Changing the people’s mindset” – talks with African tutors at the Federal Foreign Office

04.12.2017 - Article

High-ranking leaders from African small arms commissions have taken part in a training course in Germany. The intensive two-week course included a visit to the Federal Foreign Office. 

Course participants in talks at the Federal Foreign Office
Course participants in talks at the Federal Foreign Office© AA

In the internal and cross-border conflicts of the last decades, the large majority of casualties, especially among the civilian population, were caused by small arms. Due to the massive influx of weapons and ammunition from Libya, the fight against proliferation remains a central issue in many African countries. 

Strengthening national small arms commissions

The Federal Foreign Office works with specialist partners to actively strengthen national small arms commissions, which are striving to control weapon flows, prevent further proliferation and create binding legislation. Within the context of a regional programme in the wider Sahel region conducted by the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), 22 small arms control representatives from Africa were invited to Germany. The goal was for them to gain first-hand experience of how Germany deals with small arms, hold talks with German experts in this field and learn about various weapon management practices. The focus of the two-week training course was on Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM) – a fundamental aspect of improving weapon-handling. 

BICC video on PSSM: Keep The Safety On.

Visit to Berlin

The agenda for the first week in Berlin included a visit to the Federal Ministry of Defence, a meeting with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces and various cultural events, alongside teaching units. On 16 November the group, consisting of members of the police force, the military and various regional organisations, visited the Federal Foreign Office, where they were greeted by Deputy Federal Government Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control Susanne Baumann and the Head of the Division for Conventional Disarmament, Marcus Bleinroth.
Both were interested in how the Africans rated the implementation of PSSM projects and how strategies could be targeted to further improve physical security in the long term.

New ideas and greater mutual understanding

In a lively discussion the groundwork that PSSM represents was commended as an important basis, but attention was also given to exploring farther reaching avenues. Problems ranged from easily remedied issues such as more knowledge about didactics to equip course participants to pass on to others what they had learned, to visionary and more comprehensive political concerns. Colonel Nema Sagara from Mali, for example, stressed the importance of raising awareness, which could play a crucial role in changing people’s mindset with regard to the use of weapons. Silver Maari, a Lieutenant in the Ugandan security forces, proposed targeting the training at higher ranking leaders and inviting political decision-makers to participate in such courses. Selebatso Mokgosi from INTERPOL did not support this idea, as he felt there were more problems with coordinating the various donors and projects. Sanni Mama, head of the multinational troops with units from the armed forces of Chad, the Niger and Nigeria, called for the causes of arms proliferation to be tackled and for a greater focus to be placed on good governance in Africa, where, after all, no weapons were manufactured. The very fruitful talks were continued during a joint luncheon. All participants left with new ideas and greater understanding for one another.

Practical training at the Federal Armed Forces Verification Centre

In the second week, the training group visited the Federal Armed Forces Verification Centre in Geilenkirchen, which has been conducting PSSM training courses in Africa for many years. There, the focus was on practical exercises with the course participants. Course content included how to handle weapons that had been collected and how to destroy them, or how to store them correctly and safely, if they were still usable and if this was desired.

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