In Cameroon, the growing spread of homemade firearms is causing concern amongst the population. Alarmed by the rise of domestic accidents and roadside robberies, the authorities are looking for ways to curb the possession of these illegal and dangerous toys.
By Anne Mireille Nzouankeu, Yaoundé
Last July, 21-year-old Giulien Tchouangang accidentally shot and killed his little brother, Sidou Dzongang, who was only 13. The two brothers were playing with a firearm they found in their living room, unaware that it was loaded.
“The firearm Giulien Tchouangang used is a homemade 5.5mm calibre rifle which was modified into a 12 mm calibre that is used for hunting,” says Sergeant Wassaing Albert, who heads the Bangou gendarmerie unit in Western Province of Cameroon, where the incident occurred.
Tchawako Jean, the boy’s grandfather and owner of the firearm, is devastated. “I feel guilty because it's my gun that caused this tragedy,” he says. “The children are used to this gun, as I've had it for more than ten years. I never thought it could be a safety risk for us,” he adds.
Tchawako Jean does not have a licence to carry firearms and says he inherited the gun from his father, as is customary in Cameroon. “Our firearms are handed over from father to son. These weapons are used for hunting and to parade during traditional ceremonies.”
Pay to shoot
The tragic death of Sigou Dzongang, which was covered by the local press, has revived the debate on the growing spread of homemade firearms in villages. Village dignitaries carry them around while guards of some of the traditional chiefs use them as well.
These weapons are also used at important events in the villages, like the funerals of dignitaries. “People pay 1000 CFA francs (1.5 euros) for the privilege of firing one shot in the air, in honour of the deceased,” explains Mama, a dignitary.
According to the vice prefect of the Bangou district, Kemejo Paul, homemade weapons are illegal. “First, you need authorisation from the prefecture to purchase a gun, then a licence to carry it,” he explains.
Since the law on the possession of firearms is very strict, roadside robbers are increasingly using homemade firearms. Attempts to the control the spread of these deadly toys have met with opposition from traditional chiefs, who perceive such measures as an attempt to undermine their power.