Note d'Analyse

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Date d'insertion : 24/10/2006

griplogo75 (1552 octets)



Trade flows and controls of small arms ammunition transfers in Africa


By Holger Anders, researcher at GRIP


1st October 2006



I. Introduction


Recent debates at the global level have indicated a general interest among states to consider the development of controls specific to the combat of the illicit trade in ammunition for small arms and light weapons (SALW). This paper provides background information on the trade and existing control standards on ammunition in Africa, one of the regions worst affected by the proliferation and misuse of SALW and their ammunition. The following section looks at the general issue of SALW ammunition controls. It is followed by an overview of sources and reported authorised transfers of small arms ammunition to, within, and from Africa. The subsequent sections look at existing relevant multilateral control standards in Africa and at remaining challenges in Africa to establish adequate ammunition controls. It is argued that there exists a good foundation for the development of adequate controls in Africa. However, further efforts will be required to effectively combat the grave consequences associated with the proliferation and misuse of SALW ammunition.


II. Background


It is widely understood that SALW are of little use without their corresponding ammunition. The combat of the illicit trade in SALW ammunition is therefore not only an aim in itself. It can also make a critical contribution to combating the tremendous human costs and insecurity associated with the proliferation and misuse of SALW. Once SALW have been acquired by unauthorised actors, the supply of ammunition becomes a matter of priority for sustaining armed conflicts and crime. Disrupting and preventing illicit ammunition flows can increase prices on black markets. This can provide an important incentive for armed actors to seek a negotiated settlement to a conflict. Tracking the supply chain of ammunition that was diverted from the legal sphere can also greatly enhance the ability of states to identify sources of ammunition diversion and hold to account those responsible for the trafficking and misuse of both ammunition and SALW.


Regrettably, ammunition is sometimes assumed to be already covered by controls on SALW or, alternatively, to be of secondary importance in relation to SALW control. These views ignore the need in certain areas for ammunition-specific norms and measures as well as the critical contribution such controls can make to combating SALW proliferation and misuse. To clarify, the same control standards should be applied to manufacturers, exporters, and brokers of SALW on the one hand, and of ammunition on the other hand. To an extent, the same standards should also be applicable in relation to record-keeping on production, transfers, and stockpiles. This would involve recording the origin of the SALW or ammunition, the type and model (or calibre for ammunition), quantities, and, for transfers, their destination and those involved in the transfer. Likewise, there is a need for strict stockpile controls and destruction of surplus of both SALW and ammunition.


At the same time, there can be important distinctions in required controls. Ammunition stockpiles can pose safety and explosion risks that do not exist in relation to SALW. Similarly, the safe destruction of ammunition requires a culture of explosives safety and trained staff who are not necessarily required for the destruction of SALW. There are also specific requirements for tracing illicit ammunition. For instance, it is not feasible to mark individual rounds, unlike individual SALW, with unique serial numbers that can be recorded to allow for the tracking of the legal supply chain of the ammunition round. Rather, ammunition rounds need to be marked and recorded with unique numbers that identify their production run (lot numbers). Specific problems in tracing illicit ammunition can also occur if ammunition from this lot is transferred to different recipients. In other words, designing adequate controls on SALW ammunition may require a focused approach that takes account of the similarities and differences between SALW on the one hand, and SALW ammunition on the other hand.


III. Sources and trade flows of small arms ammunition in Africa


Reported authorised small arms ammunition transfers[1]


Every year, African states reportedly import small arms ammunition worth a combined total of at least 28.2 million US$. This represents 4% of the value of global annual trade in small arms ammunition that was recently estimated to be worth at least 700 million US$.[2] 31% of the reported imports by African states are imported by states in Northern Africa. 29% are imported by states in Western Africa. 15%, 14%, and 11% are imported by Southern Africa, Central Africa, and Eastern Africa respectively (see also figure 1).[3] While some reported transfers are worth more than one million US$ and may be considered large scale transfers, most transfers to and within Africa are worth a few hundred thousand or even only a few tens of thousand US$.


