History Never Repeats? Imports, Impact and Control of Small Arms in Africa

  • Citation: Grip, Lina. “History Never Repeats? Imports, Impact and Control of Small Arms in Africa.” Contemporary Security Policy 36, no. 1 (January 2, 2015): 79–103.
    • Topics:
    • Conflict and Security
    • Keywords:
    • small arms proliferation
    • historical data and analysis
    • African continent

Almost across the board, recent studies of small arms proliferation and policy in Africa seem to have disengaged from historical data and analysis. This article contextualizes current debates on small arms and how they relate to the African continent, by revisiting historical data and analysis. The article draws on the relatively large literature on firearms in African history from the slave trade to early independence to offer new ways of thinking about small arms imports, the impact and prospects for control. Despite the richness of historical studies, they tend to be treated as historical conditions, not assessed for their implications for the current small arms regime. Reflecting on the historical sequence, it appears as if the situation today resembles that of the beginning of the 20th century. Enforcement of local leadership is often weak and the arms trade is relatively large and liberalized. This review finds that historical conditions and structures are built into Africa’s current arms control architecture, posing significant challenges for effectiveness and legitimacy. The large scale of old and obsolete small arms frequent in sub-Saharan Africa suggests that weapon destruction programmes, rather than marking, recordkeeping and safe stockpiling of old stocks or recovered weapons, would often be more manageable and offer greater improvements in local security. The positive aspects of external influences on African sub-regional arms control regimes in terms of financial and technical support should be carefully weighed against the risk of reinforcing old patterns.

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