Controlling Illegal Arms Production In Ghana

Kwesi-Ahwoi  By Clemence Okumah
The trade of blacksmiths otherwise known as gunsmiths has fueled the national concern about the illegal manufacturing and sale of small arms and light weapons and their connotation on peace and security.

The records have staggering reports of civilians using illicit arms in robberies, land and chieftaincy disputes, and other criminal activities, unleashing bloody terror, violence and murderous strikes on innocent citizens with impunity.

Last week, the police reportedly arrested Prince Ogeyiri, Mawuli Sedzo, both carpenters, and Ebenezer Awuku, a carver, for possessing locally manufactured   weapons and dried leaves suspected to be Indian hemp, at Agbobloshie, behind the Bimbilla lorry station, in Accra. According to the police the suspects were allegedly preparing for an armed robbery operation when they were apprehended.

There is also the tendency that some of those in possession of illegal guns would not hesitate to press the trigger at the least provocation, as evident by reported incidence of peeved persons shooting their partners over frivolous reason including being denied sex, or misunderstanding over the sharing of a meal.

Recently, the police arrested one Kwabena Tawiah for allegedly shooting to death his ex-girl friend, Salamatu Salifu, at Ahiwena near Buoku in the Wenchi Municipality, in the Brong-Ahafo Region. This is because Tawiah could not bear the agony of losing Salifu to another man, after efforts to revive the broken relationship proved futile.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the West African Action on Small Arms estimated that more than 80,000 illicit small arms are in the hands of civilians in Ghana, and 90 per cent of crimes are committed by people using locally manufactured guns.

The group in a recent study indicated that between 50,000 and 52,000 guns are manufactured by 2,000 blacksmiths annually in the country, implying that each blacksmith and his team are capable of supplying an average of 25 to 26 guns annually.

Though the gun makers are scattered all over the country, Alavanyo in the Volta Region, Suame Magazine, in Kumasi, in Ashanti Region, and Sabonjida-Macheleua in Tamale in the Northern Region, are some of the well-known national trade centres for guns. John Lokoo, Programe Coordinator of Regional Small Arms and Light Weapons at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping and Training Centre (KAIPTC), in Accra, has sent a signal that the danger associated with the phenomenon can be devastating if not properly handled.

He said the day Ghana would fail to successfully manage issues such as election dispute, disagreement over land, natural resources and chieftaincy, armed conflict can explode.

Apart from Lokoo’s warning, the situation is even more precarious in view of the fact that the producers and users of illegal guns belong to different political, religious, ethnic and interest groups. They can be at loggerhead with each other and indeed, some groups are already engaged in protracted factional conflicts. Conflicts in some parts of Northern and Volta Regions, for instance have been stimulated by the production and possession of illegal arms.

The West Africa Peace Network for Peace Building (WANEP) Ghana’s national early warning system for the quarter ending March 2014 indicated that despite stringent efforts by the security agencies, armed attacks remain the topmost security threat to the country.

The WANEP has alerted that the security situation in the northern part of Ghana in particular will remain volatile until security agencies stop the proliferation of illegal arms. The increased media reports on the arrest of gun producers in the country indicates that the skills in arms production seems to be improving and increasing at an impressive and alarming rate depending on how one views and analyses the industry.

One wonders why illegal gun manufacturing persists in Ghana despite comprehensive efforts by government, security agencies, individuals and organisations, as well as the existence of punitive laws, to stop the trend. It is a first degree offence under the criminal code for anyone to manufacture or possess a gun without clearance from the Ghana Police Service, which carries a minimum punishment of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum of life sentence.

Ironically, the prohibition placed on the production of guns in the country, is not affecting the industry as it is growing from strength to strength, with gunsmiths operating sophisticated and secretive networks.

The production of illegal guns appears to be a complex issue as it is often a family business, and several parts of the weapons are obtained from different sources and assembled.

Perhaps what makes the trade flourish is that the manufacturing is simple, and all that the artisan sets to do is to transform scrap metal into a gun. The implements needed include a pair of bellows iron pipe, forge anvil, chisel, hammer, hacksaw and sledgehammer. Arresting those involved in this business is a herculean task because they apply their skills often under cover at private homes, kitchens, farms and hamlets.

Additionally, blacksmiths are a hot cake because of the strategic location of Ghana, in the volatile West African sub–region. Actually, Ghana’s long-standing and socially embedded gun-making tradition makes it a country of particular concern in the sub region.

To worsen the situation, the trade in illegal guns is being facilitated by activities of middlemen, who buy the arms from producers cheaply for distribution to customers at high prices.

The Ghana government as part of its determination to deal with the illicit arms trade and possession, has established the National Commission on Small Arms (NCSA) besides the Act of Parliament (Act 736) to deal with issues relating to small arms and light weapons, and educate the public on the dangers of proliferation of small arms to peace, security and development.

Accordingly, the NCSA has undertaken community sensitisation and programmes and collection of confiscated weapons for destruction. In furtherance of moves to curb illegal production and use of arms, Colonel Seth Ohene Asare, Chairman of the NCSA, has urged Parliament to endorse the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to ensure safety in Ghana.

At the planning meeting to promote the ratification of the ATT by the Economic Community of African States (ECOWAS), he noted that the illicit trade thrives because the weapons are sold across Ghana’s borders.

In fact, Ghana needs to expedite action on the ratification of the ATT, a United Nations (UN) multilateral agreement that regulates the international trade in conventional weapons, including small arms, battle tanks, compact aircraft and warship, aimed at preventing arms flow to conflict zones.

It is gratifying to note that to demonstrate its commitment to the fight against illegal production and sale of arms, Ghana has also signed the ECOWAS moratorium on the importation and manufacture of small arms and light weapons in 1998, apart from the signing and ratification of the UN treaty on Small Arms and Light Weapons, and its consequent plan of action.

Additionally, Ghana has supported efforts by West African Action Network on Small Arms, the KAIPTC, the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament, International Committee of Red Cross and the World Council of Churches, to end illegal arms production and trade. However, while a school of thought advocates a complete ban on the production and sale of illicit guns, others think that such action would be in futility and rather aggravate the problem.

A research conducted by the Foundation for Security Development in Africa (FOSDA) on the social, economic and political implications on outright ban on arms production in Ghana, has made striking revelations. The FOSDA report indicates that the ban on small arms manufacture, distribution and sale would not be practicable or possible because some families depend on the illicit business for their daily survival.

To such families the prohibition would mean depriving them of their major source of income, and as a result they would continue to produce weapons undercover. Presenting the research report in Accra, Mr Edgar Takyi Akornnor, FOSDA official, said all small arms producers or blacksmiths, who responded to questions, did not believe that complete proscription is probable. Some of them said despite police harassment and vigilance of other security agencies, arms production would continue.

Some people are of the view that legislation should not outlaw craft gun production, but establish regulations to bring the trade into the open, while strengthening government control.

Though government has declared an amnesty period for the handover of illegal arms to the police, and nobody seems to be heeding to it. All the same, this can be done persistently, and be moderated by civil society, to make the process sustainable without the fear of arrest and prosecution. As a nation, we should not be quick to dismiss the activities of the blacksmiths and not lose sight of their role in promoting the local economy.

Economic incentives should, therefore, be provided to gun makers for them to shift to the production of non-lethal agricultural inputs such as hoes and cutlasses, and industrial products.

The persistent and complicated nature of the manufacturing of illegal arms in Ghana require the joint efforts of government, organisations, civil society, security agencies and the international community to bring the situation under control.

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