Africa armed violence and the illicit arms trade

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Brian Wood and Peter Danssaert recently contributed a chapter on Africa’s illicit arms trade to ‘Gun Trafficking and Violence. From the Global Network to the Local Security Challenge‘ edited by David Pérez Esparza, Carlos A. Pérez Ricart, and Eugenio Weigend Vargas (2021).


In this chapter the authors consider major structural factors contributing to the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons in Africa. Stemming from the legacy of colonial domination, widespread extreme poverty, porous borders, and competition over natural resources, the majority of Africa’s 54 states have struggled to establish effective regulatory systems to control small arms trading activities and ensure legitimate possession and use of such arms and ammunition. Citing concrete cases and data, the authors illustrate how demand for such weapons is driven by very high levels of recurring armed conflict as well as by pervasive patterns of armed violence and state repression.

Most supplies originate from outside the continent as local factory production is relatively small. However, mismanagement and corruption in procurement and stockpile security, as well as cross-border trafficking and political conflict, contribute to their diversion into a multitude of illicit markets and into the hands of unauthorized users including organized crime and terrorist groups. The authors argue that frameworks of international law and standards could provide African states with a relatively comprehensive basis to develop systems of national regulation and accountability for the trade and use of small arms, but that such developments depend on much greater political will to do so and public awareness of the problems and solutions, as well as the provision of appropriate technical and financial assistance by the international community.