Taking stock of action on the illicit small arms trade: Covid-19 and ’Silencing the Guns’

Impacts of Covid-19 on the Silencing the guns initiative and broader peace and security in Africa

  • The fight against the pandemic has forced many governments and regional organizations to cut budgets and divert resources — some of which were originally intended to support small arms control activities — towards the pandemic response.
  • As work in the security sector in most countries is changing — including activities to fight illicit arms circulation — new trafficking routes and actors are being observed. This phenomenon is exacerbated by Africa’s often porous borders and border control that are stretched due to the pandemic.
  • With people having to stay at home, early data suggests a rise in domestic violence and gender-based violence (GBV) more broadly — both of which are challenges to be addressed by the Silencing the guns Master Roadmap.
  • Some governments have adopted authoritarian attitudes towards the strict enforcement of measures and limitations that restrict human rights on the grounds that these actions are required to fight the pandemic. For example, several countries have witnessed rising incidents of police brutality and over-policing (i.e. overstepping usual policing tasks). Unfortunately, holding people and institutions accountable has become more difficult because courts are suspending their activities during this period (e.g. African Court of Human Rights, ECOWAS Court of Justice). This lack of access to oversight and justice has contributed to a sense of state impunity in some countries.
  • Youth across the continent has been hit hard by the pandemic, as already high rates of under-employment and unemployment have risen even more. Layoffs have affected sectors such as the informal economy, tourism, and sports which disproportionately employ young workers. The interruption of formal education and the difficulties to find adequate alternatives are also a concern. Furthermore, some of the necessary measures to combat Covid-19, such as lockdowns and social distancing, have unfortunately hampered many youth groups’ active community engagement efforts to silence the guns. Thus, the pandemic may negatively affect conflict dynamics and insecurities in Africa.

Thoughts on the future

  • Chair: Adrian Foster, Small Arms Survey
  • Mohamed Coulibaly, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR)
  • Veronica Nzioki, Researcher and Analyst
  • Peter Otim, African Union Commission (AUC)
  • Hester Adriana Paneras, United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU)
  • John Reyels, German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO)
  • Rachel Scott, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)




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