has become an established transit route for weapons heading from West
Africa’s increasingly peaceful coastal states to active conflicts in
West and Central Africa, an ECOWAS expert has warned.
are two factors on the supply side – stabilisation in Cote d’Ivoire and
in Guinea Conakry,” said Jonathan Sandy, small arms programme manager
with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Bamako,
who says regional monitoring has shown a steady uptick in the number of
guns entering Mali over the last five years.
“On the demand
side, some of the weapons stay in Mali and are used for criminality.
Others go to active conflicts in the north of Mali, in Niger, Chad and
even as far away as Sudan,” he said.
Violence between the
Malian army and Touareg rebels in northern Mali has escalated in recent
months, with 20 rebels reportedly killed this week in the heaviest
fighting since a rebel assault in May killed 25 people.
Malian national arms commission says the weapons it has seized range
from sophisticated automatic weapons to ancient revolvers. The seized
weapons were manufactured in countries including the United States,
China, Egypt, Italy, the Czech Republic and Russia, according to the
In the Timbuktu region of northern Mali, arms
commission officials said they have collected over 1,300 illegal
weapons over the last five years, but that at least 5,500 weapons are
still in circulation in that region alone. 450,000 people live in the
ECOWAS has also registered a 100 percent
increase in the number of arms being manufactured locally over the last
five years. “It’s a good source of employment, but our concern is that
it is not regulated,” Sandy said.
Ahmed Hamid Maiga, head of
the arms commission in Timbuktu, said deepening poverty, a declining
agricultural sector, and rampant population growth explains increasing
domestic demand for weapons.
“People have got to eat and
drink,” he said. “People think if they get a gun they will get
something to eat. There are many cases of fights between pastoralists
and cultivators. Other people fight over access to water sources.”
Sandy said strengthening national arms commissions in Mali and around
the region and improving information and awareness is the best way to
stop the spread of weapons.