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Strategy to register illicit arms good

The Government’s directive that herders in the North Rift region should voluntarily register their firearms is a move in the right direction, although it is coming a little bit too late in the day.

It is important to appreciate that the legacy of instability in neighbouring countries, inter-communal conflicts, cattle rustling, underdevelopment and absence of formal security infrastructure have all conspired to render North Rift and other peripheral regions in the country a haven for illicit arms.

Firearms have made conflicts in this part of the country frequent, severe and defied traditional authorities. This is why herders have resorted to arming themselves mainly for defensive purposes. To complicate matters,  police officers are either absent, unwilling or unable to help restore security.

Experience in many parts of the world has shown that forceful disarmament of communities without addressing the main reason they armed themselves in the first place have failed. The post-independence governments have tried to disarm the Pokot more than 20 times but with disastrous results.

In 2011, a Geneva-based group in conjunction with Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons carried out a survey in which they established that there could be up to 680,000 illicit arms in civilian hands.

Mopping up illicit arms through registration, traceability and stockpile management has worked in other countries facing similar challenges.

In Uganda, the government encouraged the Karamoja to voluntarily register and surrender their arms in accessible places that are guarded by government troops. Those who surrendered their arms were organised into Local Defence Units (LDUs) and were called upon to protect the community whenever need arose. The registered arms were made accessible to the LDUs whenever they were required for defensive purposes.

Today, Karamoja in Uganda is one of the most peaceful regions. The National Police Service (Amendment) Bill, 2014, will go a long way in complementing the voluntary registration and surrender of illicit arms.

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