T
H
E

L
I
B
E
R
T
A
R
I
A
N

E
N
T
E
R
P
R
I
S
E


I
s
s
u
e

68


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 68, March 31, 2000
March Madness

Gun Controllers Land in Africa

by Andrew Muriithi
andrew97@wharton.upenn.edu

Special to TLE

           For a long time I had known that the gun control debate was not confined to the United States alone. I had read about gun bans in Britain and Australia and the efforts of the HCI-equivalent in South Africa, Gun Free South Africa, to achieve the same in that country. But for the first time, under the aegis of the United Nations, the international gun controllers have landed in East Africa. At this moment, the East Africa and Great Lakes Conference on the Proliferation of Small Arms is being held at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies in Nairobi, the capitol of Kenya. The conference is jointly funded by the Kenya Government and the governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. It has drawn participants from Rwanda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi and Djibouti. The Nairobi Initiative is the first to specifically target East Africa and the Great Lakes region. According to press reports, the UN has also organized other anti-gun initiatives including the US-EU common principles on small arms and light weapons, the Latin American Countries Initiative and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Moratorium.
           In an opening address delivered to the four-day conference on Sunday, March 12, 2000, Kenyan Foreign Minister Bonaya Godana said Africa has over 100 million illegal firearms, especially in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, both politically volatile hotspots. Godana said according to UN estimates, illicit small arms trade is believed to account for almost half of the total volume of international transfers in small arms and light weapons. "These arms filter far beyond armies and police forces to irresponsible groups, criminal organisations, private security forces, vigilante squads and individual citizens", said Godana. [It is interesting to note how individual citizens are juxtaposed to vigilante squads, criminal organizations and "irresponsible groups."] On Monday, March 13, Francis Muthaura, the chairman of the secretariat of the East African Community, the newly revived economic bloc including Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, announced the formation of a security committee to deal with the proliferation of arms in the region. He said the flow of illegal arms into the region has contributed to the rising rate of violent crimes and conflicts.
           There is no doubt that worldwide, there is a deep hostility toward civilian firearms ownership. In Africa, civilian gun ownership is a sparse tradition, limited mostly to European communities in southern Africa where frontier colonist attitudes still endure. Following the election victory of the marxist African National Congress in 1994 and the party's almost total parliamentary sweep four years later, gun ownership in South Africa is under greater threat than ever. The crime explosion in that country adds fuel to the anti-gun sentiment. In East Africa, the situation is different. British colonial rule in the late 19th Century and the early 20th Century forbid ownership of alcohol and firearms by Africans. The first armed African rebellion against British rule erupted in 1952 when the world-renown Mau Mau militia began a guerilla campaign against British administrative posts and farms in the so-called White Highlands in Central Kenya, powering their campaign with firearms stolen from British armories and manufactured at home. The colonies of Uganda, Tanganyika and Kenya, in that order, all attained independence within one year of one another, with Kenya being the last East African country to do so in 1963. The Mau Mau campaign was widely believed to have accelerated British acquiescence to demands for African independence, at a time when the Colonial Office in London would have delayed autonomy to as late as 1975.
           Upon attaining independence, the newly independent African governments maintained the strict colonial firearms laws, thwarting the opportunity for firearms ownership to become a guaranteed right of citizenship. The Kenya Constitution, for example, was negotiated at a series of conferences between African nationalists and the colonial government at Lancaster House in London. Hence, following the pattern of British law and institutions, a definite constitutional theme for freedom and liberty failed to be articulated in the document. A weak Bill of Rights was included that gave the new government power to suspend or sanction it. This was the general sequence of events in East Africa and the Great Lakes, and as a result, the expansion of tyrannical regimes was inevitable. The Rwanda genocide, the Sudan and Somalia conflicts are symptomatic. So far, only Somalia has managed to completely dismantle the central state. Contrary to international press reports, Mogadishu is probably one of the safest cities in Eastern Africa due to the high rate of civilian gun ownership. Somalis have for the most part rejected attempts by warlords and their UN sponsors to reinstitute the governmental structure that was responsible for the breakout of civil war.
           Needless to mention, the governmental attitude toward civilian firearms ownership in East Africa has been draconian, with strict licensing procedures that only benefit the ruling class, law enforcement, the military, politically-connected businessmen and wealthy personalities. But perhaps more importantly, social attitudes are decidedly against gun ownership. Most citizens in these countries have an irrational fear of firearms due to a lack of exposure to them or training in how to use them. The colonial legacy of gun proscription has created a disconnect between responsible civilian ownership and personal security and political freedom. Governments have taken advantage of a lack of knowledge and tradition to stamp out civilian gun ownership.
           Kenya today is facing a crime explosion akin to that which has taken place in South Africa. Violent robberies, carjackings, rape and murder have rocked not only the capitol, but also rural regions previously thought to be outside the reaches of sophisticated crime. Criminals are highly equipped, employing high capacity Uzis and AK-47s imported from hotspots like Somalia and southern Sudan. Despite government decree outlawing weapons, arms traffic has not been stemmed and loss of life and property continues. However, law-abiding citizens may be wising up, and for the first time, Kenya is witnessing civil disobedience with regard to gun ownership. In parts of the Rift Valley province where random banditry and cattle-rustling, believed to be state-inspired under internecine pretext, is prevalent, whole villages are communally purchasing high-powered firearms and arming civilian militias for their common defense. The Kenyan government, under presidential leadership, has threatened martial measures to disarm civilians after firearms amnesties have met successive failure. In the main urban centers, such civilian action has not been documented, perhaps because of the proximity to the seat of government, but it is widely known that a large firearms black market exists especially in the capitol Nairobi, where metropolitan crime is most concentrated. It is against this backdrop that the UN Small Arms Conference is taking place.
           Americans should really thank their lucky stars that the right to keep and bear arms is a well-established political doctrine. It is extremely disturbing that the country is going the way of Europe and the rest of the world. Random shooting incidents continue to make political hay for the anti-gun politicians and groups, while well-established Second Amendment groups like the National Rifle Association buckle under pressure to introduce further strictures on gun ownership. Second Amendment champions should see the gun control agenda in an international context in the manner that the Founding Fathers did. Such perspective is invaluable if true freedom is to continue ringing in the United States.


Next to advance to the next article, or
Previous to return to the previous article, or
Table of Contents to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 68, March 31, 2000.