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Muting gun sounds, finding refuge in jungles of peace

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Just a tiny hole— the barrel of a conventional firearm— but the wrath of its ‘vomit’ bears a risk now global in nature.

They are favoured for their portable size. Very easy to conceal.

But, all over the world, the pain of losing a loved one, or the pain sparked by gun-related injuries, has never been easy to either conceal or ignore.

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Maybe the dead are, somehow, ‘lucky’ to get out of the pain because they do not feel it, let alone live with it.

But for others, especially those who survive, the consequences can be disastrous: wounds, mutilated bodies, makeshift organs and a past that talks in a strange language whose vocabulary is full of words such as cold blood, collateral damage, open fire.

This reality, unbearable as it may be, makes Edward Chaka, Peoples Federation for National Peace and Development (Pefenap) Executive Director so sick that he buries his head in his ‘bushless’ hands.

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His wish: To hide in the jungle of peace.

“Peace, I mean the peace we have and often take for granted, is the greatest capital for development. It applies everywhere in the world, including in Malawi,” Chaka ventures, “however, gun violence is threatening this (peace) both in Malawi and at the international level.”

He has been there, this Chaka. He has been at the biggest stage, having attended global meetings against gun violence initiated by the International Action Network on Small Arms (Iansa), to which Pefenap is affiliated.

Chaka says, more than any other time in history, the world needs an urgent solution to tackle the problem of gun violence.

In a way, he blames it on history. It has failed to live up to the commonest human view that it (history) represents progress— that long, upward struggle of humanity to make today better than yesterday.

It is a brief that has rested, for thousands of years, on our faith in reason, and in science and technology.

But two so-called World Wars, civil wars in African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, all fuelled by the lifeless tool called gun, or its twin brother bomb, shook our faith in reason, prompting us to bank on science and technology.

These have certainly bettered the human lot; but they seem, also, to carry some seeds of despair and destruction.

Why?

“It is technology which has paved the way for the manufacturing of advanced small arms and conventional weapons. The problem is that these weapons are becoming ever smaller, rendering detection almost impossible. Our own achievements are turning against us, and it is all because we have generally failed to harmonise scientific and technological advancements with our global commitment to be transparent and accountable,” Chaka says.

Roughly 20 years ago, the human rights activist’s sentiments would have made more sense. Now, they sound analogous to conducting a parents’ memorial service during the seventh anniversary of your own wedding.

Because they are irrelevant.

Why? Some 20 years ago, the world woke up to the reality that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons was getting out of hand, with many weapons being found in wrong hands: namely, the custody of armed robbers, rebels, fuming husbands and ranting wives, children of police officers, neighbourhood gangs, among others.

Just last week, the child of a Malawi Police Service (MPS) officer was playing with the father’s gun, and something happened in between leading to, first, injuries and, then, death.

National Police spokesperson, James Kadadzera, has weighed in on the issue, telling Times Group media that the officer, and not the son— who is a minor and not an officer of the MPS— faces the charge of negligence; and something bordering on the crime of taking away life that does not belong to oneself!

But Kadadzera maintains that it is okay for police officers to take service firearms home, depending on circumstances.

“I also sometimes take my service firearm home, depending on circumstances,” Kadadzera says.

The truth, though, is that, even with service firearms, which are legal, things can go wrong.

But it is always easy to trace the culprits, because the firearms are registered and, therefore, the ammunition can be linked to them.

With illegal firearms, though, the case is different.

“No matter what purpose one uses a firearm for, it may breed death. Human beings have learned, over the years, to account for death. That is why we have the likes of Dr Charles Dzamalala to conduct autopsies. They give us reason for [or on cause of] death. That question ‘why?’ can be nerve wrecking in life,” Chaka says.

He wonders why arms’ manufacturers are not held accountable for the needless deaths or injuries their products inflict on innocent global citizens. Surely, there must be a way of holding them accountable, and counting the cost of their ‘expertise’.

Checking death

In 2003, 153 United Nations (UN) member states, including Malawi, voted at the UN General Assembly for a resolution on establishing an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a comprehensive plan of action aimed at nipping the problem of small arms and conventional weapons’ proliferation in the bud.

But, even at that high level, the world of the mighty gun remained largely a men’s world. Women were absent in the equation of guns, of violence, of injuries, of death and of pain.