More than 90% (26.4 million US$) of reported small arms ammunition imports by African states are imported from states outside Africa. Major exporters to Africa include the USA, Spain and France. Major importers include Egypt, Ghana, and Botswana (see table 1). 6% (1.8 million US$) of reported imports are imported from within the region. The major intra-regional sources of small arms ammunition are the Congo and South Africa (see table 2). Other sources include Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Senegal, and Zimbabwe.


Reported exports of small arms ammunition to states outside Africa amount to a combined total of at least 8,2 million US$ each year. In the period 2000-2004, 90% of these exports (7.4 million US$ per year) have been made by South Africa. 10% of reported exports (0.8 million US$) have been made by Chad, Egypt, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Senegal, and Sudan (see also table 3). Export destinations have included Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Canada, Colombia, Finland, France, Germany, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA.[4]

Legal small arms ammunition production in Africa


At least 11 African states (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe) are reported to industrially produce small arms ammunition.[5] This represents about 14% of known small arms ammunition producing countries around the globe.[6] At the same time, very little is known about production volumes of small arms ammunition in Africa or about the small arms ammunition types and calibres that are produced in individual African states. It may be assumed though that production volumes range from an annual production of a few million rounds in states with old and aging production plants to probably tens of million of rounds or more in states with modern production capacities such as South Africa.[7] Another difference is that while some states exclusively produce ammunition for domestic consumption, other producing states, including South Africa and Namibia, seem to also export domestically produced ammunition.


Industrial production equipment for the production of small arms ammunition has mainly been imported into Africa from suppliers in, amongst other, France, Belgium, and China. One exception is South Africa that is assumed to have increased its domestic production volumes during the arms embargo against the apartheid regime by duplicating previously imported machinery.[8] In contrast, Kenya increased its domestic production capacities through imports of production equipment from Belgium in the 1990. The equipment has a reported capacity to annually produce up to 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition.[9] Tanzania recently tried to import similar equipment from Belgium to rehabilitate its domestic production plant but saw its license application turned down in 2005 by the Belgian authorities. The justification given by the Belgian authorities was “the perceived incompatibility of the transfer ‘with the foreign policy and international obligations of Belgium’ as well as concerns about the enforceability of the end-user conditions that had been placed on the transfer”.[10]


Sources of illicit small arms ammunition in Africa


Illicit ammunition for small arms may be defined as ammunition that is produced, transferred, held, or used in violation of relevant national and/or international regulations. One source of illicit small arms ammunition in Africa is transfers from abroad to, for example, embargoed states or armed groups. Such transfers may take the form of large scale transfers in which tons of ammunition are flown into Africa in a single shipment. Investigations into violations of the arms embargo have also shown that the supply of illicit ammunition may take the form of regular small scale shipments, or, in the case of Somalia, regular transfers in boats crossing the sea from Yemen.[11] Another important source is cross-border diversions of ammunition within Africa. This may include transfers to political allies or armed groups in neighbouring or nearby countries or transfers that are made for financial gain and with the tacit consent of governmental officials.


A further important source of illicit ammunition is diversions within African states. This includes diversions through theft, neglect, or loss from, for example, holdings of producers, during authorized transfers, or from stocks of the armed forces or the police. Such leakage from domestic stockpiles is often ignored by governments that do not have in place mechanisms to verify whether recovered illicit ammunition was previously held in authorized stockpiles. This also means that, for example, local militias and other actors that receive ammunition from the state can continue to sell this ammunition to illicit actors without the risk of facing legal sanctions by the state authorities. In addition, there may also be illicit manufacturing of ammunition for artisan small arms that are used, for example, in armed crime.


IV. Multilateral controls standards in Africa on small arms ammunition


International level


The UN Programme of Action and the SALW Tracing Instrument

The 2001 UN Programme of Action (UN PoA) is often seen as the main international instrument to prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit trade in SALW.[12] However, the UN PoA does not contain a clear definition of the types of equipment that the Programme covers. This has led several states to argue that, because ammunition is not explicitly mentioned in the PoA, ammunition is not covered by this agreement. Similarly, these states argued, during the negotiations of the 2005 UN instrument to assist states in the timely and reliable tracing of illicit SALW,[13] that ammunition controls were not part of their mandate. As a consequence, no mention is made in the instrument of international standards on marking, record-keeping, and cooperation in tracing illicit SALW ammunition. Encouragingly though, states have expressed a recommendation at the UN level that ammunition controls would be considered in a future, separate UN process.[14] So far, no concrete further steps have been taken in this direction.


