Tanzania: Yes, Gun Ownership Should Be Verified


Sosthenes Mita, Tanzania Daily News

Date Published

The State plans a comprehensive nationwide inspection of all licensed firearms in a quest to curb the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons, some which are now being used in armed robberies and poaching in national wildlife sanctuaries.

The government says that this noble initiative will include a clear-cut order for all illegal owners of unlicensed weapons to surrender them to the Police Force willingly. The goal, the government says, is to identify all holders of firearms in the country. In the past few years the Police Force announced that it had succeeded in outsmarting robbers and that the canker would soon go into the annals of history.

They dealt with apprehended robbers quite ruthlessly. But the boys in khaki had a wrong vision. The underworld characters went underground and took a breather. Then, they sprung out of their lairs and committed much more mayhem.

This social evil, it seems, has become an incurable cancer in this country. The second crop of illegal gun holders wanders into national parks and mows down elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns. On January 28, this year, poachers who had already killed three elephants saw a patrol helicopter heading their way.

They fired at the helicopter and hit pilot Roger Gower, 37, a Briton, who was in the company of safari guide Nick Bester. The pilot died after making an erratic landing. Flying low, Gower, who had heard a gun being fired in the area, had looped the chopper to get a better look and spotted what looked like a pile of ivory balanced atop a small, rocky hill.

This meant the poachers were lurking in the bush nearby. Knowing they had been discovered, the poachers emerged from the bush and fired high-powered Mark Four rifles at the helicopter.

A colleague who was part of the operation said one of the bullets cut through the floor of the helicopter up through Gower’s seat, hitting his leg and piercing his shoulder, before tearing through the roof. Gower somehow managed to maneuver the aircraft down.

Bester jumped out and hid in a bush until the ground patrols arrived, but Gower succumbed to his injuries before the team could rescue him. The Police Force says several arrests have been made in connection with the killing. We are, however, yet to be told who fired the fatal shot.

The killer also caused extensive damage to the helicopter and some freshly killed elephants were also found in the area. Armed robbers are equally cruel to their victims. The saddest part of armed robbery scenarios scenario is that not only do these psychopaths deprive their victims of their hard-earned prosperity; they also maim or kill them.

The current crop of armed robbers is, to say the least, ruthless, merciless, and evil. Before these times, these evil forces in this country carried out their nefarious and diabolical activities at mid-night. But now, they strike even in broad daylight. The police have been given the mandate to protect citizens from these miscreants and muggers in the midst of society.

If the police, with close support from the wananchi, take this fight very seriously they can win. However, the terrain is rugged and difficult. It is imperative, however, to mention here that the law enforcement agencies are doing their best under the circumstances.

This fight is more complex than we see. A recent State campaign against illegal ownership of small firearms succeeded in impounding 304 guns. It is kudos for the Police Force. The number of firearms found during the brief campaign shocked the nation.

The find pointed to the stark reality that too many arms were in dangerous hands. It was this nettling situation that prompted the government to issue an ultimatum to holders of illegal and unregistered firearms to surrender them to the State immediately.

Like the case in all other national parks in the country, poaching is a problem at Maswa, the place where poachers brought down a helicopter, killing pilot Gower.

Other illegal activities, including unauthorised hunting, snaring of wildlife, felling of trees and theft of live animals also continue despite protective patrols. In some cases — Katavi National Park being a typical example — the situation is compounded by the presence of undesirable elements among the refugee population in camps.

Refugee camps are scattered in various locations mainly in the west of the country. The refugees are notorious for selling fire arms, particularly sub-machine guns, to poachers, according to regional wildlife authorities.

The refugees, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi, smuggle military fire arms from combat zones in their countries into Tanzania. They sell some of the guns to poachers at about 100,000/- each.

The refugees are also known to exchange firearms for clothes, food or minor items such as smart phones. Subsistence and commercial poaching for meat and elephant tusks is still a problem in nearly all national parks.

Lumbering is also carried out illegally inside national parks. In a quest to ensure that poachers and loggers are controlled national parks conduct patrols mainly deploying game wardens and members of the Police Force with help from district authorities.

With the hundreds of poachers marauding in our game reserves, it certainly should take military skills to flush them out. Some poachers, we are told, have equally smart military skills. Many come swaggering into our national parks armed with military style weapons. Others drive deep into animal territory in all-terrain motor vehicles. They tot frightening high-velocity combat rifles.

So, it will take trained soldiers with smarter combat skills to defeat them. Ordinary game wardens appear to have failed. It is also apparent that Tanzania has apportioned to wildlife a vast area in square kilometres.

At the same time the nation has a shortage of wildlife management officers. This is a stiff challenge in anti poaching efforts. About 40 percent of the country’s territory has been dedicated to wildlife and forest conservation, which is approximately 159, 817.02 Sq km out of 945,000 sq km of national territory.

So, due to a lack of manpower in conservation, one guard has under his patrol an area of 168 square kilometres which is quite high compared to International standards which require one person to manage only 25 square kilometres.

This shows that the seize of the area under conservation at the moment is a huge challenge. We need more human resources. The current workforce in game and forest reserves covers only 24 percent of the actual requirement which stands at 4,000 people. The government’s goal is to have all 4,000 guards on the ground by this year. These should be trained and equipped adequately.

Poaching in this country has reached dangerous proportions with the elephant population plummeting to 13,084 from about 38,000 in 2009. Anti-poaching efforts must be scaled up. Several campaigns in the past have seen temporary success. Campaigns such as Operation Kipepeo and Operation Tokomeza brought down nearly all poachers.

The other headache for the government is the encroachment into national parks or conserved forests by farmers, hunters and settlers. Indeed, this is another smarting headache for the government.

It is this kind of unacceptable behaviour which prompted the government to form the crack “Operation Tokomeza” in yesteryears. The outfit was given clear-cut instructions to make sure that all conserved land was free from invaders who include poachers.

Unfortunately, Operation Tokomeza operatives, whose team was mainly made up of military soldiers, members of the Police Force and wildlife management officers, took their job rather overzealously and trod on raw nerves.

The outfit was accused of attacking innocent villagers and, in some cases, rounding up their cattle. They were also believed to have tortured, raped and even killed some of their victims.

The public outcry that followed was overwhelming. What the Police Force should do now is mobilise good Samaritans to show its agents where illegal gun holders are located and, if possible, where they hide their arms. Bandits and other gun totters live in homes where it is difficult to hide their activities.