- Most of the arms trade is one-way traffic from superpowers of military hardware to areas of conflict or to country stocks of self-defence.
- One of the most outstanding cases of arms sales to the wrong hands was uncovered in the United States in the mid-1980s.
International trade in arms has traditionally been one of the most scrutinised issues under the mandate of the United Nations Security Council.
Most of the arms trade is one-way traffic from superpowers of military hardware to areas of conflict or to country stocks of self-defence.
Though, over the decades, the scrutiny has not stopped the transfer of weapons to the wrong hands, or territories, it does not make it right when the superpowers who manufacture the hardware of war distribute it with abandon and carelessness that spurs proliferation of conflicts.
One of the most outstanding cases of arms sales to the wrong hands was uncovered in the United States in the mid-1980s.
It is still referred to as a case study by the UN Security Council on how the distribution of weapons can fall into the wrong hands under the guise of legal deals.
The administration of Ronald Reagan, in its second term, was caught secretly selling arms to Iran (which was then at war with Iraq), and then using the proceeds from the sales to fund guerrillas known as Contra who were fighting to oust the communist government of Nicaragua.
Both the sale to Iran and the funding of US-backed guerrillas had been blacklisted by the UN.
The scandal that ensued nearly brought down Reagan’s administration but only ended up with the jailing of a top National Security Council presidential adviser named Oliver North.
This recap of the US arms sale fiasco, which became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, is just to emphasise how serious a matter it is when a nation that has the might to manufacture weapons of war decides to discard international caution and sells arms to rogue administrations or banned groups.
The US was arming Iran which was then labelled a terrorism supporter by Washington and then supporting guerrillas fighting to overthrow the legitimate government of Nicaragua.
China, the superpower now rivalling the US in arms technologies and trade, has come under the crosshairs of international scrutiny.
It has emerged that some of the weapons from China could be reaching terror groups operating in Africa.
The unfolding case of Kenyan-Chinese businessman Zakariya Kamal, now held in Mogadishu, Somalia, on allegations of having sold weapons and other equipment to the Al Shabaab terror group, has caused great concern in Kenya’s security corridors and neighbouring countries affected by the activities of the group.
Deeper concern is even caused by the fact that international security surveys have shown China and its ally Russia have now overtaken the US as the biggest suppliers of arms to Africa in the past decade.
While Russia’s supply of arms to illegal groups has largely been felt in Western Africa, where it had exported the Wagner Group band of mercenaries to wage war alongside religious extremist fighters in various troubled countries, China should do its best to ensure its orderly supply of arms to governments is not breached in any away.
A breach can easily lead to the arms in the wrong hands such as Al Shabaab.
Security experts say while China still retains its front of dealing with governments, the latest allegations that businessman Kamal, who was born in Kenya but lives in China, has been supplying the Al Shabaab with deadly hardware and the latest surveillance technology, should raise serious concerns.
The merits of the Kamal issue cannot be discussed in detail because he has an active anti-terrorism case against him in a Mombasa court.
He also remains innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law.
The matter has since to an extent shifted to Mogadishu where Kamal, who had been out on bail in Kenya, was arrested last week and is likely to face similar charges.
Security experts say that some of the equipment imported through Somalia and intercepted at the Kismayo Port consisted of material fit for a national defence force.
Rifles, explosive devices, state-of-the-art drones, military uniform materials, portable solar panels, latest communication gadgets, night vision and spying equipment were in one intercepted container while more were said to have been delivered successfully to Al Shabaab.
It is a fact that the Somali militant group has lately intensified attacks on the Kenyan coast, especially in Lamu County, inflicting serious damage and casualties on civilian and armed forces.
Whenever such gangs are armed, the country where the arms originated from should not escape blame.
The United Nations Security Council lays responsibility on every arms supplier to verify the end user of their equipment.
Even if Kamal is tried in Kenya and in Mogadishu, the matter should not rest as a legal issue because it bears too much danger.
It also behoves governments to ensure that weapons from their countries do not reach illegal groups in any part of the world.