UN Firearms Protocol


The legally binding 2001 UN Firearms Protocol is the only international instrument to explicitly include ammunition in its scope of application.[15] By September 2006, the UN Firearms Protocol had been ratified or acceded to by 22 African states.[16] Focusing on the illicit ammunition in the context of transnational organised crime, the protocol stipulates that states establish effective national systems for the licensing of imports and exports of ammunition; criminalise illicit manufacturing and trafficking in ammunition; ensure the ability to confiscate and destroy illicit ammunition; and exchange information and cooperate in the identification of those involved in illicit manufacturing and trafficking. The protocol also stipulates record-keeping on ammunition transfers to assist, where possible, in the tracing of illicit ammunition.[17]


Regional level


 The First and Second Continental Meeting of African Experts on SALW

The control of ammunition was already raised at the First Continental Meeting of African Experts on Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of SALW, held in Addis Ababa in May 2000.[18] Experts at the meeting recommended that states strengthen national legislation on the manufacture, transfer, dealing, and possession of ammunition by state and non-state actors; adopt responsible transfer policies; ensure strict control over ammunition stocks; remove illicit ammunition from societies; destroy surplus ammunition; harmonise relevant legislation and policies at the regional level; and support regional cooperation to enhance the combat of trans-border crime and the identification, removal and destruction of ammunition caches in post conflict environments.[19] These recommendations, which are not binding on states, highlight that experts saw ammunition as an integral part of the SALW challenge in Africa.


Five years later, African governmental experts met in Windhoek, Namibia, for the Second Continental Conference on the illicit trade in SALW. The conference did not explicitly address ammunition for small arms or light weapons. Experts did however refer to the outcomes and recommendations of the first meeting in 2000 as well as to the Bamako Declaration on SALW (see below). Implicitly, the governmental experts thereby also endorsed the recommendations for greater efforts to combat the illicit trade in SALW ammunition.[20]  


Bamako Declaration on SALW

Ammunition controls are also referred to in the Bamako Declaration on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of SALW.[21] The declaration was adopted in December 2000 by the ministers of the member states of the Organisation of African Unity as a politically binding control instrument. The declaration recommends that member states adopt at the national level legislation and “other measures to establish as a criminal offence under national law the illicit manufacturing of, trafficking in, and illegal possession and use” of SALW ammunition. At the regional level, the declaration encourages “the codification and harmonisation of legislation governing the manufacture, trading, brokering, possession and use of small arms ammunition.” Areas for possible common standards on small arms ammunition control that are listed in the Bamako Declaration include “marking, record-keeping and controls governing imports, exports and the licit trade”.[22]   


Sub-regional level


SADC Firearms Protocol

The 2001 Firearms Protocol in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region was the first legally binding sub-regional instrument in Africa to promote greater efforts in the combat of the illicit trade in firearms.[23] Ammunition controls form an integral part of the protocol. Amongst other, the protocol seeks to promote the combat of illicit manufacturing of firearms ammunition, its excessive and destabilising accumulation, trafficking, possession and use in the region. The protocol defines ammunition as “the complete cartridge including the cartridge case, unfired primer, propellant, bullets and projectiles that are used in a firearm, provided those components are themselves subject to authorisation in the respective State Parties”.[24]


Specific controls on ammunition that are raised in the protocol include the establishment of illicit manufacturing, trafficking and use of ammunition as a criminal offence under their national law. The protocol further promotes the establishment and maintenance of complete national inventories of ammunition held by security forces and other state bodies, as well as cross-border cooperation and mutual legal assistance to achieve the aims of the protocol.[25]


Nairobi Protocol on SALW and the Nairobi Best Practice Guidelines

Ammunition is explicitly mentioned in the legally binding Nairobi Protocol, adopted in April 2004.[26] The Protocol affirms the awareness of states in the Great Lakes Region and Horn of Africa (GLRHA) of the harmful effects of, and urgent need to counter, the illicit manufacture, excessive and destabilising accumulations, trafficking, and illicit possession and use of SALW ammunition. In addition, the Protocol provides a definition of ammunition that is similar to that used in the SADC Firearms Protocol (see above). At the same time, the rest of the Protocol makes no explicit reference to ammunition and there is no clear statement that ammunition is considered part of SALW as a generic category. There are therefore no detailed standards on ammunition controls in Nairobi Protocol.


