By William Q. Harmon & Robin Dopoe
The West African sub-region was by no means a safe haven prior to December 1989 when an incursion that tore Liberia apart ended in 2003. Regional leaders, however, believe that what led to the crises in Liberia and other countries in the sub-region was largely the uncontrolled presence of small arms and light weapons (SALW).
Thereafter leaders of the region, as members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), decided to work more coherently in addressing the region’s political and economic related problems.
ECOWAS Ambassador to Liberia, Tunde Ajisomo, speaking at the opening of a two-day (Nov. 22-23) capacity building training on the exemption procedure on the provision of the ECOWAS convention on SALW, said: “We know the danger of the proliferation of SALW in the region, and the toll it has had on us as a people.”
Regrettably, according to the Ambassador, some member states of ECOWAS, have been violating some of the arms treaties and protocols. “We have seen some violations of either treaties or other protocols on the importation of arms on many occasions, and we at ECOWAS were not happy with these violations,” he said.
It is worrisome, he said, when some member states and government establishments do not comply with these international laws—“we can imagine the implications these have had on us,” he noted, adding that it is even more dangerous when small arms fall into the hands of the wrong people.
“Therefore, the focal persons need to get a better understanding of the exemption procedure, and ECOWAS is doing this in collaboration. We are not imposing unnecessary control but controls that are desirable for peace, security, and development,” he added.
Ambassador Ajisomo told the gathering that the proliferation of SALW in the West African sub-region is visible and so everyone needs to help implement the ECOWAS laws on SALW.
“We all know how these have destabilized our region. We don’t want the proliferation of SALW to continue, and the best way we can do it is by sharing information and taking relevant steps,” he said.
The ECOWAS Commission Department of Peace-keeping and National Security handles all SALW issues in the sub-region. “For that arm of the regional body to come out with such program in collaboration with state member bodies is very important,” he said, adding that his office is here to provide technical assistance to the group.
The Ambassador said the training is coming at a very auspicious time, adding, “These capacity enhancements of the focal persons are very important.” He lauded the Liberia National Small Arms Commission (LiNSA) for doing everything possible to ensure compliance by relevant agencies.
LiNSA chairman James Fromayan, in opening remarks, said the importance of the training cannot be overemphasized since the exemption procedure to the convention seems to be the cornerstone of the ECOWAS policy on SALW.
“It is, however, prudent that we have a good understanding and advance appropriate mechanism as it relates to the exemption procedures,” he noted.
He said if stakeholders in the sub-region want to effectively control the movement of SALWs and ensure the security of the region, such endeavors should be encouraged. “We need to tighten our fight against the illicit proliferation of SALW,” he said.
“It was against this backdrop that we thought of organizing this event aimed at training the focal persons from member states here. We are pleased to be the host,” the LiNSA boss said.
He expressed confidence that the knowledge acquired from the training will help to improve the work of member states.
The training of focal persons from member states started since 2010 and early training was aimed at elaborating the terms of reference of the focal persons with the idea to update and review the management of the Exemption Procedure.
Other issues under discussion at the training, which is taking place in Monrovia, include ammunition and other related materials for armed security, police and paramilitary services.
The training is being held under the auspices of the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms (LiNCSA) and the ECOWAS Commission Department of Peace-keeping and National Security (ECOWAS-Pk&NS).
The training brought together scores of participants, known as focal persons, from relevant ministries and agencies of government.