Curbing the “unreg­u­lated and irre­spon­sible” arms trading business—an almost $50 bil­lion per year industry that leads to more than a thou­sand deaths world­wide every day—is “one of the most pressing issues of this cen­tury,” says Denise Garcia, assis­tant pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs.

Garcia, whose book “Small Arms and Security—New Emerging Inter­na­tional Norms” exam­ines illicit arms traf­ficking throughout the world, recently researched and ana­lyzed treaties on the ease of access to small arms and light weapons, such as hand­guns, machine guns and grenades, in three regions of Africa. Her research is part of the 2008 Index of African Gov­er­nance, a large multi-​​year project housed at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity that mea­sures the gov­erning ability of all 48 sub-​​Saharan African countries.

Africa is the worst-​​hit region in the world for arms pro­lif­er­a­tion,” Garcia says. “If states carry on busi­ness as it is, human suf­fering will only be per­pet­u­ated,” she adds, citing a recent study esti­mating that between 1990 and 2005 the cost of armed con­flict for African devel­op­ment was $300 billion.

To coun­teract the dev­as­tating effects of the spread of weapons on the devel­op­ment of civ­i­liza­tion, Garcia says coun­tries in Eastern, Western and Southern Africa have recently devel­oped an inter­na­tional legal and polit­ical frame­work to deal with illicit arms traf­ficking and, to a lesser extent, the arms trade.

East Africa’s Nairobi Pro­tocol on Illicit Arms Traf­ficking, for example, requires states to enact a national system for reg­u­lating dealers and bro­kers of small arms, while the Southern Africa Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity States Pro­tocol on Firearms, Ammu­ni­tion and Related Mate­rials aims, in part, to reg­u­late the import and export of legal small arms.

It is too soon to deter­mine the effec­tive­ness of region-​​specific pro­vi­sions, but Garcia says the results of the Index project “will give African coun­tries a more com­plete under­standing of their capacity to create or enforce new laws, help them seek out­side polit­ical, legal, and finan­cial assis­tance from inter­na­tional donors and empower them to improve the gov­er­nance and the safety of their citizens.”

The 2008 Index, headed by pro­fessor Robert Rot­berg, director of Harvard’s Pro­gram on Intrastate Con­flict, and Rachel Gis­selquist, research director of the Index, ranks the nation-​​states’ ability to govern using five cri­teria: safety and secu­rity; rule of law; trans­parency and cor­rup­tion; par­tic­i­pa­tion in human rights; sus­tain­able eco­nomic oppor­tu­nity; and human development.

Garcia’s research on ease of access to arms, which falls under the cat­e­gory of safety and secu­rity, is one of 58 indi­ca­tors of each country’s quality of gov­er­nance. She com­pared each country’s ability to reduce access to light weapons using four indi­ca­tors: the con­trol and crim­i­nal­iza­tion of illicit arms pro­duc­tion, cir­cu­la­tion and transfer; the reg­u­la­tions on arms export autho­riza­tions and coop­er­a­tion toward secu­rity of ports, bor­ders, air­space and the con­ti­nental shelf.

The island of Mau­ri­tius was the top gov­erned country, according to the 2008 report.