November 2, 2004

Report: Mozambique the least heavily armed country in southern Africa

Mozambique is perhaps the least heavily armed nation in southern Africa according to a report by the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS). The report also found that gun crime was relatively unusual in Mozambique, and that rather than owning a gun for protection, civilians looked to improved public lighting and other measures to increase their personal security. In its report, "Hide and Seek, Taking Account of Small Arms in Southern Africa", the ISS found that there are only 7.000 licensed private guns in Mozambique, compared with 3.7 million in neighbouring South Africa. Thus only 0.04 percent of Mozambique's civilian population have access to legal firearms, which is far less than the next least armed country, Malawi, in which 0.26 percent of the population have firearms licences. In South Africa 8.4 percent of the population are licensed to bear arms.
The report covered Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Angola was not covered, but it is widely known to be a heavily armed country following decades of war.
In its case study on Mozambique, the report points out that during the war of destabilisation large quantities of small arms and light weapons were brought into the country. Subsequently thousands of guns and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition have been collected and destroyed by the police and army, but the report warns that "an unknown quantity of arms and ammunition remained in hidden caches in undisclosed locations throughout the country". Despite there being few citizens authorised to hold arms, weapons are held illicitly by many others. The police carry pistols routinely and are also issued with automatic rifles. The report also highlights the role of the 31 registered private security companies, but it states that there is no publicly available information on their firearms holdings. The number of firearms held by civilians greatly outnumbers the 7.000 licences - the report estimates that 1.5 million small arms were handed to civilians by "Frelimo and Renamo". However, how this round estimate was reached is unclear.
Despite this potential arsenal, armed crime is relatively rare in Mozambique. The report quotes an official in the Ministry of the Interior as saying that "guns are occasionally used to commit crime, but not always. Most criminals are middle-aged, demobilised soldiers and unemployed". (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, Maputo)

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