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)