TAMALE- “Making a gun is very easy. I can do it in short time. Maybe three days.”
Abdallah smiles and leans on his workbench. By producing a rifle he can make an enormous profit. Assembling it is cheap, and to purchase is expensive.
“Its easy to find all the parts. When I sell a gun for 350 cedis I can make almost 100 percent profit.”
The 35 year old is a blacksmith by trade. He, along with his brother, Karim, have been working a blacksmiths since they were young, having apprenticed with their father, who again was a blacksmith, just like his father, and his father’s father.
The trade sits deep in the family and culture of the Dagomba people. Its embedded in their way of life as well as in their faith.
“There have been blacksmiths since the time of King David. God showed David to produce armour, swords and spears” says Karim.
Karim and Abdallah’s ancestos, Karimu, who settled the area around Tamale many centuries ago, brought the skill to the Dagomba people. Since then, theirs has been a family of blacksmiths.
This time honed trade is practiced throughout Ghana, the most skilled said to be from the Northern, Volta and Ashanti Regions.
The government of Ghana has declared the informal manufacturing of guns a security issue. According to Frank Boateng Asomani of the Ghana National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons (GNACSA), 80 percent of weapons used in armed robberies in Accra are locally manufactured in small villages throughout the country.
“We need government intervention to ensure alternative livelihoods” he says.
It is simply too easy to produce and distribute the weapons. What more, it is immensely profitable.
Ghana also fears the cross border trade of locally produced weapons, referring to smuggling operations distributing guns throughout the West African sub-region. Furthermore says Asomani, Nigerian blacksmiths have been known to come to Ghana specifically to learn how to make the weapons, in order to bring the knowledge back home. Whether or not this is a threat Asomani can not answer.
The solution according to him therefore is twofold: firstly, a licensing regime which would ensure that blacksmiths and consumers register their guns and secondly, to train blacksmiths to produce other profitable goods.
But the licensing regime isn’t working according to plan. Dr. Kwesi Aning, director of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeper Training Centre says that the “…blacksmiths are not the problem. It is the bogus and corrupt licensing regime that contributes to the challenge.”
And what a challenge it seems to be. Neither Chief Inspector Godson Dzojlo and Emily Abayateye, Deputy Superintendent of Police, both of whom are assigned to the Central Firearms Registry, claim to know anything about locally manufactured arms.
“It’s a rumour. I haven’t seen it…We the police are not aware that [the blacksmiths] are manufacturing weapons, so that if we find out, we will arrest them” says Abayateye.
“We will put them away” adds Dzojlo.
The blacksmiths, says Dzojlo, have “…a license to repair [the guns], but the production hasn’t come to our notice.”
Nor does the police consider the production of weapons a security threat,
“I don’t think it [is a threat]…as long as the person is arrested” says Dzojlo.
While the police and GNACSA attempt to tackle a problem which the police don’t even consider a problem, blacksmiths will continue to struggle to make ends meet.
Repeated attempts at contacting Mr. Asomani from GNACSA to discuss this problem proved futile.
An initiative run by GNACSA to train the blacksmiths in alternative livelihoods (or how to produce goods other than guns) has the objective of finding and registering every blacksmith Ghana by 2015, in order to sensitize them to the dangers of producing arms.
However, one of their other strategic objectives is to find funding for alternative livelihood programs. Until they do, reaching blacksmiths like Abdallah may prove easier said than done.
Abdallah has never been approached by the government or any other organisation. He does however, hope that they do.
“I welcome the idea. If government intervenes with support, we will have more demand [for other goods].
The real problem he says, is the fluctuating steel prices, which prohibit blacksmiths from being able to forecast the profit they will make from producing containers or stoves.
“We need the government to regulate prices of raw materials. When I make a gun I know I will make a profit. If I make a container I don’t know. Maybe I’ll make a profit of 50 to 100 cedis.”
Until they do, blacksmiths like Abdallah will continue to ply their trade, governed by the simple law of supply and demand.