Kenya has imported "very large quantities of Iranian ammunition," some of which has been transferred to civilian militias in Turkana, Uganda and what is now South Sudan, according to a group of independent arms-tracking experts.
Their report, published last month by Conflict Armament Research, names Iran as the manufacturing source of previously unidentified ammunition supplied to Kenyan security forces.
The UK-based NGO estimates the shipments from Iran to Kenya as "probably in the range of millions of rounds."
And a portion of that ammunition has made its way into the arsenals of militias in northern Kenya and neighbouring countries, the researchers say.
"Kenyan security forces are the confirmed source of Iranian ammunition that is in widespread circulation in the border regions of Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda," the report declares.
These assertions could prove particularly embarrassing to the Kenyan government because of the leading role it has played at the UN in efforts to establish a global treaty regulating transfers of small arms and ammunition.
Ammunition fired from small arms in Africa is "a basic ingredient of organised violence, and is involved each year and at each war in uncountable deaths and crimes," the New York Times noted on Saturday in a front-page story on the new report.
Ammunition produced in Iran but marked in ways intended to prevent tracing has also been imported by the governments of Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea and Sudan, the researchers say.
They further identify Iran as the source of ammo circulating illicitly in five other black African countries.
Conflict Armament Research says its study is the product of six years of field research.
Four of the five investigators who worked on this report had previously held Africa-related monitoring positions at the United Nations.
The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey concluded in 2008 that the Kenya Police and Police Reserves were the source of thousands of small-calibre cartridges that had been transferred to several non-state armed groups in the border triangle of Kenya, Uganda and what was then southern Sudan (today's South Sudan).
Evidence for this finding included first-hand observation of Kenya Police supplying this type of ammunition to Turkana civilians in 2007 and 2008, the Conflict Armament Research study notes.
Requests for clarification made to the government of Kenya at the time of the initial investigation and as recently as last November "remain unanswered," the researchers say.
The researchers suggest that the Kenyan government may have acquired the Iran-made ammunition between 2003 and 2006.
"This conclusion is arguably lent greater weight by the fact that UN Security Council prohibited the export of Iranian military materiel in March 2007, which should have deterred direct Kenyan ammunition acquisition from Iran after that date," the report states.
Iran's government itself is not conclusively identified in the report as the direct source of the ammunition now in wide use in Africa.
The researchers "are not sure if the ammunition had been directly sold by the Iranian government or its security services, by a government- or military-controlled firm, or by front companies abroad," the New York Times noted.
The researchers add, however, that "although the circumstances of acquisition are unclear, the quantities involved in the Sudan, Guinea and Kenya cases suggest direct supply by Iran."