The debate on small arms (and light weapons, SALW) in Africa originally started in the late 1990s. Since, small arms are a topic that has received quite some academic interest. For 2021 the events data research project ACLED reports 38,658 civilian causalities on the continent through the use of small arms, an increase of 8 per cent over 2020. The Weapons Compass, a project developed by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey on behalf of the African Union Commission (AUC) in support of the latter’s policy to Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2030, has documented that by 2017 the number of firearms held by civilians on the continent was ca. 40 million – the highest concentration per capita was in Southern Africa.. So quite timely, Uman A. Tar and Charles P. Onwurah have presented a handbook of more than 1,000 pages to discuss all facets of the issue.
Usman A. Tar is professor of political science and defence studies, and endowed chair of defence and security studies at the Nigerian Defence Academy. He is the director of the academy’s Centre for Defence Studies and Documentation which is based in Kaduna. His latest books include New Architecture of Regional Security in Africa (Lanham MD, Lexington Books, 2020); and the Routledge Handbook of Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency in Africa (London, Routledge, 2020). Charles P. Onwurah is a research associate at the Centre for Defence Studies and Documentation, Nigerian Defence Academy. He is a doctoral candidate in Defence and Strategic Studies at the Department of Political Science and Defence Studies of the Nigerian Defence Academy.
This incredible voluminous volume is structured into five parts with a total of 46 chapters (and 1043 pages). Following an introduction by Usman A. Tar on “The Frontiers of Small Arms Proliferation and Conflicts in Africa”, part I of the handbook covers “theories and concepts” (chapters 2 to 5). This includes a background chapter on conflicts and complex emergencies (also by Usman A. Tar) as well as reflections on various possible theoretical approaches on small arms proliferation and regulation (Usman A. Tar and Sunday Adejoh). Furthermore, a chapter is developed on the political economy of small arms (Moses Eromedoghene Ukpenumewu Tedheke), and another one on women and the management of violent conflicts in Africa (Caroline Obiageli and Agnes Okorie).
Part II of the handbook addresses “topographies and contexts” (chapters 6 to 20). Among other, the following topographies are addressed: borderlands (chapter 9, Anthony Israel Rufus), urban areas (Enoch Oyedele), and forests (chapter 10, Usman A. Tar and Yusuf Ibrahim Safana). This part also discusses various explanatories, such as the “resource curse” and “resource wars” (chapter 12, Otoabasi Akpan and Ubong Essien Umoh), “underdevelopment” (chapter 13, Aliyu Mukhtar Katsina, Mubarak Ahmed Mashi, and Mohammed Abdullahi), “complex emergencies” (chapter 14, Hussaini Jibrin and Umar Aminu Yandaki), “greed” (chapter 15, Ubong Essien Umoh and Otoabasi Akpan), and many others which cannot acknowledged here in more detail.
Part III scrutinizes “institutional frameworks and dynamics” (chapters 21 to 31). The chapters are worked around notions of “arms monopoly” (chapter 21, Al Chukwuma Okoli), legislation and institution-building (chapter 22, Shuaibu A. Danwanka), firearm control (chapter 23, Dawud Muhammad Dawud and Tukur Abdulkadir), civil society” (chapter 24, Abdulmalik Auwal and Moses T. Aluaigba), traditional institutions (chapter 25, Muhammad Sanusi Lawal and Bem Japhet Audu), and more. And, of course, there are chapters on arms trafficking (chapter 28, Emmanuel Ukhami and Lassana Doumbia), and private security companies (chapter 29, Jonathan S. Maiangwa and Usman A. Tar), to mention but a few.
Part IV of the handbook turns to “national experiences (chapters 32 to 42) with case studies on the Central African Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Uganda. And finally, part V shares “regional perspectives” on West Africa (chapter 43, Oluwafisan Babatunde Bankale and Chukwuzitara Juliet Uchegbu), the Lake Chad Basin (chapter 44, Bashir Bala and Usman A. Tar), the Mano River region (chapter 45, Uchenna Simeon), and Southern Africa (chapter 46, Pamela Machakanja and Chupicai Shollah Manuel).
Between different chapters sometimes there is overlap, and even conceptual competition – for instance between notions of “state fragility” on the one hand (chapter 6, Chris M. A. Kwaja), and “failed states, ungoverned spaces” on the other (chapter 8, Muhammad Dan Suleiman, Hakeem Onapajo, and Ahmed Badawi Mustapha). The academic debate has largely given up on notions of “failed states” (this was 1990s, early 2000s), and currently seems more in line with a notion of state fragility as also used by the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Interestingly, institutionally the editors and their contributors also seem to put more emphasis on nation states than regional economic communities (RECs) or the African Union. The AU’s efforts are briefly discussed (chapter 6, 122–125), but don’t seem to play a major role in later chapters. While there is at least some reference to the AU and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), for instance, the East African Community (EAC) is only mentioned twice in this volume, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) only six times, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is mentioned almost as often as Finland (five vs. four times). Important actors absent from this analysis include the African Union Mechanism for Police Cooperation (Afripol), or the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT). It would be interesting to know whether this is because of the irrelevance of these institutions and their coordinating attempts in practice (at least as perceived by the editors), or any other reason.
Regionally, the volume has a bias towards West Africa – which is not a big surprise given the composition of the team of 66 authors brought together for this monumental exercise: 57 of the contributors come from Nigeria, 57 of them are male, and 32 are senior academics (the remainder being either junior academics or working in the military/security realm). There is only one person, if I am not mistaken, with a past background in one of the RECs (in this case ECOWAS). And, by the way, the handbook’s index is confusing. Because of the inclusion of too many non-sensical red herrings – such as “African, countries” or “African, states”, but also “consequences” or “critical” – it is not really helpful).
Nevertheless, despite these choices The Palgrave Handbook of Small Arms and Conflicts in Africa is a volume that is incredible broad in scope and deep at the same time. Uman A. Tar and Charles P. Onwurah have certainly managed to assemble a team that has put together a handbook that offers orientation in a field that is overly complex and dynamic.