Arms trafficking in Western Africa: Côte d'Ivoire and Mali at the core

While the situation in the Sahel region is more unstable than ever, it seems useful to revisit the role of arms trafficking in the perpetuation and aggravation of violent conflicts in Western Africa. This research focused on two countries, which have turned out to be the main poles of arms and ammunition trafficking during these last years.

The first, Côte d'Ivoire, experienced a long conflict, whose last phase, in 2010-2011, led to a change of power and a fragile peace, marked by the persistence of armed violence. The other, Mali, has been occupied by armed groups on a large chunk of its territory since the beginning of 2012. While closing this report, these groups were confronting a coalition of African armies supported mainly by France.

Since 2004, Côte d'Ivoire is placed by the UN under arms embargo, a measure that has seen many violations. On the side of the overthrown government side, a group of brokers, especially French and Belorussian, acting under the cover of several societies, managed to provide to the former authorities large quantities of small arms and light weapons (SALW), as well as air services and equipment. On the opposite side, important stocks of SALW and ammunition were delivered to the former rebels by Burkina Faso, a country that is not at its first try regarding violations of arms embargoes. The information provided by the Group of Experts, appointed by the UN to monitor the embargo, and by the UN peacekeeping force deployed in the country is analyzed in a critical way.

The situation is somewhat different in Mali, although the central government has been under a regional arms embargo, officially during a few days, de facto during several months, as a pressure to accelerate the return to civilian rule after a coup in March 2012. Therefore, trafficking should be the qualification for the acquisition of arms mainly by armed groups, to which any transfer of SALW is prohibited under the ECOWAS Convention on SALW. Through fleeing fighters and Salafist networks, groups controlling northern Mali acquired nevertheless a large quantity of weapons originating from stockpiles in Libya, where a bloody civil and international war devastated the country in 2011.

The sections about arms trafficking to or from these two poles are preceded by two short texts, an overview of the measures limiting arms transfers currently in force in Western Africa and some background information on weapons and ammunition production, especially craft, in the subregion.