On July 1, Burundi will celebrate 50 years of independence. And a few weeks later it will be MAG Burundi’s milestone of five years in country.
What started as a six-month project in 2007 rapidly expanded to a full programme with a wide-range of activities once MAG realised the sheer size of the Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) problem. Burundi is one of the poorest and least developed countries located within one of the most unstable regions of the world. The post conflict situation not only resulted in the illicit proliferation of SALW, but also a weak management of legal state-owned weapons and ammunition stocks. And many studies recognise that the main source of illegal weapons in Africa is unsecure state stocks.
Having managed the programme for the last three and a half years, I have seen the evolution of our operations, from the Police to the Army, as well as supporting civilian disarmament and humanitarian mine action. We are trying to target every sector that can feed the illegal proliferation of SALW, and this way hope to contribute to a reduction in armed violence. And if we have been able to do this, it is thanks to the full support of the Burundian authorities. Few countries in the world allow NGOs and foreigners to enter their national weapons and ammunition stocks to survey them, collect items for destruction and rehabilitate them. Burundi should be congratulated for its tackling of the SALW issues. And I feel proud to have contributed to this.
Having previously worked with MAG in the Democratic Republic of Congo where efforts sometimes feel like a drop in the ocean due to the sheer size of the country, it feels very rewarding in Burundi to be able to implement projects nationwide in a relatively short timeframe and see the results of our efforts (Burundi is 1% the size of DR Congo!). In five years, I feel MAG will have made a difference for Burundians.
If everything goes according to plan, MAG should be leaving Burundi at the end of 2013, once we have helped the Police and the Army to improve their stocks to a satisfying level, and build a capacity so that the work can continue once we are gone. A crucial activity that remains is the training of armourers and inspectors. As the programme marks five years in the country, I hope we can secure the funding that will ensure the sustainability of our actions.