more than 18 million is unclear, according to the AU.
“This is a cause for concern for all of us,” Chergui said, as he emphasised that “we need to redouble our efforts to address this challenge, which in fact is a very serious threat to peace, governance and development.”
He also emphasised the need “to ask ourselves how many of these unregistered weapons have been collected, whether within the framework of the Amnesty Month, or through other national disarmament programmes”.
The AU Peace and Security Commissioner also stressed that the conduct of the Africa Amnesty Month this September “is important in fulfilling the spirit of the 2013 Assembly Solemn Declaration to rid Africa of wars and usher in prosperity for the citizens”.
According to Chergui, the Africa Amnesty Month provides for the voluntary surrender by civilians of weapons in their illegal possession, on the condition of anonymity and immunity from prosecution.
“This is an opportunity that every citizen of Africa should seize and utilise to contribute towards the realisation of a peaceful, secure and prosperous continent,” he added.
The AU emphasised that the illegal possession of weapons by non-state actors, individuals and groups, is one of the contributing factors to armed violence that continues to plague Africa and its people.
“Removing these illegal weapons from circulation and use is, therefore, central to realising peace, security and stability in the continent. Indeed, the Amnesty Month contributes to efforts towards silencing the guns in Africa,” according to the AU.