As part of this year’s mission to create a pro-people justice system, the Justice Law and Order Sector, based at the ministry of Internal Affairs, last week labeled guns before the general public at the Railway grounds.
Anthony Nahaima, legal officer for the National Focal Point on Arms and Light Weapons — the department that handles the gun labeling process — says to date, they have labeled 80 percent of police guns and 50 percent of the army’s. The labeling exercise also includes guns held by civilians and security organizations. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 2,270 guns in the country are registered. Even then, less than one in 100 people who own guns have them registered. Further, an estimated 200,000 unlawful guns are in circulation.
The gun labeling exercise started in 2008 and is meant to fulfill Uganda’s obligations under regional and international laws and policies. The 2010 Uganda National Policy on Firearms, Ammunition and Incidental Matters recognizes that Africa is the continent most affected by the scourge of illicit firearms — and that firearms prolong and fuel conflict.
In Uganda, firearms have been used in different calibers of conflict ranging from those between domestic partners to regional skirmishes such as cattle rustling in Karamoja, and national conflicts like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war and the July 11 bombings in 2010.
Nahaima believes that once firearms are labeled, it would be easy to trace and apprehend people who misuse them. Eventually, there would be less misuse of firearms. The objective is that at one point, all the guns in the country, both in the hands of civilians and uniformed services, have a unique identification besides that of the manufacturer. Guns that are not labeled would fall under illicit or unlawful weapons.
Destruction versus labeling
The ministry of Internal Affairs has in the past destroyed illicit guns. Like the gun labeling exercise, destroying of guns was done before the public and attracted a lot of media attention. It also attracted criticism from development experts who at the time said destroying the guns was a waste of already scarce resources in the country. They argued that the “illicit” guns could be properly labeled and put to use.
But Nahaima says it is important to weigh the development needs of the country against the dangers paused by illicit firearms. “They destroy lives, and they destroy the country,” he says. He also says that government has enough fire arms as it is, including a small assembling plant at Nakasongola. Therefore, he says, destroying these firearms is the best solution.
Efforts to domesticate law
A 2006 survey conducted by UBOS shows that the army and police have 133,000 and 28,000 firearms respectively, while civilians own about 400,000 guns. Of the estimated 2,000 homicides that take place in Uganda every year, about 350 are carried out using guns. The Firearms Act 1970 is intended to control the use, manufacture and distribution of firearms in the country. Nahaima, however, says that the Act is, in practice, obsolete.
For example, the Act does not cover guns that are in the possession of private security agencies which cropped up in the 1990s.