Things are now changing, thanks to UN Security Council Resolutions, specifically Resolution 1325 and Resolution 1820. These purport that there is “No security without women’s security”, and that efforts aimed at protecting women would go a long way in preventing incidences of gun violence.

Iansa has seen sense in this, also, and is asking governments to develop strong National Action Plans ( Naps) on Women, Peace and Security as required by UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

“Violence, almost always, starts from the weakest link, which are women and children. It is our hope that the ATT will help solve this. We really need a change in approach, and the way weapons’ transfers take place, and how they land in ‘wrong’ hands. Someone must be held accountable at the top of the table,” Chaka says.

The good news is that UN and Iansa reports indicate that the ATT process has surged forward since June 2009’ s Global Week of Action against Gun Violence and Arms Control Campaign, which revolved around the UN First Committee in October 2008.

In December 2009, Malawi was among the 153 states that voted in the UN General Assembly for a resolution that established a 2012 UN Conference on the ATT, after which the draft treaty text was negotiated and finalised.

Even more important was the decision by UN member states to transform the planned four weeks of the Open-Ended Working Group in 2010 and 2011 into preparatory committees (PreComs) to help develop the text.

In February 2012, representatives from over 60 (Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) gathered at the Vienna Conference of NGOs and agreed to expand their programmatic areas. The areas now include promoting consultations with community members (People’s Treaty), advocating a comprehensive definition of the scope of the ATT and the adoption of ethical principles and robust rules based on acceptable international standards.

NGOs now press their governments to follow up on the outcomes of the Armed Violence and Development meeting held in Oslo from April 21-22 2009, before they (world governments, including Malawi) met for the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms from July 14-18 2012 and agreed to act on the issues.

Moving on

Malawi has moved on. The world has moved on. Gun violence has become an issue, so that a week is set aside every year to commemorate ‘Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence’.

‘The Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence’ is a campaign launched in 2003 by Iansa.

This year, the week started on Monday, June 5, and ends on Monday, June 12, and is being held under the theme ‘The Road to Peace and Development Begins With Silencing the Guns’.

Events marking the week reached a climax yesterday [Friday, June 9] when Pefenap led Malawians in a peace march that started from Delamere House in Blantyre Central Business District to Chirimba, also in Blantyre.

Chaka says Pefenap, which is coordinating events marking the week in Malawi, has joined hands with the MPS as the organisation leads Malawians in remembering police officers who died in the course of duty.

“Every day, guns wreak havoc across the world as women, men and children suffer from the scourge of gun-related violence. It is a problem not limited to situations of armed conflict – it affects all societies. The destructive illicit trade in small arms and the ammunition which make them lethal is one of the primary obstacles preventing communities from achieving the sustainable peace and development they deserve.

“The Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence is an opportunity to remind the world about this stark reality. However, it is also an opportunity to remember how much can be achieved through collective action,” reads a statement signed by Chaka.

This year’s theme comes at a time when the international community is beginning to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious roadmap of 17 concrete goals intended to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.

The goals form the basis of a universal, transformative and integrative agenda. Goal 16 of the agenda acknowledges the inextricable link between development and peace, specifically highlighting the need to reduce illicit arms’ flows.

“Therefore we, in Malawi, cannot just celebrate being a Warm Heart of Africa if internal security providers [MPS] are not recognised for their security services delivery efforts that have culminated in some police officers’ lives being lost in the course of their service delivery. Pefenap, therefore, proposes that a day be set to remember police officers who died in the course of duty, even if it is not limited to gun violence,” Chaka adds in the statement.

Baffour Amoa, Iansa International Advisory Council chairperson, indicates in a statement that 2017 is set to be one of the most important years in history as the world seeks to strengthen international efforts to curb the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

More so when, next year, the next major meeting of the UN small arms process— RevCon3, also known as the Third Review Conference on the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects —will take place at the UN headquarters in New York City, United States of America.

“Our aim this year is to persuade governments to do more on this topic when they gather at the United Nations in June 2018 for RevCon3. We also want to generate more media coverage and deepen international understanding of the problem of gun violence and how to prevent it,” Amoa says.

The hope is that there will be more noise generated against gun violence, so long as the sound of a gun is not part of the noise.

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