East African countries have been called upon to do more to stop the proliferation of small arms and light weapons since they still pose a great danger to millions of East African citizens.
The call came as the East African Community yesterday marked the Africa Day in Bukoba, Northwestern Tanzania, by destroying 2,600 small arms and light weapons (SALW) mostly recovered from or voluntarily surrendered by civilians and refugees leaving in the region. The occasion highlighted that security and peace were prequisites in the deepening regional integration process.
The public destruction of SALW is an on-going exercise in the Partner States spearheaded by the EAC Secretariat in an effort to eliminate the proliferation of illicit arms and light weapons, highlighting how they could seriously impact on regional integration by undermining peace, security and stability.
According to a press statement from the East African Community Secretariat, the event, which also commemorated the African Union’s 2010 Year of Peace and Security, received testimonies from seven victims of illicit SALW before a vividly stunned crowd at the Gymkhana ground.
Among those who gave shocking testimonies included a Standard Six pupil Erick Julius who was shot in the head by armed bandits in a lorry ambush in Ngara in Kagera region, Tanzania in 2007. As a result of the attack, the boy said he could not continue with his studies for four years and is partly paralyzed.
The victims generally called for national and regional strategies to fight illicit SALW in East Africa, saying that the victims were mostly innocent civilians, including women and children.
“The EAC leaders should co-operate and find solutions to this critical and growing problem of illicit arms in East African countries,” pleaded victim Corporal Jonas from Ngara.
Another victim, 69-year-old Petro Muzole recommended that Partner States should shan any leader who encourages violence and insecurity.
The chief guest at the function, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, Ambassador Hamis Kagasheki, underscored that in absence of peace all social and economic activities were surely bound to suffer.
“No development can be achieved and sustained in an insecure environment,” he said.
Ambassador Kagasheki called for competency testing and extra conditions for private individuals acquiring any weapon legally.
Beatrice Kiraso, EAC Deputy Secretary General (in charge of Political Federation), commended Tanzania’s recent decision to grant citizenships to 162,000 Burundian refugees, saying that Partner States should emulate this example which promotes peace and stability but that it was a fine example of commitment to integration.
Kiraso stressed that security was a collective responsibility of all responsible agencies in Partner States as well as individuals. ‘’Without peace, security and good neighbourliness we can not talk of successful integration,’’ she added.
The event was attended by the Bukoba District Commissioner Mr Samuel Kamote, DCP Issaya Mugulu on behalf of the Tanzania Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mr Saidi Mwema, representatives from the Ministries of Home Affairs, EAC Secretariat along with Lake Victoria Basin Commission and Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation, Army, Police, intelligence, local communities from Tanzania/Uganda and Tanzania/Rwanda as well as Tanzania/Burundi borders.
On April 17, 2010, EAC carried out a similar public destruction of illicit small arms and light weapons in Bujumbura, Burundi, while launching activities of the African Union Year of Peace.
To date, under the EAC- SALW programme, the five Partner States have destroyed more than 12,000 small arms and 600 tons of ammunition and explosives in an attempt to make EAC secure and peaceful for its people and investments. These activities are meant to lay firm foundation for the Political Federation.