A Keynote Address At A Workshop On The Fire Arms Control Act
By Tiawan S. Gongloe
The Executive Director and members of the Small Arms Commission, representatives of media and civil Society Organizations, Partners of the Commission, officials of government, invited guests, other distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
I have been invited to deliver the keynote address at this one day workshop on the Draft Fire Arms Control Act. The purpose of this workshop, as many of you have, perhaps, been informed is to provide to the media and civil society organizations in order to enable them to meaningfully cooperate and collaborate with the Small Arms Commission in providing greater information to the people of Liberia in every city, town and village about the existence and importance of the draft Act. It is my pleasure to begin the exercise of providing information on the draft Act by speaking to you on the Topic: The Proliferation of Small Arms in West Africa- A threat to Regional Peace and Security. The military coup d’états that began in the West African Region in the 1960s and continue to the 1980s metamorphosed into armed civil conflicts in West Africa, beginning in Liberia on December 24, 1989. Given, that the political, social and economic situations in most of the West African countries were similar to the situation in Liberia, the armed civil conflict in Liberia became an example for what could happen in other West African countries.
Certainly, what was speculated at the beginning of the Liberian civil conflict to be possible became a reality with, Liberia becoming a training ground for armed rebellion and a source of supplies for small arms. Sierra Leone, Guinea, Gambia and Ivory Coast experienced armed conflicts that were directly linked to the Liberian conflict and the proliferation of small arms the conflict produced.
Angry former soldiers of ECOMOG who were members of the Sierra Leone Battalion of the ECOMOG led by 25 year old Captain Valentine Strasser overthrow President Joseph Saidu Momoh, and assumed power as head of state of Sierra Leone.
The military soon formed a coalition with the rebel forces in Sierra Leone and formed joint military council. Then in the Gambia another young captain, Yaya Jameh, led a group of soldiers to overthrow President Sir Dawda Kariaba Jawara, the first President of the Republic of the Gambia. In Guinea, the movement of small arms across the border led to the combine military forces from Liberia and rebel forces from Sierra Leone apparently working with some discontented military elements from Guinea attacked Guinea and nearly took over Guikedou. Finally, Ivory Coast that was a conduit for rebel incursion into Liberia became a scene of military conflict in which Liberians and other West African fighters were combatants on the various sides of the military conflict. The more recently, the conflict in Mali that had been in the northern part of Mali led by the Turegs as secessionist war, escalated beyond the ability of the Malian Government to contain. The most troubling one is the Buku Haram military activities in Nigeria that has now extend to Cameroun, Niger and Chad. All of these conflicts were easy to start because for more than two decades there has been a continuous increase in the proliferation of small arms faster than the capacity of governments in the West African Sub-Region and ECOWAS to track. In fact there has been no structured framework in the sub-region for tracking the movement of small arms.
One does not have to be a rocket scientist to reach a conclusion that if nothing is done to at least begin registering small arms, creating armories for them and tracking their movements, the West African Sub-region will experience greater conflict and instability and consequently, no peace, and therefore, no agricultural activities and no cross-border trade. This means there will be mass state failure within the sub-region and massive displacement and suffering in a proportion not yet experienced in the sub-region. Of course, this will also increase the number
West African migrants taking risks with their lives through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea in order to seek greener pasture in Europe.
It is against this background that Liberia has drafted a New Fire Arms Act. The Act which has been submitted to the National Legislature by the President of Liberia, focuses on the identification, registration, licensing, sale, classification, custody and tracking or movement of small arms, amongst others and the penalty for violations of provisions of the Act. If the act is passed by the legislature, it will greatly become a tool for controlling the possession, chain of custody and movement of arms. Given the level of violent crimes in Liberia, particularly murder and armed robbery, the passage of this Act will create the avenue for measures for limiting the proliferation of small Arms in the country.
Finally, encourage all participants at this to take full interest in the draft act by seeking a greater understanding of its provisions, so that you can develop the ability explained it the various communities with the view of rallying the needed support at the level of the various electoral districts, for the purpose of persuading law makers from those districts to vote for the draft act. The experts are here so ask all the questions on your mind in order to get a full understanding of the draft act. The passage of this Act will provide the people of Liberia an instrument for sustaining the peace stability and security.
I thank you.