Professor’s research on weapons trafficking in Africa will empower citizens
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Photo credit: Craig Bailey

February 23, 2009

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.

For more information, please contact Jason Kornwitz at 617-373-5729 or at j.kornwitz@neu.edu.

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