Recent clashes in Kenya point to the increasing availability and use of modern weaponry in the region. The Associated Press reported this week that ethnic violence in Kenya left 24 dead and dozens wounded, many of them women and children. The fighting was unusually severe due to the use of modern weapons:
Fighting between nomadic tribes in the semiarid region that encompasses northern Kenya, Uganda, southern Sudan and Ethiopia is common. But the raids have become increasingly lethal as tribal warriors have acquired modern weapons. Arms have flooded the region following conflicts in Uganda, Sudan, and Somalia.
Similar characterizations have been made of the increasing violence in southern Sudan. Though the region is prone to cattle raids, the attacks this year have been marked by a high death toll (more than 2,000), the targeting of women and children, and the use of advanced weaponry and new uniforms. There are speculations as to where these arms are coming from, but the mystery remains unsolved.
Somalia is, of course, the most dire example of how the influx of modern weapons has perpetuated lawlessness on a national scale. There is an ever-present concern that Somalia’s chaos will spill over into neighboring countries, which to some extent is already happening among Somali communities in Kenya. The AP’s suggestion that arms involved in the recent clashes in central Kenya may have come from Somalia is possible given reports of arms leakage from Mogadishu. Elizabeth Dickinson of Foreign Policy recently reported that an increasing amount of arms, supplied by the U.S. government for the Transitional Federal Government forces, have leaked out of the army and are being sold on the streets in Mogadishu. According to Dickinson, this is in part due to the large number of TFG soldiers that have deserted, often taking their guns with them. Ken Menkhaus also noted, "When weapons are allocated to militias who are paid irregularly or not at all, a certain percentage will sell on the open market.”
Though it is unclear where the arms in Kenya are coming from, given the number of neighboring conflicts, it is clear that their proliferation has reached a regional scale. Hopefully, the interconnectedness of these conflicts is registering with policy makers.
Photo: Somali fighter in Mogadishu. AP/Mohamed Sheikh Nor