On January 9th, 2020 Ethiopia’s parliament passed a law aimed at curbing gun ownership after the adverse effect of regional ethnic violence blamed on the proliferation of small arms in private hands.
The widespread use of guns owned by civilians can be partly blamed for hundreds of killings in various ethnic conflicts over the past two years, leaving more than 2.7 million people displaced. “There is a significant number of guns in the society since the previous government and the law will help the government to formalize ownership,” lawmaker Tesfaye Daba was quoted as saying to parliament, during the passage of the bill.
The new law provides for each region to stipulate a legal age for gun ownership while limiting the number of firearms an individual can own to one. Violations could bring up to three years in prison.
It also bans private trade in weaponry and allows only certain government institutions to import guns. Those found to have involved themselves in arms trafficking would face a penalty of 8 to 20 years in prison.
In April 2019, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government claimed to have seized 21 machine guns, more than 33,000 handguns, 275 rifles and 300,000 bullets in different parts of the Horn of Africa country over the previous year.
In October, security forces confiscated a further 2,221 handguns and 71 assault rifles in a region, which is particularly affected by ethnic strife. The government, however, claims that the rifles were smuggled into the country in oil trucks from Sudan.
According to William Davidson, an analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank, Ethiopians have resorted to arming themselves due to ethnic violence and a “perception of weakening law enforcement.” Also, the proliferation of illegal arms risks fueling further turmoil.
With the iron grip of the past administration loosened, the federal government has struggled to assert its authority and enforce laws throughout the sprawling country. Abiy, who came to power in 2018, has implemented sweeping liberal reforms which have not only earned him international commendation but also lifted the lid on long-repressed tensions between the country’s many ethnic groups.
In 2004, a referendum to decide the fate of more than 420 kebeles, Ethiopia’s smallest administrative units around the border, gave 80 percent of them to the Oromia Region. The result of this action led to the current ethnic violence in the country, leading to the death of hundreds, displacement of more than 3 million people in the country, thousands of children orphaned and scores of Somalis leaving for fear of repercussions.
Gun control could help in reducing the level of violence in the country. The government also needs to ensure that military personnel are doing their job of protecting the lives and properties of people.
However, it is important to note that the law could have either a positive or negative impact.
Violence in the country could drastically reduce provided the government ensures that the law is duly observed. Also, trained military personnel should be made available in every district to give citizens a sense of security and trust in the government. But once none of this is upheld, the reverse would be the case as thousands would be left vulnerable with no means of protecting themselves from attackers.
By Faith Ikade.