The civil war in Sierra Leone was one of the deadliest in Africa. Between 1991 and 2002, it claimed 50,000 lives and forced almost half a million women, girls, boys and men to flee from their homes.

The ready supply of weapons helped fuel the conflict as various armed groups rose to and fell from prominence during the fighting. And guns don’t just kill; atrocities and human rights abuses were committed with the threat of armed violence.

The disarmament process recovered 25,000 small arms, 1,000 light weapons and almost a million rounds of ammunition. But there were still many weapons in circulation, posing a threat to national and regional stability, as well as to the citizens of Sierra Leone. 

But vital progress has been made in recent years. MAG has released a new report, Partnership and Progress: lessons in effective arms control from Sierra Leone to highlight the success of Sierra Leone’s community-focused and partnership-centred approach to arms control.

Unregulated and uncontrolled weapons pose a threat to national and regional stability as well as to citizens

The report serves as both an example and a warning to the global community, as Sierra Leone assumes the presidency of the 7th Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) — which seeks to prevent and eradicate illicit proliferation of conventional arms.

One of the main drivers of progress in Sierra Leone has been collaboration. And The National Commission on Small Arms (SLeNCSA), the national body responsible for arms control, is itself a product of a partnership with the civil society group Sierra Leone Action on Small Arms (SLANSA).

Established in 2010, SLeNCSA has continued to work with civil society, the Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) and Sierra Leone Police (SLP) to position itself within the security architecture in Sierra Leone — making robust interventions to combat the diversion of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and reduce their impact on communities.

SLeNCSA has worked relentlessly to regulate against the illicit proliferation of SALW by ensuring:

  • About 96% of all state-owned weapons are marked
  • Unserviceable weapons in national stockpiles are destroyed
  • The construction and rehabilitation of storage facilities for the RSLAF and SLP
  • Training for personnel working in storage facilities is high-quality and coordinate

MAG's Emilie Mbaye with Jestina Manley of SLeNCSA

Working with MAG and Small Arms Survey, SLeNCSA also developed the Weapons and Ammunition Management Capacity-Building Action Plan for Sierra Leone in 2019, which outlined five key priorities to deliver against by 2023.

And working in partnership with the Economic Community of West African States, MAG and the Centre for Armed Violence Reduction, SLeNCSA is also rolling out the pioneering ArmsTracker database — an invaluable tool for the registration and tracking of weapons.

At the same time, cooperation at the international level, including through the ATT, provides an opportunity for Sierra Leone and civil society organisations, like MAG, to share progress, challenges, successes and best practices — which can provide the basis for decisive action in other states.

Small Arms Survey estimates that between 2019-31, 1.43 million lives could be saved globally through decisive action on lethal violence. 

But progress in Sierra Leone two decades after the end of the civil war, while impressive, demonstrates that there are no quick fixes.

The international community must rise to the life-saving challenge of weapons and ammunition management by prioritising conflict prevention and armed violence reduction at the policy level and accelerating programming.

Between 2019-31 it is estimated almost 1.5 million lives could be saved by decisive action on armed violence

Arms control initiatives should be integrated into broader conflict prevention strategies.

Endemic armed violence is an enduring and too often neglected humanitarian catastrophe.

Sierra Leone’s experience, however, along with the far-sighted support it has received from key members of the international community, show that it is a catastrophe that can be curtailed.

Download the full report for MAG’s recommendations on how countries, civil society and donor governments can work to replicate the successful lessons from Sierra Leone around the world.