The availability of small arms in Kenya – an assessment


Kenya has experienced the effects of small arms availability and misuse for many years, but the unprecedented violence that erupted after the December 2007 general elections placed the issue of small arms reduction higher on the national agenda.

The government of Kenya started a number of important initiatives, such as the establishment of the Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons (KNFP) as an interagency directorate within the Office of the President, Ministry of State for Provincial Administration and Internal Security. Despite significant progress, law enforcement efforts to control the proliferation of small arms still face significant challenges.

The extent of illicit firearms and their distribution over the Kenyan territory were the object of the 2003 National Mapping for Illicit SALW, carried out by the KNFP, which informed the development of the Kenya National Action Plan for Arms Control and Management. However, for the eight subsequent years there has been no study with national coverage, with most research on small arms in Kenya focusing on the northern parts of the country (North Rift, Upper Eastern, and North Eastern Province).

A joint study by the Government of Kenya and the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey aims to assess small arms proliferation in Kenya (mapping their location, sources, and movements) and the capacity of various actors involved in small arms control and peace-building efforts in the country. For this purpose, the study adopted a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods involving approximately 2,500 interviews with households, representatives of civil society organizations, law enforcement agents, and other key informants from 31 out of the 47 counties of Kenya. The geographical coverage of the sample specifically included all counties perceived as highly volatile (those where small arms are endemic, those with significant pastoralist communities who have propensity for small arms ownership to protect their livestock, emerging areas, and high-density urban areas with high crime levels), as well as representatives from areas considered to be of medium and low volatility.

The major findings of the study are the following:
• Between 530,000 and 680,000 firearms may be in civilian hands nationally.
• Despite an overall perception of a reduction in the number of firearms nationally, some zones, including areas such as Mt Elgon and Rift Valley, where important disarmament initiatives have been carried out, have recorded a significant increase in gun possession since 2003.
• The period of violence around the December 2007 elections has left its mark on the population, with the majority of household respondents stating that they feel the most insecure during election periods.
• Approximately 20 per cent of household respondents were victims of a crime or an act of violence over the year preceding the interviews, but twice as many felt that there is a likelihood of their being a victim of violence and/or crime in the next year.
• More than one-third of those who were victims of crimes were confronted with a firearm.
• There is a discrepancy between the views of law enforcement agencies and civil society organizations as regards the effectiveness of current efforts to reduce firearm proliferation and increase security, with the former being more optimistic than the latter.

The full report can be accessed here.

About the Small Arms Survey

The Small Arms Survey serves as the principal international source of public information on all aspects of small arms and armed violence, and as a resource centre for governments, policy-makers, researchers, and activists. The Survey distributes its findings through Occasional Papers, Issue Briefs, Working Papers, Special Reports, Books, and its annual flagship publication, the Small Arms Survey. The project has an international staff with expertise in security studies, political science, international public policy, law, economics, development studies, conflict resolution, sociology, and criminology, and works closely with a worldwide network of researchers and partners. The Small Arms Survey is a project of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.

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