An important complement to the Nairobi Protocol is the Best Practice Guidelines that were adopted as a non-binding document in June 2005.[27] The introduction to the Guidelines states that the scope of the Nairobi Protocol should be understood to also apply to SALW ammunition. Specific ammunition controls that are promoted by the Guidelines include the licensing and controls of ammunition transfers and brokering; record-keeping; controls on possession, including possession by state actors; and stockpile security. The Guidelines further promote the exchange of information between states on authorised producers, importers, exporters, and carriers/transporters of ammunition, routes used by traffickers, and seized and recovered ammunition with a view to assist in the identification of the ammunition.[28]


ECOWAS Convention on SALW


The legally binding 2006 Convention of the Economic Community of Western African States on SALW includes ammunition in its title and also provides a definition of ammunition.[29] Similar to the Nairobi Protocol though, ammunition is generally not mentioned in the specific control standards enshrined in the convention on amongst other the manufacture, trade, and brokering of SALW. One exception is language specifying that ammunition has to be marked with a unique lot number[30] and an identification of the manufacturer, country of manufacture, and year of production. The markings have to be applied to the outside of the ammunition, such as the casing of cartridge, and be composed of numbers and/or letters.[31] The ECOWAS Convention is the only sub-regional instrument in Africa containing this marking standard for ammunition that is based on language developed during the UN negotiations of the international SALW tracing instrument (see above). Indeed, the ECOWAS Convention is the only multilateral instrument in Africa or elsewhere that contains this marking standard.   


V. Remaining Challenges


An important challenge for African states is the implementation of their commitments to controls on ammunition under the relevant multilateral instruments. In broad terms, states should establish and maintain effective national systems for the control of ammunition and enhance regional cooperation on ammunition control. The systems should aim to combat the illicit manufacture, transfer, holding, and use of ammunition by state and non-state actors. Relevant measures include the criminalisation of illicit activities as well as the close control through registration and licensing of relevant actors and their activities in the licit sphere. The development of adequate capacities for such implementation will be an important first step. States should, where adequate, make use of available technical and financial assistance by international partners and the expertise and support by civil society. 


States should pay focused attention to preventing future diversions and misuse by strictly controlling and ensuring the safety and security of national ammunition stockpiles, including those of the military, police and security forces, manufacturers, dealers, and private security companies. Relevant measures include the safe and secure storage of ammunition and high standards on stockpile management. Another important focus should be the removal of illicit ammunition from society, including in post-conflict situations. Ammunition should be fully integrated in disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programmes and other collection programmes. Targeted efforts should also be made to ensure that ammunition which is surplus to requirements by state actors or that is recovered from the illicit sphere is destroyed in a timely and secure manner. Trained personnel will be critical for the implementation of such measures.


Another challenge for African states is the development of systems that allow for the tracking of the supply chain in the licit sphere of recovered illicit ammunition to identify points of diversion. As indicated, ammunition is sometimes referred to in the context of marking and record-keeping as well as cooperation in tracing illicit SALW. However, with the exception of the ECOWAS Convention on SALW (see above), there are usually no detailed standards that would take account of the particularities of ammunition tracing. The requirements for such ammunition tracing remain sometimes poorly understood but are essential to allow for the reliable tracing of recovered illicit ammunition.[32]


VI. Conclusions


In global comparison, the reported legal trade in small arms ammunition to and in Africa appears to be rather small. Nevertheless, there is an active trade in small arms ammunition to, within, and from the region. Adequate controls on these transfers, as well as on production and holdings will be essential to prevent the diversion of this ammunition into the illicit sphere and its misuse. There is a good foundation for the development of such controls as is evidenced by the frequent reference to ammunition controls in relevant multilateral control standards in Africa. The development of more specific and comprehensive controls on small arms and light weapons ammunition will be crucial to ensuring that African states can effectively counter ammunition diversions and misuse, and therewith the grave consequences associated with the diversion and misuse of SALW themselves.



