Ethiopia’s parliament passed legislation aimed at curbing gun ownership after a surge in regional ethnic violence blamed on the proliferation of small arms in private hands.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government said last April it seized 21 machine guns, more than 33 000 handguns, 275 rifles and 300 000 bullets in different parts of the Horn of Africa country.
In October security forces confiscated a further 2 221 handguns and 71 Kalashnikov assault rifles in Gonder in Amhara region, one area affected by ethnic strife, domestic media said. The rifles were smuggled in oil trucks from Sudan, they said.
The spread of small arms is partly blamed for killings in various ethnic conflicts over the past two years that displaced nearly three million people.
“There are a significant number of guns in our society since the previous government and the law will help formalise ownership,” lawmaker Tesfaye Daba told parliament during the passage of the bill.
The new law provides for each region to stipulate a legal age for gun ownership, Tesfaye said, limiting the number of firearms an individual can own to one. Violations could bring up to three years in prison, according to the new legislation.
It will ban private trade in weaponry only allowing certain government institutions to import guns.
Those found to be involved in arms trafficking face prison terms of eight to 20 years.
More Ethiopians resorted to arming themselves due to the volatile political situation and a “perception of weakening law enforcement”, according to William Davidson, an analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
“The proliferation of illegal arms risks fuelling further turmoil,” he said.
With the iron grip of the past administration loosened, the federal government struggled to assert authority and enforce laws throughout the country, analysts said.