Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe of the Gongloe and Associates Law Firm in Monrovia has stressed the urgent need for the speedy passage of the proposed Liberia Firearms and Ammunition Control Act by the National Legislature.
Anything short of the passage of the Act would amount to the proliferation of arms, which might eventually be used by “illegal holders” to create chaos in the West African Sub-region which has remained at least a peaceful environment in recent times.
Cllr. Gongloe made the prediction on Friday July 10 when he delivered the keynote address at a one-day Civil Society and Media Engagement Workshop hosted by the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms (LiNCSA) on the theme, “The Proliferation of Small Arms in West Africa: A Threat to Peace and Stability.”
“In fact, there has been no structured framework in the sub-region for tracking the movement of small arms,” declared Gongloe.
“One does not have to be a rocket scientist to reach a conclusion that if nothing is done to at least begin registering small arms, creating armories for them and tracking their movements, the West African Sub-region will experience greater conflict and instability and consequently, no peace.
“There will, therefore, be no agricultural activities and no cross-border trade. This means there will be mass state failure within the sub-region and massive displacement and suffering in a proportion not yet experienced in the sub-region.
“Of course, this will also increase the number of West African migrants taking risks with their lives through the Sahara Desert or on the Mediterranean Sea seeking for greener pastures in Europe.”
It was against this background that Liberia has drafted a New Fire Arms Act, he stated.
The Act, which has been submitted to the National Legislature by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, focuses on the identification, registration, licensing, sale, classification, custody and tracking the movement of small arms and the penalty for violations of the provisions of the Act.
According to Cllr. Gongloe, if the act is passed by the Legislature, it will become an important tool for controlling the possession, chain of custody and movement of arms.
“Given the level of violent crimes in Liberia, particularly murder and armed robbery, the passage of this Act will create the avenue for measures for limiting the proliferation of small arms in the country,” he contended.
Cllr. Gongloe, a former Minister of Labor, has meanwhile encouraged all participants to take full interest in the draft Act by seeking a greater understanding of its provisions, so that they, too, may develop the ability to explain it to the various communities, with the view to rally the needed support for the purpose of persuading lawmakers to vote for the draft Act.
“The passage of this Act, he said, “will provide Liberians with an instrument for sustaining the peace, stability and security.”
The Act seeks to bring to an end the number of incidents of armed violence and crime in Liberia and the presence of unlicensed small arms, which present a grave danger to public safety and national security. It cautions that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons constitutes a major destabilizing factor and poses a serious threat to peace.
The former Solicitor-General recalled that the military coup d’états that began in the West African Sub-region in the 1960s and continued to the 1980s turned into armed civil conflicts in West Africa, beginning in Liberia on December 24, 1989.
“Given, that the political, social and economic situations in most of the West African countries were similar to the situation in Liberia then, the armed civil conflict became an example for what could happen in other West African countries,” he said.
“Certainly, what was speculated at the beginning of the Liberian civil conflict to be possible became a reality, with Liberia becoming a training ground for armed rebellion and a source of supplies for small arms. Sierra Leone, Guinea, The Gambia and La Cote d’Ivoire experienced armed conflicts that were directly linked to the Liberian situation and the proliferation of small arms that the conflict produced.
“Angry former soldiers who were members of the Sierra Leone Battalion of the ECOMOG, led by 25 year-old Captain Valentine Strasser, overthrew President Joseph Saidu Momoh, and assumed power as head of state.
“The military soon formed a coalition with the rebel forces in Sierra Leone and formed a joint military council. Then in The Gambia another young captain, Yaya Jammeh, who also served with ECOMOG in Liberia, led a group of soldiers to overthrow President Sir Dawda Kariaba Jawara, the country’s first President.
“In Guinea, the movement of small arms across the border led to the combined military forces from Liberia and rebel forces from Sierra Leone, apparently working with some disgruntled military elements from Guinea, attacked the country and nearly took over Guikedou. “
Finally, Cllr. Gongloe recalled that La Cote d’Ivoire was a conduit for a rebel incursion into Liberia and became a scene of military conflict in which Liberian and other West African fighters were combatants on the various sides of the military divide.
“More recently is the conflict in northern Mali led by the Tuaregs as the secessionist war escalated beyond the ability of the Malian Government to contain. The most troubling one is the Boko Haram military activities in Nigeria that have now extended to Cameroun, Niger and Chad.”
All of these conflicts, Gongloe recalled, were easy to start because for more than two decades, there had been a continuous increase in the proliferation of small arms faster than the capacity of governments in the West African Sub-region and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to track.
The workshop was organized with funding and technical support from the International Crescent of Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), respectively.
The objective was to provide information and clarity on the draft Firearms Control Act and facilitate its early enactment, and passage into law.