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Africa: Countries to Harmonize Laws on Arms Control

(Sept. 10, 2009) It was reported on September 7, 2009, that countries from Africa's Great Lakes region and the Horn are in the process of harmonizing their laws to better fight the spread of small arms across national borders. (Mathias Ringa, African Countries Take Up Laws to Fight Spread of Small Arms, THE EASTAFRICAN, Sept. 7, 2009, available at

In March 2000, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, the Federal Transitional Government of Somalia, Sudan, Seychelles, Tanzania, and Uganda signed a Declaration on the Problem of Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa. Through this declaration, they formed the Regional Center on Small Arms and Light Weapons (RECSA), an institutional framework “to coordinate the joint effort by National Focal Points in Member States to prevent, combat and eradicate stockpiling and illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons.” (RECSA website, (last visited Sept. 8, 2009).) As part of this effort, RECSA recently started a process of marking state-owned firearms, with the idea of establishing national databases and assigning country codes to be added to all state-owned weapons and thus giving states the ability to trace any illegal weapon that was at some point state-owned. States will also have the ability to trace the origins of weapons that have been transported across borders by making tracing requests through Interpol. (Ringa, supra.)

In order to effectively combat cross-border movement of illegal arms, these countries have also recently agreed to harmonize their criminal laws and are exploring the possibility of stipulating identical punishments for crimes of moving illegal arms across national borders. Ahmed Wafuba, Uganda's Commissioner of Police, summarized the process of harmonizing laws, stating: “[w]e want a situation whereby an offender in Kenya gets the same punishment as in Uganda rather than for one country to administer harsher sentences than the other.” (Ringa, supra.)

Representatives from the countries of the two regions also highlighted the particular initiatives their countries are taking on this front. Ndabaneze Zenon, an official from Burundi, reported that his government has thus far been able to recover 49,000 illegal arms, of which 3,000 were recovered just last month. He attributed the success rate to a “Bicycles for Clunkers”-type program in which the government awards bicycles to individuals who surrender their guns. Wanjuki Muchemi, Kenya's Solicitor-General, noted that the Kenyan government was in the midst of harmonizing the Organized Crime Bill, Terrorism Bill, and the International Crime Bill, to ensure that the government has the necessary means to fight the spread of illicit arms. (Ringa, supra.)