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10,000 illegal firearms in Kenya

Tuesday June 30 2009

A police officer watches as some of the 2,490 illegal firearms go up in flames at Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi on Tuesday, March 17 2009. The firearms, recovered from illegal owners and robbers, were destroyed by the police. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE

A police officer watches as some of the 2,490 illegal firearms go up in flames at Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi on Tuesday, March 17 2009. The firearms, recovered from illegal owners and robbers, were destroyed by the police. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE 

By FRED MUKINDA

More than 10,000 firearms are in the hands of criminals in Kenya today, posing a big threat to security, a government body revealed on Tuesday.

The National Focal Point on Small Arms has thus drafted a memo to the cabinet seeking to introduce harsh penalties on people convicted of gun crime.

Initial proposals pushed for the death sentence but have since been scaled down to the life sentence, head of the unit David Kimaiyo said.

Human rights group have prevailed upon them to review their proposals before they are presented to Attorney General Amos Wako, who will in turn table them in Cabinet.

Mr Kimaiyo revealed that a survey conducted in 2003 estimated there were 10,000 illegal guns and the figure could have gone higher.

Though 22,634 illegal firearms have been seized by security forces and destroyed, the government has not been able to stop influx from the neighbouring countries like Somalia.

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The proposals to be presented to the cabinet include establishment of a Directorate, under the Office of the President, to address matters of small arms.

“Commission of gun related crimes can be committed anywhere and at anytime and that means efforts should be made to tactfully handle crime with the seriousness it deserves,” said Mr Kimaiyo.

If the proposal to review the Firearms Act is upheld, being caught with an unlicensed gun or even bullets, will be punishable by life imprisonment.

Using a toy pistol to commit a crime will also attract the life sentence ,without the option of a fine.

And unlike the present situation, gun-related offences will not be bailable.

Mr Kimaiyo, a career police officers who has been seconded to head the co-ordinating body, was speaking in Nairobi after he launched an exercise to mark all firearms in military armouries in Kenya.

A similar exercise is underway within the police department and 10,000 firearms have been marked so far.

It was launched in December last year and to ensure that legally held firearms are labeled which is aimed at checking the flow of illicit arms in the region.

Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service and civilians licensed to hold guns are also required to have their weapons marked.

Besides making physical marks on the guns, the electronic marking machine will be used to preserve other details including the type of gun, date of manufacture and serial number. The country and company in which it was manufactured and the country that imported it will also be stored electronically.

The database will be shared among 12 countries in the region and the Regional Centre for Small Arms (Recsa).

At present, its cumbersome to trace the origin of illicit arms confiscated from criminals since it requires presenting a gun’s serial number to the manufacturers so that they can tell who it was sold to.

In future, guns bought by security agencies would be marked at their countries of origin.

Requirement for countries to mark weapons in State possession and keep records is in line with the Nairobi protocol, the UN’s Action on Small and Light Weapons and the International Tracing Instrument.