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Report on illegal guns an urgent call to action

Saturday September 17 2011

A new report on the rise in the number of people who have access to guns is as alarming as it is unsurprising.

The report by the respected Small Arms Survey estimates there are between 200,000 and 450,000 guns in the wrong hands in this country.

It is well established that a functional state is one where the government has a monopoly on the use of violence.

By that measure the report’s findings are disturbing because they indicate that large parts of the country are under the sway of individuals and small armies with their own weapons.

These findings should be a call to action to the authorities involved. At one level, it is a policing issue. Holding an illegal weapon is a crime for which offenders should be sent to jail. So all efforts to mop up these illegal weapons are welcome.

But it would be foolhardy not to address the underlying reasons that cause people to choose to arm themselves.

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It is unsurprising that many of these weapons are found in pastoralist areas where cattle rustling remains a source of livelihood for entire communities.

The long-term solution is for governments in East Africa to reverse colonial and post-independence policies of neglect of these far-flung areas so people there can have greater access to educational facilities so their youth can live different lives.

The large-scale infrastructure projects that have been mooted for a long time linking Juba, Kampala and Nairobi, which cut through a lot of these areas, should be speeded up to hasten the process of bringing the populations in those parts into the monetised economy and to wean them off reliance on the gun.

The authorities must also realise that this proliferation of arms is the cost of the lack of effective and clear-sighted leadership.

Respondents in Bungoma indicated that they opted to purchase firearms due to the many years in which the government did little to curb the so-called Sabaot Land Defence Forces militia.

Others cite the post-election violence as their reason for needing to own a gun.

These crises flow directly from poor leadership, and the authorities should take the lesson from this that impunity only leads the country perilously closer to joining the league of failed states.

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