Artisanal Arms Widespread in Cameroon

OE Watch Commentary: While in most regions of the world the circulation of small arms typically refers to the movements of mass-manufactured weapons, in Sub-Saharan Africa local insurgents and criminals are just as likely to use homemade weapons that are every bit as deadly as their mass-produced counterparts. As the accompanying article details, this is increasingly the case in Cameroon, where authorities are seeing an uptick in the prevalence of artisanal arms used in small-scale crimes.
Production of artisanal arms in Sub-Saharan African is by no means a new phenomenon, but rather one that has been going on for at least a century. Indeed, metallurgy as a practice – particularly in West Africa – dates back to the 1st century CE. As concerns the addition of gunpowder, as the article below details, the sorts of small homemade arms in circulation today have been made via processes that predate African colonization by Europeans, which is to suggest prior to the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885.
Nor is the prevalence of artisanal arms unique to Cameroon. A 2006 report in Ghana relayed that there were an estimated 2500 blacksmiths in just two regions of the country – Ashanti and Brong Ahafo – capable of manufacturing their own guns. And the arms were prevalent, to be sure. That same year a spokesman in the capital of Accra relayed that, like Cameroon today, Ghana in 2006 was seeing a distinct uptick in the use of artisanal weapons for robberies. He estimated that four to four-and-a-half out of five cases of armed robbery use locally manufactured arms.
To be sure, the benefits of using locally produced weapons are numerous for criminals and/or insurgents. While less reliable than mass-manufactured weapons, artisanal weapons are harder to trace, given their lack of serial numbers, though when they do work they can be just as lethal. Second, because weapons can be produced even in remote locations, they are particularly likely to be used by citizens in hinterlands who lack access to networks of dealers (either domestically or internationally) of imported weapons. Yet the greatest advantage of such weapons tends to be their cost: for instance, in Ghana one report has revealed that a hunting rifle can be purchased for a paltry USD $4.50 and the local equivalent of an AK-47 can be procured for under USD $100. As the article details, the cost of artisanal guns is similar in Cameroon. End OE Watch Commentary (Warner)

(Lower left) Map of Ghana highlighting the regions of Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo.
Source: Yvette Mbassi-Bikele, “La Menace des Armes Artisanales,” (“The Menace of Artisanal Arms,”) Cameroon Tribune, 11 December 2013:

[In Cameroon], in the arsenal used by criminals to do their dirty work, generally one or more is a homemade weapons. This is the case for the gang known as “Salvador Feuwo Tagne” which worked in Loum, Melong , Mbanga , Kekem , Baham and Logbaba, (a district of Douala), before being apprehended in July. The thugs had in their possession at least seven homemade guns. During their interrogation by police, the alleged robbers said they had acquired these weapons in a village in the northwest from men named Fomekong Robert and Jean Ernest Tchinda.

According to the authorities in charge of security, homemade weapons are proliferating in Cameroon. Although the damage they cause has been recorded around the country, their points of origin have been clearly identified in the regions of the west and northwest. “This is not a stigma for the areas concerned. It only proves that the people who live there practice an ancestral tradition of the manipulation of metals, iron, sulfur, and gunpowder. Even before these people are in contact with the white man during colonization, they already knew the firearms. In addition, their use in traditional ceremonies is regular and status symbol. Unfortunately, the malicious spirits are grafted to these sources for supplies and commit crimes, “ said an official at the National Gendarmerie.
Thus, not a month goes by without highway robberies occurring at the barrels of homemade weapons. According to police sources, 108 robberies were reported in the only in the western region in 2011, and each time, the bandits held up their victims with these very “toys.” Travelers, traders, politicians, mothers, anonymous ... are regularly victims of attacks on roads or homes. “In truth, the situation is more worrying because these weapons are available to all. With 25,000 or 50,000 F, you get one of these deadly weapons at a blacksmith around the region. In particular, in the villages where this art is secular, “says a policeman anonymously.

Source: Hugues Marcel Tchoua, “Imbroglio sur l’implication des soldats tchadiens dans les exactions en Centrafrique,” (“The quagmire of implications for Chadian soldiers in CAR”), Cameroon Tribune, 10 February 2014:
The locality of Boali north of the Central was the scene last Wednesday of further violence. Chadian soldiers opened fire on civilians…as a reprisal for the attitude of the anti-balaka [Christian militias] in this city, where more than 800 Muslims have sought refuge in a parish for some 15 days, under the protection of Congolese troops from the African Union’s Misca mission.
The NGO Human Rights Watch has requested the suspension of Chadian troops from Misca after these new abuses, accusing the men from N’djamena [the capital of Chad] of duplicitous behavior. These Chadian troops have also been accused of helping to facilitate the movement of some of the heads of Seleka by protecting them in their exit from the bases in which Misca forces had confined them in in the town of Bossangoa. Chadian troops have also been accused of enabling the regrouping of several rebel chiefs and some of their men in the northeast of the country.
On Wednesday, the Chadian authorities denied having provided any sort of support for Seleka.