A total of 1,602 weapons were destroyed in March and April 2022 when three African countries officially marked the end of their “Africa Amnesty Month” project with a public destruction event. Madagascar, Niger and Uganda participated in the joint United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs – African Union project which aims to reduce illegal gun ownership and illicit flows of small arms and light weapons in Africa through encouraging citizens to voluntarily hand over illegally held small arms under the condition of anonymity and immunity from legal prosecution. The project, initiated in 2020, is part of the United Nations’ broader support to the African Union’s Silencing the Guns by 2030 flagship initiative.
Under this project, which ran from September 2021 to April 2022, beneficiary States organized sensitization campaigns to raise awareness on the dangers and risks of illegal gun ownership and illicit flows of small arms and light weapons; enhanced their capacities in stockpile management and community-based policing and collected and publicly destroyed the weapons voluntarily surrendered by civilians. The collected weapons were destructed at public events, demonstrating a commitment to preventing the misuse of illicit arms and reducing illicit arms flows to affected communities and symbolically highlighted the success of this second edition of the “Amnesty Month project”.
While the project’s core activities were similar across the three countries, each beneficiary State developed and implemented activities that were specifically designed to address national and regional contexts. For example, Madagascar targeted regions where weapon ownership is seen as a tradition by the local population. By focusing its sensitization campaign on these populations, while also conducting a country-wide awareness-raising campaign, Madagascar collected a total of 1,079 weapons, and proceeded with a national weapons destruction ceremony held in Antananarivo, the country’s capital city.
Niger focused its activities on its border areas with Nigeria where the security context is strained by community conflicts, organized crime and actions of terrorist groups. As such, the Niger National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons focused its community sensitization campaign on the southern regions of Tahoua and Maradi, and tried to specifically engage with women, young people, and community elders, groups identified as key stakeholders to effectively advocate for the fight against small arms and light weapons in their local communities. Over the project timeframe, Niger collected 30 weapons and proceeded with their public destruction in the local region of Maradi.
For its Africa Amnesty Month project, Uganda targeted four regions, the Northern Region, Karamoja Region, Rwenzori Region, and the Kampala Metropolitan Region, identified as the areas most affected by the illicit circulation of small arms. Throughout the sensitization campaign, Uganda sought the participation of key local stakeholders, including local opinion leaders, civil society and especially youth to raise awareness on the dangers and risks of illegal gun ownership and illicit flows of small arms and light weapons. Overall, Uganda collected 438 weapons, and organized a public destruction event in the Karamoja region against the backdrop of a deteriorating security situation in the area.
In this second edition of the “Africa Amnesty Month” project, two of the beneficiary States opted to hold public destruction events in the areas of intervention. Local public destructions of weapons offer an opportunity for affected communities to witness the destructions first-hand and can contribute to building public confidence in small arms and light weapons control efforts and broader security building initiatives. Destruction ceremonies can also encourage more people to voluntarily hand-over their weapon and therefore provide solid grounds for authorities to continue their sensitization and weapons control efforts.