[1] Methodology note: The values of small arms ammunition transfers presented in this paper have been calculated on the basis of the customs data contained in September 2006 in the import and export database of the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers (NISAT database – see The data used for the analysis covers ammunition for small arms such as rifles, shotguns, pistols, and light machine guns (UN Comtrade classifications 930621 and 930630), but excludes grenades and ammunition for light weapons. The average annual value of transfers has been calculated on the basis of data available for the period 2000-04. All values presented here are at best indicative (please refer to for a detailed discussion of the limits of customs data on small arms ammunition transfers).

[2] Pézard, Stéphanie and Anders, Holger. 2006. Targeting Ammunition: a primer. Geneva: Small Arms Survey, p. 70f.

[3] Data for states in Northern Africa were available for Algeria, Egypt, Liberia, Morocco and Tunisia. For Western Africa, data was available for Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Mauritania. For Southern Africa, data was available for Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. For Central Africa, data was available for Burundi, CAR, Congo, DRC, Rwanda, Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe. For Eastern Africa, data was available for Eretria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

[4] Source: NISAT database (see endnote 1).

[5] See Control Arms. 2006. Ammunition: the fuel of conflict. London: Control Arms, p. 2f.

[6] The Small Arms Survey has estimated that there exist at least 76 states with small arms ammunition production facilities (see Small Arms Survey. 2005. Small Arms Survey 2005: weapons at war. Geneva: Small Arms Survey, p. 13).

[7] See Pézard and Anders, pp. 48f and 56.

[8] Interview, European arms industry, March 2005.

[9] See Control Arms, p. 3.

[10] See Pézard and Anders, p.56.

[11] See Control Arms, p. 9.

[12] UN. 2001. UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UN document A/CONF.192/15).

[13] UN. 2005. International Instrument to assist States in the timely and reliable tracing of illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (UN document A/60/88).

[14] See for example UN document A/60/88, p. 5, para. 27.

[15] See UN Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UN Firearms Protocol). Vienna: United Nations, June 2001.

[16] The UN Firearms Protocol has been ratified by Benin, Burkina Faso, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa. Notes of accession have been deposited by Algeria, Cape Verde, DRC, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia. Signatories that have not yet ratified, accepted, approved, or acceded to the Firearms Protocol are the Seychelles, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia (see 

[17] See UN Firearms Protocol, arts. 4; 5; 6; 7; 10; 12; and 13. 

[18] First Continental Meeting of African Experts on Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of SALW, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 17-19 May 2000.

[19] Ibidem, paras. 18, 19, 36a, 41g, and 42e.

[20] See the African Common Position to the Review Conference on Progress made in the Implementation of the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, adopted at the Second Continental Conference of African Governmental Experts on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, Windhoek, Namibia, 14-16 December 2005.

[21] Bamako Declaration on an African Position on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of SALW, Bamako, Mali, December 2000.

[22] Ibidem, paras. 3.a.iii and 3.b.ii.

[23] Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and Other Related Materials in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region, adopted August 2001.

[24] Ibidem, art. 1.2.

[25] See ibidem, arts. 5.1, 8.a, and 14.1.

[26] The Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of SALW in the GLRHA, Nairobi, Kenya, April 2004.

[27] Best Practice Guidelines for the Implementation of the Nairobi Declaration and the Nairobi Protocol on SALW, Nairobi, Kenya, June 2005.

[28] Ibidem, pp. 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, 18, 23, 26, 29, 30, 31, 34, and 35.

[29] See Convention de la CEDEAO sur les Armes Légères et de Petit Calibre, Leurs Munitions et Autres Matériels Connexes, Abuja, Nigeria, 14 juin 2006.

[30] While not defined in the ECOWAS Convention, a lot of ammunition can be understood as a discreet quantity of ammunition that is produced using identical components in a controlled environment to ensure that all individual rounds within the lot can be expected to perform in a uniform manner.

[31] See Convention de la CEDEAO sur les ALPC, art. 18.3.a.

[32] See Pézard and Anders, chapter 7, pp. 206ff.



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