Philip Alpers is the co-founder of the Centre for Armed Violence Reduction (CAVR), designer of ArmsTracker and a faculty member at the University of Sydney School of Public Health.

Despite decades of lip service and inadequate solutions, the mundane chore of arms and ammunition 'record-keeping' has long remained a pressing need in communities most at risk of armed violence. Now a comprehensive solution being rolled out by MAG, initially in West Africa, offers to break the logjam.

ArmsTracker is a computerised record-keeping solution for arms, ammunition, and explosives, purpose-built for small island and developing nations. In a project funded by UNSCAR, the Small Arms Division of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria, has installed ArmsTracker in readiness for data input from government agencies across its 15 Member States. The aim is to complete a regional data network to meet their joint commitments under the 2006 ECOWAS Small Arms Convention.

In addition to this, in Burkina Faso, MAG is installing ArmsTracker with government agencies as part of an Armed Violence Reduction (AVR) project supported by Global Affairs Canada. With similar assistance from the German Federal Foreign Office, MAG will also support the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms to install the software. Both countries will soon be better equipped to enforce national arms and ammunition laws, to reduce armed violence and to observe regional and international arms control commitments.

An armoury in Sierre Leone

Preventing the diversion of arms and ammunition to armed crime, conflict and terrorism requires a start-to-finish computerised system capable of following munitions through each transfer to final re-export, loss or destruction. Over the past 20 years, record-keeping has been the most-requested category of international assistance for Weapon and Ammunition Management (WAM). Effective record-keeping is also a pre-requisite for stockpile management, transfers and tracing. Despite all this, a comprehensive, yet affordable solution has so far eluded many States, regions and donors.

Beginning in the 1990s, MAG broadened its missions in half a dozen countries to include WAM, clearing stockpiles of illicit and excess arms and ammunition as a component of its mine action programs. MAG currently secures and destroys small arms and ammunition in nineteen states in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. We see these more comprehensive capacity-building frameworks as contributing to Armed Violence Reduction (AVR), alongside a growing focus on complementary engagement at the community level.

In a prescient policy brief in 2012, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) explored “the rationale for this shift from ‘traditional’ mine action to AVR”, noting that “the role of mine action organizations in supporting AVR is invaluable… their relevant expertise, the innovative approaches that they are adopting (e.g. towards community safety), as well as the relationships they have already built with national security sector actors give them unique insight, leverage and opportunity to contribute to AVR.” In a 2019 report, the UN’s Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) noted that weapon and ammunition management (WAM) “is becoming a key component of conflict prevention and stabilization strategies, with many conflict-affected and post-conflict States in Africa increasingly implementing a range of WAM activities.”

An armourer records the issue of a duty weapon in Burkina Faso

And once again in 2020, the UN Secretary-General called for “the establishment of national systems that include centralized national small arms and light weapons records… a well-maintained centralized record-keeping system” and “consistent recording of any weapons, pending destruction.”

MAG’s recent partnership with the Centre for Armed Violence Reduction (CAVR) now makes this possible. A not-for-profit NGO created by faculty at The University of Sydney, CAVR partners with governments to provide ArmsTracker at no net cost to qualifying state agencies in countries where the need is greatest. The nation of Samoa already manages all weapons and ammunition with ArmsTracker, as will military, law enforcement, border control and other agencies in Fiji and Palau.

These and similar projects will equip less-resourced agencies responsible for arms and ammunition, including seized or excess weapons held as evidence or for destruction, plus civilian firearms if local legislation requires. In the absence of documented accountability, these are frequently the weapons that leak into criminal and terrorist misuse.

“MAG is a global leader in weapons and ammunition management, working in countries around the world that continue to be affected by high levels of armed violence that has devastating consequences to communities,” says Darren Cormack, MAG CEO and CAVR advisory council member. “I’m proud to see MAG and CAVR working in partnership to find and implement practical solutions like ArmsTracker to reduce the impact of small arms and light weapons on people’s lives.”