On the 28th October 2020, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms (SLeNCSA) and communities in the border districts of Falaba and Kailahun destroyed 72 weapons collected from these communities under the Weapons for Development initiative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)-European Union (EU) Organized Crime West African Response to Trafficking (OCWAR-T) project.
The exercise took place at the 12th Battalion Military Head Quarter in Kabala, Koinadugu District. Witnessing the event were, the Office of National Security (ONS), Sierra Leone Police (SLP), Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) and community representatives from Falaba and Koinadugu Districts including UNDP and SLeNCSA representatives.
Launched in July 2015 to run until 2018, then extended for another four years, the OCWAR-T project aims to sensitize and carryout advocacy on development initiatives for communities dependent on the use of small arms for survival; build capacities of national and regional stakeholders – Armed security agencies, commissions and civil society organizations on organized crimes trafficking and small arms. It also helps to facilitate the collection of weapons, destruction of small arms and maintaining records of weapons; as well as implementing micro-projects in exchange for arms collected from civilians.
On this occasion, alongside the collection and destruction of the 72 small arms and weapons, the OCWAR-T project also handed over motorcycles to community members of Falaba and Sulima Chiefdoms. The motorcycles are to provide alternative livelihoods whilst promote an inclusive, participatory approach to development and human rights, by including the participation of vulnerable groups (women, disabled and youth) in the fight against small arms proliferation.
Two community wells were also constructed and handed over to the people of Kissi Tonge Chiefdom in Kailahun border district in exchange for the weapons collected. The communities did not have safe drinking water sources.
Gracing the event, the Commissioner of NATCOM Retired Brigadier-General Tamba R Allieu stated that, ‘’The proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs) can increase robbery and other criminal activities in our communities, and I urge everyone who wants to keep arms to register their weapons to the Commission’s Headquarters’’. Also present at the happening were the Paramount Chief of Kissi Tonge Chiefdom – Samba Sengu, ONS and SLP representative and the Deputy District Council Chair - Nancy Kumba who all stressed the importance of registering small arms, and the dangers associated with illegal and unwanted weapons whether traditional or conventional.
The Sierra Leone Police sections of Falaba and Koinadugu Districts expressed their joy and gratitude to the initiative which “complements community policing and the efforts of policing in general to maintain law and order in these communities”.
The Sierra Leone Office of National Security (ONS) reports prevailing flows of unregulated arms into the country at border communities, and an increase in trafficking of weapons and criminal activities country wide. Therefore, the OCWAR-T project in collaboration with CSOs and partners are working to support the Sierra Leone Commission on Small arms to reduce the proliferation of arms in border communities. Currently, small arms statistics on Sierra Leone is not available. UNDP, under this project is working on plans to support a holistic research and data management on arms trafficking and criminal activities in the country so that reliable and verified statistics on the matter in Sierra Leone can be available.
UNDP is responsible for the implementation of these initiatives and all OCWAR-T project activities on the reduction of SALW in Sierra Leone. The destruction of small arms and light weapons initiative under the umbrella of the OCWAR-T project contributes to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 that seeks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
The project employs the SDG and the UNDP programming principle to ‘Leave No One Behind’ to ensure all actors in the society equitably benefit from the project implemented on contextualized quality standards.
The weapons for development initiative came out of a joint lesson learnt and best practices assessment of partner organizations, that take into consideration the views and assessment of local communities and government security agencies, as a means to curtail local craft production of weapons in border communities. While the request for communities to surrender their weapons in order to receive development dividends such as community wells or motorbikes is an idea agreed upon by all project partners, based on grassroot assessments, the decision on the type of development dividend initiatives communities are to receive directly came from the communities themselves. In this case, Falaba and Sulima communities specifically requested for motorcycles.
The motorcycles are currently in use as means of transportation for agricultural produce and sometimes community members who for example fall sick and need to get to the health centers which may be quite a distance away given the remoteness of these areas have reportedly benefited for the initiative. This has helped Falaba and Sulima to trade off their local produce especially perishable products quickly and easily, without much constraints. According to community members, this is helping them to generate income faster than producing local weapons for hunting. Many communities in the south-east of the country are getting encouraged to surrender their weapons for similar development initiatives, in a bid to stop the manufacturing of local guns.
Overall, the project is helping to foster peace, community development and social cohesion in these border communities with ripple effects across the country. The OCWAR-T project is an ECOWAS project, co-funded by the EU and the GFFO, Coordinated by GIZ and implemented by UNDP in collaboration with the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons.