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Experts prepare a furnace to destroy more than 2 tonnes of obsolete ammunition (Massaguet, Chad, March 2021). © MAG
The Sahel is a poverty-stricken, unstable region in West Africa. According to a common definition, it includes Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. Numerous armed groups are active in peripheral areas where the state has little presence.
Chad is an exception, however. Today, after 35 years of ongoing conflict, the country is rather more stable and plays an important role in the security of the whole region. Mauritania is also quite stable, the country is gradually moving towards a more democratic regime.
Yet this stability is far from assured. For example, Chad acts as a crossroads in the regional arms trade, and small arms and light weapons are widespread there. There are also conflicts in the Lake Chad area, near Chad's capital N'Djamena, as well as in neighbouring Libya, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. For its part, Mauritania has over 5000 km of porous borders with Algeria, Mali, Senegal, and Western Sahara, making the country an ideal location for illegal arms trafficking.
Stricter arms control is therefore essential to maintain stability in both countries. This is why Belgium is supporting two projects of the international NGO MAG (Mines Advisory Group). The MAG was a co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. The NGO has many years of experience in the Sahel.
The armoury funded by Belgium handed over to the ‘Garde Nationale et Nomade du Tchad’ (GNNT) in (Faya, September 2020). © MAG
Chad: safe arsenals, destruction of ammunition unfit for use, training in arms control, and risk education
In Chad, MAG focused on the construction of eight state arsenals for weapons and ammunition. The NGO also trained state personnel in arms and ammunition control. Also crucial was the destruction of equipment that was unfit for use, specifically five metric tonnes of ammunition and 10,000 items of small arms ammunition. This reduces the risk of ammunition accidentally exploding.
Not only does the country have to deal with massive quantities of small arms and light weapons, there are also landmines and 'explosive remnants of war'. For this reason, MAG has trained 1,500 men, women, girls, and boys on the risks of such explosive weapons. Game cards, bags, posters and radio commercials with safety messages are also being used. The intention is to raise awareness among over 1.3 million people about these explosion risks.
Mauritania: safe arsenals, training in arms control, and marking of arms
In Mauritania, MAG is especially committed to more secure weapons storage. Currently, such storage is not adequately secure so weapons can be easily stolen. The NGO intends to remedy this with an extra secure central weapons arsenal and five new arsenals for the police and the gendarmerie. It is also providing three additional 'mobile arsenals' that can be constructed quickly when the army is active in a border area.
Training is also essential. Officers must be well trained in safe arms control in accordance with international standards and good practice. Arsenal personnel will also receive training.
Finally, the marking of weapons forms an important part of the project. After all, weapons can easily be traded without thorough marking. Personnel from the army and other security forces will learn how to apply an indelible mark to weapons. The project will provide two portable marking machines for this purpose.
The 8000 marked weapons will be listed in a spreadsheet, and the project also intends to set up a national database containing all marked weapons of all security forces in the country. This will provide Mauritania with a central overview of all its weapons, making them traceable and far less easily tradeable.
Both projects are being run in close cooperation with the national authorities. They intend to contribute to a safe living environment for the inhabitants, which is a fundamental requirement for peacebuilding and sustainable economic development. The Belgian projects form part of a larger effort supported by Germany, the USA and the EU, among others.
The Peacebuilding Department of FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation supports initiatives that promote peaceful coexistence.