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Dealing with the Illicit arms trade in Africa must be a global priority

3 min read

Conservative MP Stephen Phillips writes about his Adjournment debate this week on the Illicit arms trade in Africa and the 'priority' of eradicating it once and for all.

Given the continuing need to address the deficit, there’s a great deal of ongoing debate about the wisdom of protecting spending on international aid at 0.7% of GNI. What there shouldn’t be any debate about is ensuring that whatever the UK spends on aid is not undermined by other factors.  Sometimes, that means thinking outside the box and taking action in other areas of foreign policy.

The ready availability of illicit small arms and light weapons in Africa is one such area.  In the last year, conflict has flared and lives have been lost to armed violence from Libya to Mozambique, Algeria to Djibouti.  As the UN Secretary General pointed out when the illicit trade in small arms was last debated in the Security Council in May, more than 50,000 men, women and children are killed each year as a direct consequence of the availability of small arms, many of them women, children and the elderly.

The problem is rife and, despite an international Arms Trade Treaty which many have now ratified, it is not going to go away.  Stockpiles of arms and ammunition from defunct regimes like the one in Libya continue to fuel the terrorism of Boko Haram and al-Shabab; poorly documented and controlled arsenals of some states leak to criminals and black marketeers at a rate as high as 5% annually.  And recent upgrades to new assault weapons mean that lethal small arms are available across Africa for as little as $20 for an AK-47.

Late on Monday, the House of Commons debated the issue for the first time anyone can remember.  In moving the debate, I pointed out not just that the ready availability of light weapons and small arms blights lives across the continent, but that it threatens us here at home.  For as the migration crisis has demonstrated, without stability and cohesive societies across Africa, there is a price to be paid in Europe too.

A step change internationally is required.  Brokers and manufacturers operating at the borders of the law and sometimes well beyond it need to be dealt with; the local corruption which exempts those who deal in death from regulation needs to end; we need to monitor and control the flow of arms and ammunition and to ensure that the security of military and police arsenals is maintained; and we need to educate an entire political class that when things go against you, you don’t just start handing out the guns.

Without that, we are all threatened, and our spending on international aid is rendered less effective than it ought to be.  It is our taxes that fund the aid that the UK deploys; it is our security that demands that we tackle the root causes of migration; and it is our future that mandates that we avert the crises that fuel the scourge of terrorism threatening us all.  Dealing with illicit small arms in Africa is not just an option: it is a priority.

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